What was your first job ever? Were you running your own natural beauty product business like a total boss? Well, Zandra Azaria Cunningham, the founder of Zandra Beauty, is not only doing that at 14 years old, but she's empowering other teenage girls along the way. Cunningham's eponymous brand is a result of five years of education, research, determination, and balance. Running a small business, leading "DIY Maker Sessions" for other girls, attending high school, and being a motivational speaker while still making time for gymnastics, dance, and friends is no small feat for anyone. Despite the "not fun decisions" about how she spends her time she says she sometimes has to make, Cunningham tells Bustle she wouldn't have it any other way: "I get to be in charge of what happens next, and that's cool," Cunningham says. "I'm learning a lot about the business world and how to run my company early so I can grow."
Cunningham started her business after taking a kids' entrepreneur workshop at the age of 9. Her own troubles with finding lotions and lip balms that didn't irritate her skin caused her to start making products of her own at home. Once she'd perfected the process her entrepreneurial spirit took over and she started marketing and selling the products at local farmers markets in 2010 — only days before she turned 10. Her first business partners? Her parents, who gave the business its first loan and still help with day-to-day operations.
While many teens are loathe to accept help from their parents, Cunningham says it's been a great experience. "For the most part its easy working with my mom and dad," she says. She asserts her dad is very laid back and calm, while her mom is "not so much" — and she can appreciate what they each bring to the table. "[My mom] is very serious about the business, meaning she makes sure things happen and the work gets done. Sometimes I don't want to do the work and she still makes sure its getting done. She is a very hard worker and I admire that," says Cunningham. The only downside to working with family? "I don't really get to 'go home' from work."
Making paraben-free products is important to Cunningham, but choosing what she considers healthy beauty products wasn't always a priority. "I didn't really care what I used," she says "As long as it smelled pretty, I bought it." After finding conventional products made her break out and caused her skin to be even more dry than it was before using the lotion, she started looking for solutions. "That experience made me want to know more about the process of making similar products. I soon discovered I could make beautiful, pretty smelling product too, but without all the yucky stuff." This revelation lead to a certain disenchantment with conventional beauty products for Cunningham. "I know now that they have the ability to make better quality product but don't," she says. "I am now very particular about what I put on my skin, and I watch what other people put on their skin. It's crazy because I see beauty totally different now, too."
Cunningham says she wanted to cater to what she feels the average girl wants: efficient products with cute packaging, "I feel like Zandra is the answer to that, but it's also healthy." Her packaging is definitely cute. As Cunningham changes and evolves, so has the company and its latest re-brand has the packaging filled with bright colors and uplifting quotes. Cunningham says that being a teen positions her to understand what teens want and what they're missing when it comes to self-care products. She says the new packaging is part of her mission to make people feel special and beautiful for who they are when they use her products, "I want them to know that the products are good for their skin and are created with love from excellent ingredients. I want girls to feel strong and uplifted by the quotes I chose for each product."
Aside from creating the products and choosing body-safe ingredients, Cunningham is also taking care of and inspiring teen girls worldwide: 10 percent of all of her net proceeds go to support girls' education. Her partnership with Girls Education Collaborative also sends 10 percent of the proceeds from her Lemon Tea Tree line to build a school in Tanzania. Locally, Cunningham hosts an annual event for "International Day of The Girl" that gives workshops on topics from coding to healthy eating to local teenage girls. " Its all about exposure and education," she says. "I want all girls to know that they have options."
So what about this girl's options and future? She's only a freshman in high school, but with a booming business she's already thinking about how to continue her success and get a college education. "Well, some days I think college is exactly what I want to do, but other days I feel like I want to continue to travel around the world and inspire girls around the world," she says — adding that she's sure that her parents will help her find a way to do both. Cunningham is definitely not lacking dreams when it comes to her business, though, and hopes to turn it into an empire for good: "I want my brand to be know for empowering and inspiring girls across the world. I want girls to become change agents because of what I have started. I see Zandra turning into a international brand that stands for girls education and community building. This can be huge. Yeah, I want it to be huge."
Images: Courtesy Zandra Beauty