Mia Pietruszewski combines art and business to create a unique career
It took Mia Pietruszewski a few months to start feeling overwhelmed. The initial excitement of back-to-school season had faded away, and she found herself confronted with the reality of life as a freshman college student surrounded by what felt like a sea of strangers. At the big university where she began her post-secondary education, Mia was indeed just another student crammed into classrooms the size of auditoriums. It was the polar opposite of the small, private high school she had called home the previous four years.
That’s not to say Sacred Heart High School was Mia’s perfect fit, either. As a self-described outsider, she embraced the role of the freethinker, unafraid to create her own trends. Her style was unique, and her best friends were kids from other schools in town. She never caused a scene, but she also never quite fit the mold of the private school student.
“I was always interested in drawing, painting and working with the arts,” Mia explained, “so I originally began studying art history right out of high school. But I graduated from Sacred Heart with maybe 15 other kids,” Mia said, “so going to a school with 200 students in one class was a shock.”
Definitely follow your heart … All of my friends were going to the same college, so I thought that’s what I had to do, too.
Her choice to enroll at the large university was one of the rare times Mia ignored her independent instincts and followed along with the crowd. Once she reflected on her reasons for being there, it was clear she needed to find a new path that fit her style… a path which turned out to be all about style.
“Definitely follow your heart,” Mia said after some reflection. “All of my friends were going to the same college, so I thought that’s what I had to do, too. They all went there, so I felt like I should do that, too, because we were all doing the same thing for the past 12 years together.”
Falling in Love with a Fresh Start
Like every other high school graduate in the greater Grand Forks area, Mia was familiar with Northland Community and Technical College. Her older brother was already enrolled and majoring in physical therapist assistant, and a few of her friends who chose not to follow the masses were also a year into their studies at Northland. So, as she put it, “Northland started to look pretty appealing.”
I’m a bit hyperactive and needed that one-on-one atmosphere at Northland … It was hugely beneficial to my academic and career success.
“I made the transfer after a year and just fell in love with it,” Mia said with a sense of relief in her voice, almost as if she was reliving the moment she knew she made the right choice. “The smaller class sizes were great. I’m a bit hyperactive and needed that one-on-one atmosphere at Northland, where you were a person and not just a number. It was hugely beneficial to my academic and career success.”
But just because she found the right fit, didn’t mean everything else was going to fall neatly into place. She was a freshman all over again, and Mia needed to figure out what she really wanted to do. To keep her options open, she enrolled in Northland’s Liberal Arts program, a generals-based degree that most students pursue en-route to an eventual 4-year degree program at a larger university. It was there in the Liberal Arts program where Mia met Kit Brenan, an instructor in the Sales and Marketing department, whom Mia would come to call a “hero” of hers.
“She’s so inspiring,” Mia said. “I idolized her a lot right from the get-go. She’s so headstrong, so determined, so intelligent when it comes to business and knows what it takes to get the job done, done right and done her way. We also share a passion for Hello Kitty… she’s a badass bodybuilder so you would never guess her office is pink floor-to-ceiling with Hello Kitty!”
Beyond their shared devotion to Hello Kitty, Kit turned into the mentor Mia never knew she needed. It was in her classes that Mia discovered a passion for sales and marketing, and a seed was planted that would one day blossom into Mia starting her own business and putting many of the lessons learned in the classroom into action.
Everything she taught us was really helpful once I got into the workforce. I knew what to expect from the way she taught us. She set us up for success … That was Northland.
“Kit never beat around the bush,” Mia explained. “We would go into class and she’d talk about the current business climate and walk us through it. Everything she taught us was really helpful once I got into the workforce… I knew what to expect from the way she taught us. She set us up for success. I never would’ve found a Kit if I had stayed at UND or any other bigger school. All of the teachers, not just Kit, really care about the students… they all want everyone to succeed. That was Northland.”
MisFit Mia, the Makeup Artist
When Mia chose to pursue a degree in sales and marketing, she assumed she was saying goodbye to a career in the arts. After graduating from Northland in 2015, she headed south to Houston, Texas, in search of a job. A year-and-a-half later, all she had found was disillusionment in the corporate job market and a dead-end job as a barista. And it wasn’t just that the jobs weren’t there… Mia had begun to examine the idea of spending her working life trapped inside a cubicle should she land that once-coveted corporate gig.
“I spent more than a year after graduating trying to find a job in this field that I spent years studying,” Mia said, “and I got so discouraged and I figured out that cubicle 9-5 life would be miserable for me. It’s not who I am at all, so I had to take a hard look at what I thought were my passions… and it came back to the arts.”
