As a small business owner and mother to a 13 year-old son and 9 year-old daughter, I often wonder about the impressions I’m making on my kids. The strength of a mother is often talked about. The compassion and tender care of a mother is the subject of many Hallmark cards. BUT the impact of a mother’s inspiration and life example cannot be celebrated enough. I do believe each choice I make sets wheels in motion for their life trajectory as my ancestors did for me. I affect the relationships they have with other women and my own legacy imprints an identity stamp far beneath their skin.
This reflection resurfaced for me when I got the chance to meet and interview NW locals Amber Ashley and 9 year-old Amira Ashley. They are the Founders and Owners of Boujee Vegan and Boujee Vegan Girl. Listening to their shared love of make-up and how they inspire each other daily, made for a fun morning. I first learned it was Amber’s blueprint that opened Amira’s eyes to becoming the boss with the gloss.
“I’ve always been into make-up and lipsticks.“ Amber tells me after I ask what led her to creating her own make-up line. “Growing up, I was constantly mixing and making hair and make-up products for myself. I’d research how to make certain colors, get the ingredients, put them in bottles, and I’d do all the labeling. This was all for me. I didn’t think too much about it. It was just my thing.”
Amber never envisioned her fascination with make-up would lead to owning her own business one day. Prior to being a CEO of her own company, Amber was an administrative assistant and has had a long career in customer service. Juggling being a single mother while being unhappy in her current job, she felt stuck. Amber wanted to go after her dreams.
“Sometimes we realize our niche was set for us a really long time ago, but we just don’t notice. We spend so much time building up other people’s brands. Especially in a 9-5, we’re helping with someone else’s dream. But when it comes to us and supporting ourselves, we put ourselves on the back burner or we tell ourselves that that can’t happen. I know that’s what I was doing to myself.”
Amber shares how her Type II Diabetes diagnosis was a real wake up call to her younger self. When she received the news, she was in complete denial. Eventually, she knew a lifestyle change was needed. First, she took on a vegetarian diet and then moved on to being 100% vegan. And once she transitioned to vegan she wanted everything to be vegan. Even her own make-up.
“It wasn’t instilled in me to do my own thing or to make my own dreams happen. In my family, I was taught to go to school, go to college, and get a job. So that’s what I did.”
But Amber’s determination didn’t stop there. As a side project, she started working on her own line of cruelty-free make-up formulas that look great without harming the planet or animals. Creating her colors, testing out the different ingredients, and doing all the prep work became her daily routine alongside everything else. Around the same time Amber was experimenting, a family friend was starting her own cosmetic lab in New York. She asked Amber if she would collaborate with her. The timing felt meant to be. The transition from making the products herself to working with a lab came easy to Amber. She was just scaling something she’d always done since she was a kid. And having another woman owner to partner with made the risk taking less scary. The two women helped each other launch their business dreams by producing and distributing Amber’s new vegan beauty line.
“Eventually I was like, just do it. I was putting in the leg work, but I was afraid to take the actual jump. We took a chance on each other. We had to push ourselves and telling each other we can do this was powerful. Because, so what if you fail. Just try.”
“The tipping point for me was feeling undervalued in a toxic working environment. But I told myself I needed to stay because I had three kids. I didn’t think I could walk off a job. It made me stay longer than I should have.”
The three kids Amber is referring to are her nieces and nephew. After seven years of raising them as both an Auntie and Mother figure, their adoption was made official this year. The whole experience turned Amber into a long time foster care advocate. With each Boujee Vegan product sold, 10% goes towards sponsoring a high school foster student. In their senior year, they have the option of choosing between prom or graduation expenses being covered.
Amber’s youngest niece and now her daughter, 9 year-old Amira Ashley, is sitting next to her listening to everything. The connection these two have is evident. In November 2020, two years after Amber launched Boujee Vegan, Amira launched her own brand of lip glosses under the name Boujee Vegan Girl. Her first batch of yummy-smelling and candy-tasting glosses sold out in the first month. Amira shares how she got started.
“I was playing in every single make-up she has. Testing it on myself and giving my own opinion.” Amira giggles while telling me. Amber pipes in, “She was playing in my make-up too much. She needed her own.”
The whole scene is so playful and funny to listen to. Amber saw the interest Amira had and the two connected on this shared make-up obsession. Still laughing, Amira explains how this very real fight over the lipsticks turned into the two of them brainstorming about what her own business could look like. As a vegan herself, Amira wanted to launch a line of vegan lip glosses for little girls.
“When I put on my mom’s lip glosses and lipsticks it had no flavor. It would get it on my teeth and it was not ok. I wanted to have my own, but I wanted them to taste. I wanted them to smell. I wanted it to be fun. Like, if little girls accidently licked their lips I didn’t want it to taste so bad. Instead, I’d make sure they have actual flavor. Like a candy gloss shop with fruity smells and tastes. And I want everything to be a really bright rainbow of colors.”
And in that little story, Amira convinces me she is destined for big things. As a marketer, we tend to get marketing assignments after the products have launched. Not all benefits are clear and sometimes we scratch our heads over what the unique selling point is or what need the product is fulfilling. If we can’t think of one, we put it in the luxury category and we sell the image or brand more than the product itself. With Amira at the helm, Boujee Vegan Girl has an on-target brand leader who shouldn’t be underestimated. Plus, vegan beauty is growing in popularity with brands like Milk, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, Lime Crime and ELF Cosmetics, Kat Von D and Hourglass leading the way.
Amber is bringing her own spin on the industry and sees the same in her daughter’s vision. She is lifting Amira up high every step of the way. But as a mom, she admits to being cautious at first.
“I didn’t want her to launch in the middle of a pandemic. I wanted her to wait, but Amira just wanted to go for it. Getting out of her way was the hardest thing for me. But as a mom, I had to remember my role. Supporting no matter what that looks like. And once I did that, I realized she’s right. She proved me wrong.”
While doing online school, Amira’s free time is spent creating, launching, and promoting her glosses. She loves it and insists on being involved in all parts of the business. She designed the packaging, tests and approves all the smells and tastes, bundles up the deliveries, and loves sharing her stories on social media. She is new to the kid entrepreneur scene, but she’s excited about being a part of this thriving business savvy community. Her favorite influencers are @sparklecollections_ and @genesisbutler_. I have no doubt that list will grow and many will start to follow her if they aren’t already.
All kids, who like to play with make-up, can relate to nasty tasting lipsticks. Heck, as a 40 something year-old woman, I can relate and I want some. But not all kids have the drive to be a CEO and innovator at 9 years-old. Amira’s self-inspired story coupled with the love and influence of Amber created a what’s possible bubble that is only limited by Amira’s creativity. No matter what comes next, this mindset will serve Amira well into her adulthood. It’s hard not to think of my own 9 year-old daughter who loves to make her own videos. Her editing skills and topic ideas blow me away sometimes. But she’s still a young girl who loves snuggling with her mom and surrounding her room in vibrant stuffed animals. I ask Amira if she has a favorite.
“My favorite stuffed animal is a unicorn. They’re just so pretty and their horn is just so magical. They make me feel like I’m in a magical land.” Amira says with a smile.
Well, Amira. My morning with you and your mom was pretty magical and it is no wonder that you love unicorns. I can think of no other symbol that fits you better. They are mythical creatures, but you and your mark on the world is very real. I wish you and your mother all the best success in the coming years. The both of you are an inspiration to the growing community of womxn entrepreneurs.
Thank you Amber and Amira for sharing your story with me.