Zhanel and Bota Bray are the dynamic mother-daughter duo behind Zhanelica, a beauty brand that merges art and beauty. With a mission to connect art with cosmetics, the brand works to inspire others through their brand designs.

Each product is carefully designed and formulated consciously; without parabens, phthalates, gluten, triclosan, mineral oils or sodium lauryl sulfate. In addition to their vegan and cruelty free formula, inclusivity is at the forefront of Zhanelica with products made for all skin types. This is a beautiful brand that was born through pandemic. The founders turned their love for makeup to build the brand that is intentional in bringing quality products to the beauty community.

The Beginning of Zhanelica

Zhanel Bray: We started in the middle of the pandemic, in May of 2020. The mission behind our brand is to connect beauty with art, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. We started this business because of our passion for both beauty and art. I designed all the packaging for the products. All my life I’ve loved makeup; I saw my mom doing makeup and fell in love with it. 

When we first started, we were a little lost on what to do. Once we started solidifying our overall business needs we tried to narrow down the products we wanted to produce. We started first with eyeshadow and slowly included eyeliner, lips, and face products. Now we have a wide range of products, from mascara to primer. It definitely took us some time. We just started with that hazy idea of what we wanted to do with the business. We had our mission but it took a while to decide what products we wanted to develop or how the end products would look. And it was a lot of trial and error. Even now, two years in, it takes two to three months to design, develop and get a product to production. We have a lot of categories, but the heaviest one is eyeshadows, we always knew this would be one of our key product lines.

The Mother Daughter Duo

Zhanel Bray: I’ve always been very close to my mom, we have a very close bond. I think it just happened naturally––I thought who else would I open the business with? I think we both have the same creativity and taste for things. We agree on a lot of the designs and a lot of colors. 

The Inspiration Behind The Palettes

Zhanel Bray: We start by brainstorming ideas of what I can possibly draw on the palette. Then we think about colors; my mom chooses the colors for each eyeshadow, and we tried to relate them from the outside inwards. Whatever you see on the packaging matches the eyeshadows. There are many steps to the product development. We go through several rounds of fixing the artwork, then fix the wording on the packaging. We want the piece to feel complete, inside and out. We don’t have any specific inspiration, the ideas just flow. I do like Picasso so that’s my main inspiration overall, but I try to come up with ideas that are unique & fun to look at. And then we design the image, and the colors of the eyeshadow inside. So it’s the same color story.

Overcoming Challenges

Bota Bray: The biggest challenge in business is that you cannot be in all places at once and we had to compensate for the skills among ourselves. I didn’t know how to use Adobe products at all before starting this business. To design any packaging, you need to know programs like Adobe Illustrator Photoshop, so we had to learn all of these. It’s a lot to learn, and it has to be done quickly to keep up with deadlines. From the regulatory perspective, there’s a lot of paperwork and certification. For example, we recently filed for the trademark for all our products, which is a lot of documentation, a lot of investment. It’s been challenging as well because it’s just the two of us. 

Moving Forward

Bota Bray: Our main motivation is the love for our business. When you create something, it becomes like your baby, you can’t give up on it. We see it growing little by little. It’s not exponential growth yet, but when you see little baby steps, you don’t want to stop doing it. We just love what we do. Also it’s nice to stay close to each other as we both get older. A lot of time children will grow up and go their own ways with their own interests and families, but this business ties us together. We see each other every day, talk every day. Our biggest motivation is to be close to family and create something of our shared interests. 

The Beauty Behind the Brand

Zhanel Bray: We want our makeup to be so beautiful that you would consider framing it on your wall, so it can last; that you can take it anywhere and it inspires you to create your art. No matter your canvas, we want to inspire more art. 

We have several requests just to create an additional page on our website and sell prints. A lot of people are like, “Can I buy this art?” It was really interesting receiving those requests. And we love what we do, but we’re not experts in everything. We’re still trying to figure it all out.

We would love to see our palettes on our favorite stores’ shelves. I love stories like Target and Ulta. We also love Costco and we’ve seen a lot of beauty brands recently join Costco so that’s our ultimate goal. That is my personal dream, especially Ulta, because I used to shop there—and I still shop there about every week—for makeup and skincare products. Sephora too, which I think is geared more towards younger generations. 

My ultimate goal is to create an inclusive brand. I have very oily skin so makeup is constantly coming off. When we’re working on formulas, I’m the beta tester. We continue to tweak the formula until it’s just right, so it won’t come off in a few hours. 

We created the glitters, shimmers, matte colors with the same goal. Especially when you age, any eyeshadow falling makes you look tired. So the formula is really important. It’s vegan, gluten free, and it’s not tested on animals. We also try to avoid plastic as much as possible in our packaging, if we can. It’s usually paper and recycled materials; and we’re continually looking for options to improve sustainability.

Formulating Products

Zhanel Bray: My mother and I work on formulas together. Once we have an idea of what we want the eyeshadow or particular product to feel like, we’ll work on it together to see what works and what doesn’t. Zhanel is a chemist so it’s very hands-on but we also work with a lab. They’re more experienced than us so we mainly do the preliminary research. We have the basic knowledge of how it should be, and have our own expectations. But most of the formulation is in the labs, we just research and refine. We always request no sulfates, no parabens, no harsh chemicals on the skin. Our foundation is actually made with hyaluronic acid, which is very good for your skin. We didn’t want any breakouts happening; so we made a water-based foundation rather than the typical oil-based which often causes breakouts. We formulate all of the colors for the 60 shades that we have. There are a lot of moving parts throughout the process, in order to make sure the colors match and every skin tone is recognized throughout our shades. We’re always trying to introduce new shades and be more inclusive and diverse.

Networking & Community

Bota Bray: We love meeting other business owners and seeing how passionate they also are about their businesses. We’re bouncing off of each other’s energy. It’s a lot of networking but we love going there because there’s so much energy and so many amazing people in business that we’re inspired by. After each event, we come home thinking, “Oh my gosh, that was amazing!” We’re having meetings almost every day with different businesses for collaborations or event opportunities, promotions, shows. It’s a lot of  fun. The highlights are the people that we get to work with. It’s pretty exciting, because we get to learn new things every day, meet new people and develop our business further. Each new person brings something to the business or to you that you can use. 

The Future of Zhanelica

Zhanel Bray: We are talking to retailers right now, so we will possibly be in stores soon! We’re still a small business, but we’ve been dreaming about this so we’re really hoping to make it happen soon. 

One product we’re working on is eyeshadow singles. Since a lot of customers want to just buy one color we are developing individual versions of all the colors in our palettes. It’s also convenient and it’s more affordable. I used to travel for work and had to be very minimalistic, and with these it reduces the bulk for packing. 

Advice to Those Starting New Businesses

Zhanel Bray: Do not get discouraged. Things might not go how you expect but that doesn’t mean they won’t work in a positive way. Just keep going and do what you love. Also keep a support system. Sometimes one of us might be in a bad mood and the other says “That’s okay, we’ll figure it out.” It’s not easy at all, but we support each other and balance each other out. We’ll find the solution together. 

Interview by Marianna Garcia

Presented by L.A. STYLE Leaders

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