my B.O.B. - Reflections by Zana

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Owner of Reflections by Zana, Aneesha Smith. You can listen to the full interview with Aneesha, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that Reflections by Zana was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Aneesha cares 100 percent about the representation her daughters have of their Blackness in their clothing, accessories, and society. It’s what fueled her to ensure her little girls along with many other Black girls and women had something they could call their own.

Where does the name Zana come from?

The Zana originated with my daughters’ names, I have two daughters. Their names are Zarya and Aniya. And so, I took a couple of letters from each and I combined their names.

That's really beautiful. Do they know that the business was a combination of their names? 

They ask me, “why [do] people call you Zana?” I told them that there's a ZA in Zarya, and an NA in Aniya. I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to keep it unique, and of course, my daughters' names are simple and unique. So they, were like 'Ah' —they're young, they're 12 and 14 but when we started the business they were two and a half years younger.

Why did you start Reflections by Zana? 

I started Reflections by Zana because I saw that my daughters loved art. I'm an art lover, I'm a real creative person. I'm not necessarily a grand illustrator, if you will, but I love to be creative and design things, put things together, put different elements together and they kind of took that piece up as they started growing up. I saw when they would bring me pictures they drew…none of the faces on the pictures looked like them. It's natural in a sense, because you're emulating what you see, but what do you see? You see it everywhere. Nobody really looks like you. I started Reflections by Zana to highlight the fact that they could start to become comfortable coloring in those lines and given in some color to their own creations by showing them that it's possible and it's doable. And that little girls, especially, could be comfortable in their own skin, or changing up the game and making those characters that they admire look more like them. We started with representation and painting at the very beginning. I wanted them to see the afro puff and I wanted them to see the skin tones were all different but it was OK. The hair didn't have to be long, it didn't have to flow across your face and down your back, and that's what I was seeing in their work.

I think that your reason for starting your business is something that will definitely resonate with a lot of the myblackbox audience because our future, especially if we're parents, really starts with our children. Would you say that along with your daughters, there is another inspiration that fuels your entrepreneurial journey? 

I've always given myself a reason to have a side business. I've owned several businesses; I've been an editor, I mean my husband wrote books. I've done Mary Kay at one point early when I first became a nurse. When I was little and I had a typewriter and I would type up sales pages for dance classes that I was doing for neighborhood children. Mind you, I'm a neighborhood kid myself. But, the expression piece has always been there. I could probably point to very few years in my adult life where I was not a part of a business or trying to start a business or getting to run a business. Reflections by Zana was the business that stuck. It stuck because of technology changes; it stuck because of the rising era of women who wanted to be represented in more than just magazines and television. They wanted to wear things, they wanted to make statements every day. The drive [has] always been an entrepreneurial drive.  I have brothers that have companies and I think it's just been in us. For me personally, I'm always looking for [a] way to be able to express that and get products to people in certain markets that I enjoy.

As you say, there's a larger amount of Black women who are pursuing entrepreneurial goals and starting businesses whether that be in retail, food and beverage, beauty [and] hair, or apparel. I think it's more acceptable in society for younger generations to venture out and try new ideas instead of just go with a given traditional route.  I would love to know who you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship? 

I'm going to give you a couple of names that probably are brands that your audience may be familiar with; they're also part of a community that I'm a part of called Traffic, Sales, and Profit. These are everyday women that built up products and services that serve woman. The first one is Sassy Jones Boutique with Charis Jones. She does jewelry, unique jewelry as a subscription box service and it's just classy, uplifting products that her entire community is very grateful for the access to that and a place for that. Then the second is [inaudible]. She has another large community, she does exactly the kind of same messaging that I do, with confidence in who you are, confidence in being Black.

I'm glad that you shared other Black women entrepreneurs, because there’s sometimes a believe that woman can't support other woman; or they're afraid that there's not enough room at whatever table they found themselves at, so they won't invite others to it or help others get to it.

It's doable. The reason I didn't give you a household name was because these woman are household names in their own communities.  They're not corporate or they haven't been bought and sold and watered down. It's kind of like on the journey you meet people that are as passionate as you, and so, I did. It’s an amazing process to see behind that, to meet them, and then see them in action and mentoring others and setting a great example.

[On] that accord, I'd love to know why should consumers purchase with Reflections by Zana?

You should buy with me because of the standards. I have high standards of excellence. We work hard to provide products, especially with our art‑based products, a lot of illustrations are beautiful, classy illustrations that we really hope make those statements that you want to make when you go to work.  Make statements when you are on vacation, when you're just out shopping and you want to be seen and you want to turn heads. I find a lot of our pieces are conversational when I carry things around. And then to speak to my smaller items that I actually do hand‑make—I make badges and one of my customers had a professional photoshoot in her badge that she got from me. It's a three‑inch wooden badge and I stain it, and I paint it, and I adorn it and then I put the degree letters or the professional letters that you have earned in the hair. Before I even started offering illustrated items, I sold something as simple as a work badge. I've made almost 10,000 badges since I started doing it and I'm the only person that makes them. I will always be selling those. They will always be bought and the representation, the need for representation is real.

You bring up a good segue because I would love to know of [the] collections of your products, which is your most favorite and why? 

The illustration that gets me, brings me in the most, I would say is probably my Loc’d Goddess. She is forward facing, her hair is loc‑d, I've had a ton of customers request a locs illustration from me because I've done the afropuffs and the locs are in. She's got an African choker on and she's very lively and exuberant. Every time I'm out vending and I open something with her on it or bring something with her on it, locs or not, people stop. They stop and they turn around and they come back. So, I'm going to say my favorite so far is her. I do have another one that I'm going to be releasing—I kind of started the collection, I haven't finished getting it on my site—but Queen Zara, she's a head wrap. She's another absolutely gorgeous Black woman—full lips, nose, earrings…absolutely classy, animated, exuberant and she's going to be up hopefully [late June].

