Teenage entrepreneur offers lessons on empowerment

Zandra A. Cunningham traveled from Buffalo, N.Y. to deliver the first All-College Hour Lecture series of the year with a talk on her self-started business, Zandra Beauty, in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom on Wednesday Sept. 20.

Zandra Beauty is the name of Cunningham’s line of beauty products, which includes lip balms, sugar scrubs, hand lotions and hair and body products. These products are all made from natural ingredients and comprise of things you can “even find in your kitchen cabinet,” according to Cunningham.

“You are what you eat, but also, what you put into your body,” Cunningham said. “The chemicals from the lotions and foundations you use seep into your bloodstream.”

At the age of 17, Cunningham is already the CEO and founder of Zandra Beauty. She is also the youngest graduate of the Minority and Women Entrepreneurial Program at University at Buffalo. In addition to speaking at Geneseo, she has been featured on NPR, Seventeen Magazine and “The TODAY Show.”

Cunningham’s fascination with beauty products started when she was just nine years old. Her mother and father prohibited her from wearing makeup because she was too young. She pleaded with her parents to buy her new lip balm, and her father refused. It was then that Cunningham resorted to creating her own bubblegum lip balm, the first she ever made. 

“From making that one lip balm, it provided me with a platform to create other businesses,” Cunningham said. 

Cunningham’s business savvy ways helped her market these lip balms to potential buyers. She decided that she wanted to learn as much about the business world and the skin care world as is possible, so she went to school. At the age of 13, she graduated from University at Buffalo and decided that she wanted to create social change through her products.

Ten percent of Cunningham’s proceeds are donated to fund girls’ education. Since starting her company, Cunningham has helped build a school in Tanzania, a country where girls are not typically given the opportunity to receive an education.

“Lots of girls don’t have the opportunity to go to school,” Cunningham said. “They are married off at the age of 11 or 12 just to have children.”  

Cunningham emphasized that she was not taken seriously at first due to her age. Artisan shop owners would agree to feature her products, but then reject them after seeing Cunningham in person. 

“I didn’t allow fear, self-doubt, my environment, drama or small thinking to stop me,” Cunningham said.

Since then, Cunningham’s business has flourished; now, she sells products to the Whole Foods Supermarket in Buffalo. Cunningham’s products sold out within two days after the grand opening on Friday Sept. 15. 

Cunningham plans on marketing her products to Wegmans next, then starting her own line of lip kits.u