Zandra Azariah Cunningham, a 14-year-old entrepreneur from Buffalo, NY, has developed her own line of bath and body products, called Zandra Beauty, which are sold online and at local shops in the Buffalo area. With products stamped with uplifting sayings, it’s no surprise that there’s a dynamo girl behind the inspirational brand. Indeed, Cunningham says she hopes her work will, “inspire youth to take action and make things happen for themselves and their communities.”
We talked to Cunningham to find out more about what inspired her to launch a biz, how she juggles business and school and inspiring girls through beauty products:
How did you get started making your own products?
I started making them in 2009. I started out making lip balm, because that was my obsession when I was nine years old. It actually came from my dad, because I was so obsessed with lip gloss, and I’d ask him to buy me new ones. And one day he said, “No. You should just make your own.” I took the idea to my mom, and we looked up how to make lip balm. We tried it, and it turned out really well. The next year, I went to Boston. It was before we had a Lush here, and when I saw all of their bath and body products, and I was like, “We can make this at home!” That’s when we started making all the natural bath and body products.
Why did you decide to focus on natural products?
Some companies put chemicals in their lotions and products, and I’m not able to use them on my skin. That’s why I went natural. I want to have products that look good, but still help you in the long run.
How much time do you spend running the business? How does it fit into your life?
Before I started high school, I would go to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. Now that I’m in high school, I have a hundred times as much homework, so I help out when I can. The new studio that we moved into has a desk so I can be there doing homework while my mom is mixing the products.
What kind of business training have you been through?
We’re just getting into wholesaling. We’ve got our line sheets and everything. We did training for that through Lucky Break Consulting. I also did the University at Buffalo’s entrepreneurial program for Women and Minorities, and I was the only kid that they’d ever accepted.
How did you develop the look of the brand and the products?
We met a new designer through one of our network groups. She’s amazing – her name is Elea Lutz – and we told her we wanted to do something fun, funky but cool, that makes you want to keep the packaging. We thought of the inspirational quotes, because when a girl is using the products, she can read it and feel empowered. Even when it’s empty, they can keep the packaging to remind themselves of the message.
What advice would you give other teenagers who are interested in starting a company?
Have a plan. Be around like-minded people who support you in what you do and want to make you better. And just be prepared, because it takes a lot of hard work and determination.
What are the biggest rewards of running your own business?
I like that I can inspire other young people – and even some adults. I like that I’ve created something. And I like making my own money.
Which product is the best seller?
The big balms and the soufflés.
Which Zandra Beauty product is your favorite?
Right now, probably the lotion and the soufflé – I use the soufflé every morning.
What are your hopes for Zandra Beauty in the future?
I hope to have our products in big stores, and to start a Z & Me line, where if a teen girl wants to start a sales business, we’ll send her a kit of our products, and she’ll go out and sell that and make her own money.
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