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Meet the 18-Year-Old Entrepreneur Whose Plant-Based Beauty Line is in Whole Foods, Costco, Wegmans and now Target

Meet the 18-Year-Old Entrepreneur Whose Plant-Based Beauty Line is in Whole Foods, Costco, Wegmans and now Target

Photo: Alexandria Reed 

Zandra Cunningham is far from your typical college freshman. At 18 years old, she is the CEO of the plant-based, cruelty-free skincare line Zandra Beauty.

Since starting her company at just nine years old out of her Buffalo, New York home, Cunningham has expanded her business to now be on the shelves of major retailers like Whole Foods, Wegmans, Paper Source, Home Goods and Costco. Most recently, she entered a partnership deal with Target where her products will be featured in over 700 stores across the nation as part of the retailers Black History Month spotlight. 

Cunningham tells Because of Them We Can that the idea for her company came about in 2009 when she developed an obsession with lip balms. 

"I would ask my dad every day before he went to work to buy me a new lip balm and one day he told me 'no,'" she explains. "He said, 'I'm not going to keep buying you one. You should make your own.'"

Taking her dad’s advice, the teen says she immediately started researching lip balms and watching YouTube videos to figure out how to make her own product.

Photo:  Alexandria Reed  

“My mom saw this and she kind of jumped on the bandwagon and brought me a kit so that I could make my own lip balm,” says Cunningham. “I started passing them out in my grandfather’s church and then one day a lady paid me a dollar for it. That’s when it clicked that I can have a real business.”

To learn more about it takes to grow her company, Cunningham enrolled in an entrepreneurship program at the University of Buffalo.

“I graduated from the program when I was 13,” she says. “And that is where my foundation was built in terms of learning about business, writing a business plan and learning about finances. Through that I was also able to meet people who encouraged me and gave me amazing advice in order to meet my goal, which was to be in stores across the country.”

Since starting her business in 2009 with a lip balm product, Cunningham says she has now expanded her line to include more than 50 different products ranging from body washes to lotions to lip scrubs. While her products are now sold in stores nationwide, items from her beauty line can still be purchased directly from her website at zandrabeauty.com.

Unlike many traditional companies whose main focus is to simply sell a product, Cunningham says her business is also about girl’s empowerment with each item being packaged with an inspirational quote on it. Additionally, she says 10 percent of all proceeds are donated to help improve girl’s education.

“I want to help build my customers confidence on the outside as well as help build their confidence on the inside with the quotes,” she explains.

Photo: Alexandria Reed 

Outside of her beauty line, Cunningham also runs her own non-profit called Zandra TLC foundation where she she hosts an all-day event to “expose girls in underserved communities to the many different opportunities and career paths they can take.”

Next year, the 18-year-old says she plans to take a break year from her studies at the University of Buffalo to focus more on growing and expanding her business. 

“I hope to eventually be a millionaire,” she says. “Like I can see that in the next year or two.” 

She adds, “I just really want to see my company flourish to where I know it can go so that I can create more jobs, travel, speak and educate youth so that they know anything is possible."