From Military Officer to Thriving Beauty Entrepreneur: Raquel Riley Thomas Tells Her Journey
Raquel Riley Thomas is an Entrepreneur, Pageant Queen, and Military-Veteran.
She is the owner of An Officer and Gentlewoman, LLC, a media and entertainment company, headquartered in Washington, DC. The company owns and operates the following brands: Miss DC for America, Mrs. DC America, Mrs. DC American, Little Miss North America, Maria Raquel Thomas Brand, SJ Savory Kitchen, AOAGWLLC Casting and Raquel Riley Thomas Beauty.
Raquel is a decorated military veteran, having served nine years in the U.S. Army (5-years Enlisted photojournalist; 4-years Ordnance Officer) until 2002. After hanging up her military boots, she started her first business, Photography By Raquel, LLC. She photographed actors, celebrities, swimsuit centerfolds and more. She also signed to Elite Model Management and later Ford Model NYC as a commercial model.
I recently interviewed Ms. Raquel where she chatted more on her journey.
The Empress Dee: Can you tell us about yourself and the many things that you are involved with?
Ms. Raquel: I am a former military officer. I was a captain in the United States Army. I went into the military in the 1990’s so that tells a little bit about my age…which I am fine with. When I got out of the military, I started my own photography business and I became a professional model with Elite Modeling Agency. It was interesting because I went into their office wanting to get on their photographer’s list. I am not sure if you are aware of this but in a lot of modeling agencies, they have a photographer’s reference list and I just wanted to get on their list and so they asked me my height and I told them that I was 5’9 and the woman who was interested said, I love your photography but I really want you to be a model for us.
So, I walked out of there with a contract as a commercial model that day. It was such a blessing, but I am one of the few women who was a professional model and photographer at the same time.
I was shooting for a small magazine called, Jet Magazine and I was shooting a lot of their swimsuit centerfolds (The Empress Dee can be heard in the background admiring these accomplishments). In 2005, my husband and I got together, and we moved up to the D.C. Metro area; I ended up getting into the pageant business because my daughter recognized that there were no princesses that looked like her. So, I came up with this idea, I think that it was a Miss Universe Pageant that came on and I thought, you know what, if my daughter cannot see little princesses that look like her, then I am going to be her princess. So, I entered into the pageant, I won and then went on the national pageant and I became the first runner-up of the Mrs. America pageant system and the really cool thing about that was, I was the first African American to ever do that.
The Empress Dee: Wow, congratulations!
Ms. Raquel: Thank you. So, a few years later when there was an African American woman who won, she made this comment to me that I will never forget. She said, “You broke the ceiling so that I could get through.” There were a lot of tears. It is always tough being in the first runner-up position but that was ok, because I ended up realizing and recognizing why I had to do that. I had to go through that process in order for me to now be in charge of the D.C. pageant. So, I am in charge of, Miss D.C. for America, Mrs. D.C. America, and Mrs. D.C. American. I am charge of those three and in addition to that I am also in charge of Little Miss North America; I own that, and I also own 4 other subsidiaries. I think that it was all part of me having to take that path first in order for me to understand where I needed to be right now. There are eight subsidiaries under me now.
The Empress Dee: That is amazing! You are a very accomplished woman. I know that you also have a cosmetic line and it goes hand in hand with the pageants. What inspired you to start the cosmetic line?
Ms. Raquel: I was always interested in makeup as far back as I can remember. My grandmother was a violin virtuoso which is what inspired me to name one of the lines, The Virtuoso Collection; it was in honor of her. I have always loved makeup and I also loved clothing and fashion. So, it made its way into what I was doing because there was a need for women who were getting into pageants and a lot of the women that I was working with, had never been in a pageant before. There were questions like, how do I do my hair, how do I do my makeup, what are the things that I need to do, and I was starting to give them quick tips and it turned into making appearances on ABC and Fox, advising people about these tips. So, it was just a matter of turning corners that made sense for me. During Covid-19, I said that I am going to go ahead and do this line that I have been wanting to do for a while and I started my cosmetic line; it’s a signature line called, Raquel Riley Thomas Cosmetics.
It is doing very well, we sold out the first lip stain collection in a month. I was very happy about that; I was not expecting that. It is kind of bittersweet because you are excited but then you have to replenish the product because now, it is in demand and people are beginning to fuss. It is a great place to be in and it was very humbling. I focus on 3GL which is, Glamourous Lids, Glamourous Lips, and Eyelashes. Right now, I do not have any foundation on. All I have on is eyeshadow, eyelashes, and lipstick. So, I would like to get women to understand that you can come up with a quick look in 15 minutes. If you are on the go, skip the foundation, especially African American women, we have beautiful skin anyway; we have natural highlights…if you put the lighting where you need it, you have your natural highlights. Let me be clear, I am not saying that you should not wear foundation, I am just simply saying that if you have to go, and you have to go fast, do this…as long as you can get your eyelashes, your eyeshadow and you lipstick together, you can go and still look great.
The Empress Dee: You look amazing! I thought that this has to be a “full face.” So, the fact that you do not have on any foundation, your skin is gorgeous.
Ms. Raquel: Just to let your audience know, I have very oily skin…very oily. So, if I put (you can even ask my makeup artist when she does have the chance to do my makeup), I did my own today, but she will tell you that the foundation will literally drip off…so there is no reason for me to have it because my face does not like foundation.