Things that represents us as we come into our own as Black women is pretty telling, especially in the options that you present with Reflections By Zana. My next question is what advice do you have for Black girls and women who struggle finding their place in society? 

Well, I will say there's a lot of hurt in the Black community. I'm a dark‑skinned woman and I got teased growing up. I got teased about being dark skin and chocolate this, and tar that. These are my school mates and people in the streets. I had my parents who really instilled a value of self‑worth. I know that everyone doesn't have somebody that's close to them that can constantly remind them that the world is a bit crazy when it comes to these matters. I feel like hopefully we can encourage women to seek inside and seek visuals. My daughters, they have Instagram accounts and I monitor them. I tag them in all the Black art I can find. I let them know it is OK to find space and to be comfortable in those spaces, and to draw, to create characters of color. Period. My 12 year old draws for me, and she's got two designs and I'm very excited to release for kids. They're just so fun and uplifting. My advice would be to find communities and it's OK if you don't want to be called Blerds or Black nerds. I'm telling you since I started this business my daughters bring me art that is colored in now. They bring me afropuffs; they bring me headbands and cute fuzzy bangs and dark skin characters. I think it's  deeper conversation, but I would say my biggest tip would be to find safe spaces and to find people who like the things that you like—and they may not be what a “typical black girl” likes or what a “typical Black woman” is interested in or should be interested in. 

I don't want to end on this topic…because we can go on forever but I do have three remaining questions to ask you about your business. The one that I'm sure everyone will want to know—especially since you are in a clothing and apparel space—how did you financially start your business? 

I was a nurse…I bootstrapped it. I can tell you that my badges paid for a whole lot of retention. Believe it or not, that badge costs $20; shipped to your house for $20.  We had to increase the price when we realized how much work it was. But that money, we [a] hundred percent invested right back. We just grew and grew and grew that bank account until we could afford to step out and explore other product options. So, you go to my Etsy shop and get to see how diverse our offers are, from compression socks to stethoscopes—I had 100 stethoscopes made, limited edition with our logo on it. It was a hundred percent reinvestment and just very careful research as to what we could afford to roll out next and keep our community interested in what we were doing. I originally started with nursing, just RNs ,and then people started requesting BSN; and then people started requesting MSN and DNP; and then social workers were like well what about social workers. And [then] doctors were like, well wait a minute I'm an AKA, but I'm also a physician, can you make that work, can you put my [Greek] letters, could it be in the hair and with rhinestones, and in I want everything! We let our customers talk to us about what they wanted to see and how they wanted to display everything they had accomplished.

That's a fantastic example of sowing a seed and watching it grow and then taking the harvest from that seed that grew into this beautiful plant, that delivered bountiful fruit and replanting seeds from the fruit that you gained. Then it blossoming from there to different professional levels and to different Greek letter organizations to other spaces of their identity because no one's one‑dimensional—I can be an attorney, and be an AKA, and be a mom.

When I tell you my repeat customers…they're so unique. I've had people attempt to offer what I'm offering and they don't last very long because it really is a labor of love— to get something so intricate and so meaningful to one individual knowing it won't last forever but the time [it] that you have is just so much about you.

I think that's why your customer base continues to purchase with you again is because of the value you bring and the sentiment that it connects with them. I think it's hard for a lot of businesses to figure that out. I would love to know from you what advice you would give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch.

Do your research first, get a really good idea on answering a few questions as to if this is going to be a hobby for you; is this something you want to get out in the world and see where it goes? Are you prepared for popularity? Are you prepared for failure? Are you financially prepared to take the jump, does it make sense? These are questions that…as a person that's excited about an idea, you skip these questions. Because of course, it's an idea that I love and of course people will love it too because they will and you haven't really done the research into the why people may or may not be sold. I have about 7,200 sales on Etsy and about maybe 900 reviews. It's like a five star experience. That experience is something you must prepare from day one to deliver to your customers. You got to hit the ground running, and make sure that you can deliver on an entire experience with them, talk to them.

I think most people, I'll say, are very excited about their idea and the success that they can have but the work that they have to put into it, they're not very honest with themselves about that work. My last question is what can we expect from Reflections by Zana in 2019? 

Me and my husband, we go to conferences where we feel will be important and help us see what the next steps will be. For me, I feel like it's time to grow community around Reflections by Zana, so I'm going to be starting a Facebook group, that will celebrate individuality, professionalism, and allow people to show off what they purchased from us. I don't really talk to my audience directly very much and I'm going to start doing that too. I want to kind of make sure we have our collections and there's something fresh and exciting coming up. For anyone that's in the Atlanta area, we'll be at the Second Annual WeBuyBlack convention on August 23 to 25. For the rest of the year it's just kind of going to be about doing some of the fine tuning—our messages, letting our customers see us more, and starting to build a community.

Well the myblackbox community definitely should go and check you out at the WeBuyBlack Second Annual Conference in August. They can also head over to your site and go through the beautiful collections available and if they are Greek, the Greek‑lettered offerings you have. It's quite exciting to see the different variations of things that you offer on the site. I do hope that our audience supports you and of course thank you again for your time!

The alignment was amazing! Thank you so much. Thank you.

Aneesha’s mindfulness and care for her daughters’ self-image based on representation in the media clearly sparked the journey for a successful clothing and accessories brand. How inspired are you after learning about her journey?

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