East Tennessee makeup business makes products for Marvel films, 'The Walking Dead'

It takes a lot of makeup to bring characters like Gamora and Yondu from Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" to life.

Products from Donna Nowak's Sevierville-based business, ShowOffs Body Art, play a part in that process.

Makeup artists from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" used Nowak's ProAiir Hybrid Waterproof makeup to paint Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Michael Rooker (Yondu), so they'd look the part in the films.

Her makeup has been also been used in "The Walking Dead," "Fear The Walking Dead," "Dancing with the Stars," "Captain Marvel" and the upcoming "Avatar" and "Star Trek" sequels, according to Nowak.

"ProAiir's going to be used on the future film of 'Avatar,' ... there's a little scene with kids and that's where my product is being used ... for that part because it's skin safe, and it's really safe for the kids. 'Captain Marvel,' you know ... my cobalt color, that's going to be used in the film," she said.

Operating a makeup business has consumed Nowak's life for more than a decade, but her previous day job had nothing to do with cosmetics.

From a computer programmer to business owner

Before she owned ShowOffs Body Art, Nowak worked as a computer programmer in Detroit.

"At a certain point in your life, you realize what you like, who you are, and I loved to paint, and so I started to paint murals, and I quit my job," Nowak said. "I couldn't stand being a computer programmer anymore because I'm a sociable person."

Nowak let her creative side fly. She said she became a biker chick so she could learn to airbrush cars. Then her children led her to another idea.

"This was 15 years ago ... airbrush tattoos were unheard of. It was so spanking brand new that no one had really heard of this, so I cut up by hand some little stencils. I was at a school event, and I had three airbrushes. I had every kid in my line from the entire school, and the rest of the moms were just sitting around with nothing to do because they had never seen this."

Due to the popular response, Nowak developed StencilEyes, a line of face and eye stencils, so others could face paint with airbrushes, too. She made instructional DVDs, attended trade shows and worked at events including a Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA playoffs and Special Olympics.

Nowak's job change spurred the creation of StencilEyes, and another major life event caused the development of ProAiir.

Losses and opportunities

Nowak's husband, Bruce, lost his job due to the 2008 financial crisis. They lost their home.

During that struggle, one of Nowak's makeup contacts provided a connection.

"The good Lord ... blessed me with knowing somebody who knew somebody and introduced me to this cosmetic chemical engineer, and I thought it'd be pretty cool to have my own line 'cause being out in the field, you know something needs to be changed," Nowak said.

ProAiir came soon after. Nowak said the product is a waterproof, smudge-proof liquid face and body makeup that's skin safe. It's made in the United States, and it can be removed with liquid soap. ProAiir's formula is close to what's in liquid eyeliner, according to Nowak.

She said ProAiir fixes problems she had noticed in other products while working in the makeup industry. It doesn't have a strong alcohol scent; it doesn't fog up a room if it's airbrushed on, and it's easy to remove, according to Nowak.

Once it was developed, Nowak decided to pass it along to as many makeup artists as she could.

"I didn't have a lot of money to advertise it, but why? I let word of mouth spread because I believed in this, and it was great, and heck in the first year? Guess what? It wound up in the hands of 'The Walking Dead,'" Nowak said.

During a trade show, she inadvertently gave it to "Walking Dead" special effects makeup artist Kevin Wasner. Three months later, Wasner called her and said he loved the product, and for the past six years, it's been used on "The Walking Dead."

Nowak said word of mouth has been the key to ProAiir's success, and it's how the product ended up being used in the Marvel films.

Why she chose East Tennessee

Nowak works at ShowOffs with Bruce and their daughter Erika. She moved her business to Sevierville more than a year ago to be closer to the mountains and the growing entertainment industries in Knoxville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

"I love the mountains, and I love being by Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg," Nowak said. "I used to bring my kids here, and seeing, too, the growth here in Knoxville. I did my research. I was first going to go to Atlanta because of all the films, but I'm like, 'I want to be ... a piece of the pie to help the growth.'"

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Maggie Jones

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


Published December 28, 2018