Merium Bhuiyan: CakeFace make-up

Estimated reading time:10 minutes, 4 seconds

Everyone has a story. Here’s how Merium Bhuiyan turned her childhood passion for make-up into a business that mixes education, community work and confidence coaching.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Merium Bhuiyan from CakeFace (c) Despina

“I’m north London through and through. I’ve lived here all my life. I’m self-employed. I teach English and maths and I’m a self-taught makeup artist,” says Merium Bhuiyan, when she meets Islington Faces outside Finsbury Park Mosque at the very start of Ramadan.

Merium, 31, is wearing a black abaya (loose cloak/dress) “because they are light and airy and cool in the heat” and her usual hijab. She’s also added a bit of make-up too – what she calls her no-makeup make-up look to “add life and colour to your skin. I tend to fill in my brows, put on bronzer and a slick of lipstick and that’s enough for the day. I call this my on duty and off duty looks, and we are off duty today. It takes about two minutes to do. It’s either two minutes or 20 minutes depending on whatlook of the day I’m going for.”

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 Merium was born in London, and moved with her family to Finsbury Park as a toddler. She went to Ashmount Primary School and still livesin Islington. Then she did GCSEs at Hornsey School for Girls. Sixth form at City & Islington was followed by a BA in teacher training at Middlesex University. It’s clear that formal education is a huge part of her life – she offers private tuition in English and Maths and has plans to start a Masters in September. So how did make-up get a look in?

“People said you are either a teacher or a make-up artist, how can you be both? But when I’m thinking about the link between the two it seems quite obvious – you go to school to better yourself and you put on make-up to do the same. As soon as I found that, I knew I was on to something. It’s self-care and it’s fun,” explains Merium. “CakeFace Makeup is about recognising and appreciating all different kinds of beauty. It links very nicely with my work in education – it helps people to empower themselves. Helps us see different types of beauty and appreciate ourselves the way we are. It goes against the message in the media that you’re not good enough till you buy a certain product – the product of the day, whatever it may be.”

Merium has a vivid memory of the day she first discovered make-up. “I was about three years old and wore my mum’s blue mascara, pink sparkly blusher and matching frosted pink lipstick. It was an excellent look! My mother is really beautiful and loved dressing up and being very glamorouswhen I was little. I’d hold her ornate clutch bags and wear her high heelswith my father’s long black socks – it all started from there,” she says. “I was one of the first girls in school to be wearing makeup. Girls would always come up and ask me to do their make-up, or take them make-up shopping or say, ‘I’ve got a wedding coming up, can you do my make-up?’. I remember my first gig. I was 15 years old and when I was handed £10 at the end of the makeover, I thought this was the best thing ever. Getting paid to do something you love, there’s something in this!”

CakeFace banner. Merium Bhuiyan: “I’m the face of my own brand. I love it as I don’t look like a typical cover model. It’s great to have that platform to celebrate being unconventional and break the mould.” (c)CakeFace

The birth of CakeFace Makeup is what Merium calls, “quite a cool story. It was 2012, a huge year for London-in terms of the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee.  One night in April, it was 3am and I was on the laptop. I was just surfingand looking at individual beauty blogs as we didn’t have social media then like we do now. I remember thinking these girls from around the world are doing something really groundbreakingwith make-up. Then I thought, why am I watching people doing things when I could be doing it myself?  

“On line I could see people more like me. I follow a lot of international fashion and hijab beauty brands. It was that yearning for diversity that wasn’t mainstream. So, I thought, OK I need to have my own platform. How will I do it? All the thoughts came straight away – and I started a Facebook fan page. I thought to myself, what would I even call it, and literally in the same breath it came to me, CakeFace Makeup. CakeFace is a slang term, for someone wearing too much make-up – but we like cakes and we like faces! Why does it have to be a bad thing? I love the way you can take a derogatory term, like cakeface, and turn it into something positive. And now people call me CakeFace, how great is that?

CakeFace Makeup started by showcasing other people’s work.

“I gradually built up to presenting my own work, doing reviews, having make-up sent to me for review and doing collaborations. I found it was a really nice way to involve and inspire other people. I started with having just my friends and family as followers but it grew to become a bit of a revolution as I was not telling people that they need to buy this or that, and also CakeFace was showcasing a variety of different types of beauty, not just what we are always accustomed to seeing in the mainstream media. It’s more inclusive,” she adds.

