When 14-year-old Zandra Azariah Cunningham couldn’t convince her dad to buy her more make-up—she literally took matters into her own hands. “Since I wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick, I fell in love with lip balm. My dad used to buy it for me weekly. He would make jokes, asking if I was eating my makeup because I went through it so quickly. Then one day I asked him to bring me some makeup home and he said, ” No make your own.” So I spent the next few months researching how to do just that,” says Cunningham.
Four years later, she’s running Zandra Beauty, a line of “Natural Bath & Body” products for the “Educated + Empowered Girl on the Move,” managing school and speaking engagements, and juggling a host of other projects to teach kids entrepreneurship.
On the heels of Cunningham’s recent event, speaking at Tedx Youth, Black Enterprise caught up with the fearless young trailblazer to learn more about her journey.
Tell us a bit about your journey as a Teenpreneur.
I have always been in love with wearing make up and painting my nails for as long as I can remember. Since I wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick, I fell in love with lip balm. Once my mom realized I was serious she ordered more supplies and started helping me make it. Soon my friends and church family were asking if they could buy it.
Once I learned how to make the perfect lip balm, my parent enrolled me into a local kids business program. That program taught me the basics of setting up and starting a real business. We would sell at the farmers markets. My first real sale was a trade for strawberries. I left the park that day with $82 and I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I continued to develop my business by connecting with the Indie Business Network, Lucky Break Consulting and I graduated from the University at Buffalo’s Center of Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.
When I first started my business it was called “Azariah’s Innocence” (my middle name is Azariah) but through training I learned more about the science of the bath and body world. I realized I needed to change my direction a bit. I started out making the lip balm, body butters, bath fizzies, cake soaps, cupcake soaps, candy soap and soap for everyone. My mom and I would attend vending events all over. It was hard work. I would stay up at night to make the products after school and go to sell my products on the weekend.
After graduating from LBU and UB we decided to rebrand the business, to a more focused brand with a mission. While working with my designer Elea Lutz, I realized I wanted Zandra to stand for something great. The rebrand was not easy because I wanted it to be perfect. I had to choose the right colors, beautiful and inspiring quotes so that when a girl read it, she would feel more powerful.
I am very grateful for the cool mentors I’ve had along the way. I give 10% of profits to a girl’s education charity called Girls Education Collaborative. I am passionate about making a difference for girls across the globe. I help them build a community to better educate the girls. I can’t wait to go to Tanzania to teach a soap making or sugar scrub class.
Who inspired you to go into entrepreneurship?
My dad because he said NO! But my mom made me realize, my hobby could be so much more.
How did you get the funds to start your business?
That’s one of the coolest things I learned from Kid Biz, how to borrow from the bank of mom and dad. My dad loaned me $500 to buy my first real supplies.
Let’s talk about the sacrifices you’ve made to start your business.
Time is my biggest sacrifice. I still feel like I am living the teen-age life but I just don’t have all the extra time to do stuff that other teens do. But I know it’s all worth it.
I have had to miss out on a ton of fun stuff. My friends always invite me to their dinners or parties. They go to the mall or movies and a lot of the time I have to make product or go to an event to sell it. They didn’t understand it at first, but over the years it has gotten easier. Now, they come to work with me sometimes and I have more free time to hang out with them.
What advice do you have for other kids who think they’re too young to start a business?
You’re never too young. You need a network of like-minded people, some start up money and your grand idea.
There are tons of free resources out there for kids to learn about business. If you can learn snap chat and how to play video games, then you can research how to make your idea come to life.
Don’t accept no for an answer but seek wise help from people you trust. It’s not easy but if you involve your friends they may help you. I am building a program called Z + ME, which is an ambassador program. This program will enlist other teen girls who want to start a business and give back to girl’s education and their communities.
How do you juggle school and Zandra Beauty?
My school Nardin Academy has been very supportive. They allow me the flexibility I need to manage my business, attend events and make public appearances.
It’s not easy to keep up with my schoolwork because my school is very challenging, but I work hard and get it done.
My school has participated in a few of my events. My friends from school are a part of my “Day of The Girl Buffalo” committee. We organize an event every October that exposes girls in the community to career possibilities, technology, arts, food, healthy hair, age appropriate dress/ make up and business.
My mom is my Momager. She does all my scheduling. I have been traveling to speak more often and that’s the part I really love. She makes sure I don’t do to many things in one week and I tell her when to add the mall or movies on to the calendar lol. Also, we just hired staff that will assist with us many of the things I used to do. That’s a great thing.
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