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Zandra Cunningham’s world of beauty

Photo by kc kratt


“It’s all Dad’s fault.” What sounds like the premise for a classic TV sitcom is the real story behind a thriving Buffalo bath and body products line with a fifteen-year-old at its helm. Zandra Beauty is the brainchild of Zandra Cunningham, a sophomore at Nardin Academy, whose business began some six years ago, sparked by an offhand remark made by her father. Exasperated by persistent requests to “buy me a new lip balm,” he suggested his tween daughter learn how to make her own. Zandra took that as an intriguing challenge and, with her mother’s help, found some handcrafted beauty product tutorials online. Soon she was, indeed, making her own lip balm, handing out free samples to fellow members of her grandfather’s church, Miracle Mission Full Gospel on Sycamore Street, and subsequently selling her products at a flea market there. By age eleven, Zandra was plying her trade at a KidBiz stand in the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market. She made eighty-two dollars the first day. A business was born, a fledgling entrepreneur launched. 


So sometimes parents say the right thing?

Mine have always supported me. And encouraged us. I have an older brother who’s a college freshman and a younger brother who is just a year behind me. We all have their attention for our activities. For me, I like to be different. I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing. I am happy to be the first.


Among your peers, you’re probably the first to start a business. How do you square this with school obligations?

I was at Tapestry Charter School when I started getting serious about this, and they allowed me to participate in weekly sessions as the only young person in the Minority and Women Entrepreneurial Program at the University at Buffalo. Now I am at Nardin, where everyone is also very supportive. I have a big commitment to education, especially girls’ education, so this all fits in.


Earlier on, you joined the KidBiz Program at Buffalo State College. You’ve presented at TEDxYouth@Buffalo. What inspires you?

First, I developed my line to appeal to people like me, girls in their teenage years. But because it’s all natural and organic—it looks and smells pretty, but is also good for your skin—we have customers from babies to women and men. I wanted a good product, simply made; you can recognize everything on the ingredient list. Once I got going, I started teaching, from classes in making lip balms to coaching in Steve Tasker’s Leadership Development Camp.


So you are inspired to inspire?

Yes, I promote opportunity and education, especially for girls. I want to make a difference in the world, so we are now contributing ten percent of sales profit from our Lemon Tea Tree Line to Girls Education Collaborative, a Buffalo-based nonprofit that works with local communities in developing countries to create opportunities for girls. My business has given me a platform.


Tell us more about Zandra Beauty. 

We moved on to other products from lip care, sugar scrubs, soaps, and lotions. I worked with a local woman graphic artist to choose colors that I like and slogans that mean something to me and to girls my age. “Relax and renew,” “today is a new day”—affirmative messages like that. We focus on scents I like, well, except for the lavender, but we had a focus group for that and I was outvoted.  One of our most  popular scents right now is Japanese kumquat. 


Fun details! But how about the  nuts and bolts of running a business? 

I have learned a lot through mentoring. My parents have supported me and provided financial backing. I call them my two full-time employees, though they have their own careers—my dad coaches football and wrestling at Canisius High School and my mom is chief administrative officer at Erie County Chiropractic on Delaware. We started all this at home in the kitchen, until that got to be too cramped. Then we were in a space at The Foundry—a creative workspace on Northampton Street—for a while, and then we found our current space in the Pierce Arrow Commerce Park. This is where I have my production facility, where I create and bottle and send out products. We have wholesale and retail customers (zandrabeauty.com) across the country, and we also sell in local boutiques, and a Canalside kiosk. And at Visit Buffalo Niagara’s airport and downtown stores.


You do this all by yourself?

I do have two part-time employees now. I am interested in creating jobs and supporting this community by sourcing locally; I want to do more of that. We are looking at local manufacturers and really trying to keep everything here even as we grow, while being true to my brand, which is personal, organic, and natural. I learned about this in small business seminars over the years. You know, it doesn’t matter what age you are. What’s important is passion and contributing to the community and the wider world.


And the future?

Not sure yet. Thinking about taking some time off after high school before starting college. I have been working on a book; a fun little motivational book that would be kind of a do-it-yourself manual for young people. I think this might be a good first book.             


Longtime Spree contributor Maria Scrivani is interested in local history and people who make a difference. Spree spotted Zandra Beauty products down the street from our office, at Renew Bath and Body.

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