Every cool girl in Milwaukee gets her hair done by Ms. Sunshine. I realized this a few weeks ago when I ran into Kaley Wittnik at the Hyde Park and Ri.volt Accessories event at West Elm. Not only did she do the hair and makeup for all the models, but it seemed like everyone in the (very fashionable) audience was a client of hers.
I first met Kaley a few years ago when we both interned for Erika Ikeler, a fashion designer based in Milwaukee at the time. Since then, Kaley has created a beauty empire here in Wisconsin. Her alter-ego is Ms. Sunshine, and she's a hair and makeup artist.
I recently paid a visit to Kaley to get my hair freshened up for summer and was so excited to catch up with her. Check out my Q&A with Kaley to learn more about her:
My Midwest Is Showing: What's a normal day like for you?
Kaley Wittnik: It's hard for me use the word "normal" to describe my days (or me)! Haha. Probably the most routine thing for me is eating breakfast! I have to have this meal, or I cannot function. Since I've become my own boss, I pretty much work every day in some form. Some of my daily tasks include scheduling appointments, creating marketing materials, trend research, accounting/invoicing, and keeping up to date with communications (texts/emails/social media). These duties are often combined with being behind the chair, on-site wedding styling, teaching classes and sometimes freelance e-commerce work. Some days I am on the go from one job to another from 9am to 10pm, hence the importance of breakfast. :)
MMWIS: Where do you find inspiration?
KW: I find inspiration in history such as watching old films or TV shows, music videos, flipping through vintage books to see what has come back in fashion and how we have progressed for better or for worse. I also find inspiration in traveling to different cities and countries to see what people look like in other areas of the world.
MMWIS: When did you decide to be a hair and makeup artist?
KW: It was in 2011. As the child of two hairstylists I resisted my DNA up until that point. After high school, I went to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and got my Bachelor's degree in Communications. After working in automotive marketing for a few years, I felt the need for a more creative outlet and knew I always belonged in the fashion industry. Through a contact of my dad's, I received an opportunity to intern for a major salon-industry publication, which even took me to New York Fashion Week a couple times. It was through this experience that I finally realized maybe hair was my thing. So I quit my full-time salaried job with benefits to go back to school for cosmetology. It was a huge risk, but it was the best decision I could have made for myself.
MMWIS: Tell me about some of the cool events and projects you do around Milwaukee.
KW: Most recently I was behind the scenes doing makeup for a fashion show collaboration between two of my gal pals (Hyde Park and Rivolt Accessories) and West Elm. I love getting involved in fashion shows because the energy of backstage is so fun as well as all of the networking that happens! Earlier this year I was a guest-educator for the first ever "NICE Hair" event which was created by local industry professionals with a mission of us all collaborating and learning from one another. It makes me super proud to be part of a community that values collaboration over competition.
MMWIS: What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
KW: My biggest accomplishment so far is definitely being hired freelance for hair and makeup at Bona Drag. I first thought about saying starting my own business, but I always knew that was going to happen. When a company you've been dreaming about working for (for years) contacts you, that's not something you usually know is going to happen. Call it the power of manifestation, or being at the right place at the right time, but I call it a combination of both along with years hard work and test shooting on my own time to build a solid book and Instagram page.
MMWIS: What are you currently reading? Watching? Listening to?
KW: I did not read Big Little Lies but was totally gripped by the mini-series! I loved the story-telling so much I borrowed one of the author's other books, Three Wishes, from my mom and it's first on my summer book read list. I've been listening to a lot of T. Rex and Bowie lately, as well as Wild Belle when the sun is shining. I'm also kind of a political/news junkie too so I spend a good amount of time listening to NPR, my favorite is Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me.
MMWIS: If someone was visiting Wisconsin for the first time, what would you tell them to do first?
KW: Go to House on the Rock! It is the kitschiest most incredible place. I don't want to reveal too much more because you should go with no expectations. Just bring money to get tokens, that's all I'll say.
MMWIS: Favorite thing about the Midwest?
KW: I think it was Louis CK that said "Milwaukee is like Brooklyn but with a lot less a**holes." I tend to agree with him, in a less harsh sense, that the people here for the most part are super genuine and not pretentious. This is not only reflected in our personalities but also in our fashion senses. We wear what we like not because it's right off the runway or a million dollars, but because we were inspired by something or someone and found a rad item at a vintage market or Nordstrom Rack. It's less about label here and more about personal style.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
KW: I am embarrassed to say maybe my accent! I was recently filmed while teaching a class and watching it back was horrified to hear how bad my accent is. I mean I always knew it was there, but I feel like it's gotten worst through the years.