As so often happens, when Mia switched her focus turning her passion for the arts into a career, the stars seemed to magically align and things finally began falling into place. She stopped trying to force herself into a corporate career that wasn’t right, moved home to the Midwest and reconnected with friends, family, and advisors who could help her hone her newfound focus. And as it also so often happens, the stroke of inspiration came when she least expected it… a poetic stroke of the brush, in this case.
“I was talking things through with my advisors and was so close to signing a contract to go to cosmetology school,” Mia recalled. “But then one morning as I was getting ready, I realized I had more fun waking up and spending two hours doing my makeup than anything else. I would just have a blast, and that’s when I decided to narrow my focus even more and look into makeup schools… and that’s when I found Faces Etc.”
Based in Minneapolis, Faces Etc of Minnesota is a licensed postsecondary career school for professional multimedia makeup artists. For Mia, it was the perfect fit she had been looking for since leaving Northland. The four weeks of training flew.
“I cannot believe how fast it went,” Mia said of her time learning the industry at Faces Etc. “I knew on day one that I was where I was meant to be. Looking back on where I was and where I’m at now, two years later… just confirms I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Armed with a degree in sales and marketing and postsecondary training in professional makeup artistry, Mia took the next logical step in her journey — she launched her own makeup business called MisFit Mia Makeup. The “MisFit” is a resurrection of an alter ego she created back at Northland doing morning radio as an intern for iHeart Media.
I wouldn’t even know where to begin with running or starting a business without all the things I learned from Kit and Northland.
“I gave myself the name MisFit Mia because I always felt like an outsider,” Mia explained. “I always felt like I didn’t really belong, I felt like a city girl destined for big things, so MisFit really does fit me… represents me doing it my way, forging my own path.”
Lessons Learned Pay Off
Looking back on everything, the hardest part for Mia was the lingering doubt about what she might have given up to follow her heart. Was her year at UND just a waste? Did she give up on art history too soon? Should she have given big city corporate life a better shot at panning out?
“I didn’t want to look at the years I spent studying advertising, sales, and business and feel like I let those go to waste,” Mia admitted. “But being in this industry is hard and unconventional, and I have to put myself out there and market myself and my business and do all the work myself as a small one-person startup. Everything that I learned at Northland and even UND is all 100% useful to me today. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with running or starting a business without all the things I learned from Kit and Northland.”
Though MisFit Mia Makeup was growing, the amount of time and energy that went into the business brought Mia to the point of considering her options. Thanks to her talents, education and sheer personality — and perhaps an attitude of determination handed down from Kit — Mia had forged strong connections within the industry early on that would now pay off. She recently signed an exclusive contract with WarPaint International, a professional agency with locations in Minneapolis, New York, San Diego and Los Angeles.
“I’m excited to see where this path will take me,” Mia said. “I’ll get to focus much more on the art versus the business aspect of makeup. My goal has always been to work in fashion, with the dream of working a big fashion week…”
There’s a short pause in the conversation, almost as if Mia needs a moment to pinch herself in order to remind herself she’s not dreaming. She takes a deep breath.
“I, of course, always thought of Paris fashion week, and I’ve learned we’re supposed to be going in spring of 2019… to Paris… for fashion week!” she said with an artist’s rhythm.
While her future is most certainly bright, Mia’s already had her brushes with fame and her share of accolades. In November of 2017, she won the agency-wide “Artist of the Year” award. Shortly thereafter, she and her team worked a multimillion-dollar Superbowl party held for a strictly VIP crowd of team owners and guests — she got to do the makeup for Vikings’ owner Ziggy Wilf’s wife. But when asked what her favorite celebrity job has been, she doesn’t hesitate.
“Oh, John Legend for sure,” Mia said giggling. “I got a call from my boss, who said ‘It’s probably some A-list celebrities, you’ll do their makeup, they’ll do their shows and that’ll be it.’ I was like A-list? What? So I called her back and she told me we’d be doing some touch-up makeup on two performers, and I was going to have John in my chair… I was like Who’s John? And she said ‘Oh, John the myth, the man… the Legend.’ It was the scariest moment of my life.”
Getting to this point in her life, where she’s doing makeup for people like John Legend and working VIP parties at the world’s largest sporting event, took a bit of growing up for Mia. And she’s the first to admit it. No longer the misfit outsider, she’s now a business owner, award winner and future inspiration for tomorrow’s hard-working aspiring artists.
I try to just keep it simple like Kit always said — never give up, but don’t make it harder than it has to be. This is the job I love, not the money. I could make more at a desk job, but this brings me happiness. I do what I love.
“There are a lot of days when I want to go party with my friends on the weekends, but spending a Friday night working on my business and my portfolio are things I care about, so I have to prioritize,” Mia said. “Most of all, I try to just keep it simple like Kit always said — never give up, but don’t make it harder than it has to be. This is the job I love, not the money. I could make more at a desk job, but this brings me happiness. I do what I love.”