Like most 9-year-old girls, Zandra Cunningham loved feeling pretty, and lip balms were her kiddie cosmetic of choice. The balm boss has spent the past 10 years building a beauty brand of her own and is now the head of a million-dollar bath and body line aimed at empowering ambitious young ladies like herself.
It was after her father refused to continue bankrolling her habit, telling her to purchase her own balms, that Cunningham decided it was time to go into business for herself. Cue the birth of Zandra Beauty. It was 2019. She was just 19.
“I started doing research and watching YouTube videos, watching tutorials to figure out how lip balm was made, researching where it came from and all that good stuff,” she told Atlanta Black Star in an interview.
With her mother’s help, Cunningham got her hands on a mail-order kit and was soon whipping up homemade balms, which she shared at church. Her lip lacquers are now part of a successful skin care line offering a variety of products, from exfoliating sugar scrubs to body butters and artisan soaps.
“I thought, ‘If I can make $1 today, how much could I make tomorrow?” she explained. “And so that’s how it began to transition from a hobby into a business.”
The Buffalo, New York-based business prides itself on being a “plant-based, cruelty-free” brand focused on creating “high quality, fun + fresh products that smell amazing but don’t have all the unnecessary yucky stuff + chemicals,” according to the company’s website. The brand is also committed to sustainable practices, with a priority on sensitive skin types.
What started as a hobby in her family’s home soon found its spot at local farmer’s markets and craft shows. Now, Cunningham’s products line the shelves at major retailers like Target, Wegman’s, and even Whole Foods.
Zandra Beauty has even caught the eye of outlets like “Good Morning America,” which featured the teen’s products on its “Deals and Steals” segment earlier this year.
“We’re working on building an empire now, but I see it being in every store in the world,” she said. “My dream is to have my products … on the shelves and available to everyone. The brand is just getting bigger and better every year.”
The teen’s company recently hit the $1 million mark, and Cunningham told ABS she hopes to exceed that by the end of this year. After rebranding back in 2015, Cunningham said Zandra Beauty grossed $100,000 in sales, and the company has been able to double that every year since. In 2018, the brand profited $500,000 and is now valued at close to $2 million, she said.
“I want it to be big, I want it to grow,” said Cunningham. “I want it to be a huge empire. I want all this hard work to pay off and I just want people to be inspired by that fact that a young person who wanted to make lip balm turned into this amazing empire that’s recognized around the world.”
“I know it’s going to happen,” she added. “I’m really excited to see where it goes.”
With success comes great responsibility and hard work, which Cunningham is no stranger to. Each day, she juggles the tasks of running a small business while still saying on top of her studies; at 13, Cunningham was the youngest to ever graduate from the University at Buffalo School of Management’s Allstate and Minority Women Business program and is now working toward earning her business degree, according to The Buffalo News.
The skincare exec describes her business as a “social good company,” and uses her platform as a vehicle to inspire and empower young girls. When she’s not partnering with local charities to give back to her community, Cunningham is busy traveling to speaking engagements across the country to share her expertise on education and entrepreneurship.
She even offers free classes and DIY beauty workshops for those with dreams of owning their own business one day, too. As part of her commitment to helping empower girls across the globe, Zandra Beauty also donates up to 10 percent of sales or in-kind contributions organizations that do just that.
In fact, Cunningham said she believes that’s what makes her brand stand out from the rest. There’s no other skin care company out there that caters specifically to teen girls, she said, adding that she thinks her age gives her an advantage over the competition.
“We have minds and fresh ideas and a young person in charge that’s living it,” she said.
So what’s next for Zandra Beauty?
The teen CEO said she plans to launch new products soon, as she’s working to break into the hair care industry while still expanding her skincare line. She’s also in talks to start a clothing line with her sister.