The Empress Dee: It is so funny that you mention that because I always make the comment that my skin is oily as well and people will say, no…it is just a natural glow. Do you use anything specifically that will tone it down?
Ms. Raquel: I just use paper towels; I pretty much keep them close by. I do not recommend foundation for women with oily skin because it will come off. Even the kind that is matte, will still come off. It is too hot right now and we have to also put masks on when we go out…so, think about it from that perspective, you have oily skin, foundation and you have to put on a mask, it is too much. Drop the foundation for now, get some hot eyelashes and some eyeshadow and some beautiful lip gloss. Now, if you have a mask on then of course you will not have any lip gloss on, but I have lip stains that do not move when you have your mask on. Those are the products that sold out. We have a new shipment coming in about 7 days. The great thing about the lip stains is that once you take off your mask, it does not end up on the mask at all.
The Empress Dee: That is perfect, and it is definitely needed right now. I noticed on your IG page that your daughters are taking the entrepreneur route as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Ms. Raquel: First of all, thank you for noticing that. My daughter Maria, was the one that said that she did not see any princesses that looked like her and she was about 3 or 4 when she said this (which was crazy), she started her own slime business about 2 years ago, as she was doing slime, she was having an issue with chapped lips. I told her that you need to come up with a solution if you can go into your science lab (she is big into science, she wants to be a doctor an inventor and a scientist), I told her to go into her lab and find a solution and she came up with a solution. Now she has moved over from slime to having her own cosmetic line which focuses on lip care. She has a lip mask, lip scrub and lip glosses, she is working on that now and she is working on her first palate; she just turned 14.
The Empress Dee: I love it! That is amazing.
Ms. Raquel: She has been on Fox and CBS, she was also profiled on ABC too and she and her sister have had a cover on a magazine and now Maria will have her first cover, by herself for the September issue of Teen Cruze. I am so happy about that.
The Empress Dee: That is awesome. So, if you could say that there was something that you would like for your daughters to learn from you what would it be?
Ms. Raquel: To be persistent. There are times when you just want to give up, you are over it and you are tired and there is a point when you come to a crossroads as an entrepreneur. You question yourself as to whether or not you even want to continue or if you are going to give up because you are tired. There were nights when I would be up at 3a.m. going through negotiations, which is interesting because I had just received a certification from Harvard for mastery of negotiation. I took the class about six months before I started this business and so it made sense because I have to do negotiations in the middle of the night because there some people that I negotiate with that are not in the same time zones. For that reason there are times when I may be up all night. It can definitely be quite challenging. I do not recommend starting your own cosmetic line because it is not easy, and you really have to put a lot of time and energy into your product and you have to know your product.
I conducted various experiments with my lashes, slept in them, washed them and out of about 300-400 sets of lashes, I made sure that I had the top 6. It was important to make sure that I gave a good product to give to my customers and that is what I tell my daughters. My youngest daughter, Sophia is a cook. She is currently participating in a Rachel Ray cooking camp. She has been cooking since she was 3 years old. Her first book will come out hopefully by Christmas and her first line of cooking utensils we hope will be available by Christmas as well; she is 11 years old now.
The Empress Dee: That is beautiful. With all that you have going on, between your career and then your daughters, how do you manage it all?
Ms. Raquel: I have 8 brands and I actually schedule the amount of time that I am going to work on each brand for the day and I stop at 5p.m. So, I am still able to have dinner with my family. When I first started the cosmetic line, I had to be up in the middle of the night, so there was always some shifts. The biggest thing for me is to have a calendar and I do my best to stay true to it and to be organized. Having a brand and being an entrepreneur, you cannot do it without being organized. You also want to make sure to have a good team around you, people who understand your vision and your mission, and you have to stick to it. You have to be on the front lines, you cannot lead from the back.
The Empress Dee: I appreciate those gems, that is great information to take in. I know that generational wealth is a big thing right now and everyone is beginning to focus on it. So, what advice would you give to parents who are looking to create generational wealth for their children?
Ms. Raquel: I think that first we need to fix ourselves regarding the things that we were not taught when we younger. Unfortunately, a lot of women and men were not taught how to budget. We were not taught to use money to our benefit; it is not just about buying really nice things. Do not get me wrong, I will be the first to tell you that I like nice things. But there has to be a balance. If you get an allowance then you need to put some of that aside and now, we are teaching our daughters about stocks. You have to learn about mutual funds, and you need to learn how to invest your money. A small amount of money down the road could end up being a lot. Think about the people that invested in Walmart when it first went public or Google or Microsoft.
It is just a matter of understanding and being disciplined about your money. No one is saying that you cannot spend some of it because I totally disagree with that. I think that you should be able to spend a certain amount of your money. If you make $500 and you decide to take $200 and blow it on whatever you want, that will help to get it out of your system. But you know that the other $300 is going to be invested. It is all about balance. Make sure that you are saving your money first and do not forget to give God his portion (tithe).
The Empress Dee: Thank you so much for all of the information that you have shared with us. Hopefully, we will be able to check in with you again soon to see how things are going with your children and the cosmetic line. Thank you again!
Ms. Raquel: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate your time.
The Empress Dee: Absolutely and you have a beautiful day.
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