The CakeFace team – there’s Merium and seven Londoner friends – specialise in make-up services, so offer bridal, special occasion and photoshoot make up. But they now also run workshops on make-up, men’s fashion and grooming and entrepreneurship (EntreprenHER) with a range of clients. Merium is unstoppable: even on a recent tripto Dhaka she ran a workshop explaining that she wants to support young women everywhere to “disrupt the status quo and become trailblazers and leaders in their respective fields.” She is also planning an International Club CakeFace event in Marrakech.

Six years on Merium feels there is definitely a need for CakeFace. “When I open a magazine I’m constantly reminded that I’m not the same as the models contained within it. But this brand is not just for people that look like me. CakeFace completes me and I hope it makes other people happy too.”

Merium Bhuiyan from CakeFace Makeup. “My make-up is strong make-up – it’s heavy. It’s definitely not your classic English rose look.” (c) Najm.

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Places Merium likes in Islington

  • Definitely Finsbury Park Mosque, 7-11 St Thomas’ Road – it’s somewhere I feet at home. I’ve been going there since I was a baby.
  • Love Muslim Welfare House, under the bridge at 233 Seven Sisters Road. It’s a community hub.
  • Love Holloway Educational and Cultural Centre at 440 Hornsey Road – it’s known as the pub mosque. I’m a trustee there.
  • I like the actual Finsbury Park. I like the fun fair and organise an annual family picnic, there’s around 20 of us. And there’s boat riding – we were going round in circles (open daily from 12 noon, weather permitting. Check 07905 924282)
  • I like Angel – the high street is always lively and bustling with action. There is always something happening.

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Join a CakeFace event at Caxton House on 30 June 2018.

Community work

Doing make-up and tuition has brought Merium into contact with a large number of people. It was Finsbury Park Mosque chairman, Mohammed Kozbar who suggested she became an Islington Face. She’s on the board of the Islington Faith Forum, sitting on the advisory committee on inter-faith relations. And recently at Park Theatre she’s consulted on plays that are to do with Islam and joined a Q&A after their show Faceless.

“After the attack on Finsbury Park last year I did some interviews with the BBC and met with Prince Charles when he came to Muslim Welfare House,” she explains. The attack was on the same night that she’d held an iftar dinner to break the fast at Nando’s. That’s why this year she’s inviting the CakeFaces (CakeFace fans) and others to join her again at Nando’s Finsbury Park for an Iftar evening to break the fast on Friday 8 June, 8.30pm.

Later in June she’ll be running the fourth Club CakeFace ladies party night inspired by a visit to Camden Town’s Jazz Cafe. “Ladies night is open to everyone, Muslim or not, covered or not, for a safe space to dance the night away in. The rules are no boys, no booze, no babies! There’s a playlist – Reggaetón, Afro beats, Arabic beats, French rap, 90s, hip hop and R&B and someone added K-pop – it’s representative of Islington, just shows we are such a diverse bunch interested in everything and from everywhere.”

She’s also organised a CakeFace Reads book club meeting in Holloway Educational and Cultural Centre to discuss Milk and Honeyby Rupi Kaur. “I chose it because it is a popular book and not too long. I’d initially planned for two hours, but we ended up being there for three,” she says happily.

Merium has a vision that CakeFace Makeup will continue to grow – she even has an idea for a book setting out the Cakeface Guide to Life. And it may be very handy as she showed Islington Faces how to tweak keyboard shortcuts on a phone to send over website links, bio and more, painlessly. But her ambition is more about having a fulfilled life than a rush to celebrity. “We do have to be content within ourselves and have that inner satisfaction and peace. Life is about centring yourself, grounding yourself and supporting one another to realise that potential. I want CakeFace Makeup to be part of paving the way to do that. I find it is pushing me to do better and after people join my workshops they tell me they grow in confidence and do things they never felt able to do before, such as go out to the library or the cinema alone and enjoy their own company.It’s about being comfortable in your own skin and reclaiming your space.”

It’s 2pm and there’s a long wait till sunset when she can break her fast, so to wind up the interview I ask for some Ramadan tips. Merium pauses, then suggests some sage advice: “In terms of non Muslims, just continue as normal – we choose to fast. If you are working in an office you don’t have to hide in the bathroom to eat your lunch!”

It’s this mix of pragmatism and humour that makes CakeFace Makeup feel so contemporary. Here’s wishing Merium and her CakeFaces the very best of luck, plus many more workshop bookings. Now, let’s see if I can make myself good to go after just two minutes to do my make-up…

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola