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Interview with Sumita Batra founder of Ziba Beauty

We had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing a very inspiring business owner for the latest edition of the Los Angeles Community Spotlight. Sumita Batra is the CEO of Ziba Beauty, an Entrepreneur, Celebrity Henna Artist and Stylist. Sumita’s curiosity and passion for authentic eastern beauty traditions, introduced the Art of Threading™ to the United States 30 years ago, and has created and led the brow category in the beauty industry

With the current COVID-19 pandemic forcing her business to temporarily close the retail stores, Sumita decided to take matters in her own hands and use her resources to provide essential safety gear for families across the nation. This is an incredible, inspirational story you do not want to miss.

What inspired you to start Ziba Beauty?

We used to go to Little India, in the City of Artesia, to get our Indian supplies and food. My mom had an Estheticians license and one of our friends, Jyoti Nagrani had a shop on Pioneer Blvd called Cottage Art. She would keep pushing my mom to open a salon for the Indian Community. A few months later, my mom lost her job and had her final paycheck – a whopping $2000 and she had one credit card with a $2000 limit on it. She convinced this businessman who operated a snack shop in little India to rent us his 400 square foot storage room for $1000 per month. We bought used equipment – cleaned the dirty black floor – only to find beautiful white tiles underneath – made the wax room with a shower curtain and – We opened the doors to a small beauty salon and called it Ziba Beauty Center. Ziba Means Beautiful in Persian. 

How were you able to watch your company grow and flourish what strategies did you use?

Sept 9th, 1987 – I was 18 – my mom was 40, my sister 20, and it was my parents 20th wedding anniversary. I had just graduated from Jordan high School in Long Beach. On day one – I Made a notice and put it on the window facing outside.  It read– For women Only – No men allowed!  We had more men come in to complain about the notice than women to remove hair. They insisted that we had “no right” to discriminate against them. This is America – you cannot do this here. Today if I designed that notice it would read – If you’ve got hair – You’re welcome here!  It was a simple life in Little India – I was happy watching my Bollywood movies, reading my Indian magazines and listening to my eastern music. I was inside a vacuum in Artesia California. 

Ziba got hired to do Mehndi by the stylist for Vogue and Vanity Fair!. At that stage of my life I had never heard of nor read these magazines -. I was super excited to do henna tattoos on a celebrity. My first big gig. I could not contain my disappointment when I got to the shoot – I discovered that it was some girl named Liv Tyler- I thought I was hired to paint Liz Taylor. My husband tried to tell me about her famous dad – but I had no idea who he was either. 

In my experience, the things we take for granted are the ones we have grown up with – and these are most often the biggest opportunities. I would have never imagined that the mehndi I grew up playing with as a child would land my work on the cover of Vanity Fair or make me a published author. I would have never imagined that our small family business would inspire and create an entire category in Beauty Industry, copied by millions of people worldwide. We are all born with some unique talents and most often we do not realize how special our gift is until we are picked up by a giant in your industry that says … wow – that is special. 

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

My immediate family – my husband and my kids have paid a price. I have missed a lot of things that most moms take for granted. And – I have also been able to provide a fabulous lifestyle for my family, so no complaints. Just choices and consequences.  The last four years, I have dedicated to spending a lot more time with my kids, and that has somewhat disappeared since March 13th – the day we shut down Ziba. Ironically, it was my daughter Maya’s 25th birthday. Since the shut down, I have gone back to my mad, idealistic, and determined entrepreneurial ways. I am working at a maddening pace, and hope I can keep up.  I know no other way. 

My extended family has always been an extension to my sense of responsibility. I have never seen them as “not my problem”. Everything I have built has been shared, and has been enabled by my family, beginning with my mom. She is truly my bedrock. 

What motivates you?

Quotes & my Sikh scriptures. 

How do you generate new ideas?

I go grocery shopping in every country I visit. I walk tradeshows. I attend trend briefings. I have a lot of different type of friends from distinct industries,  I have no idea, where it comes from – but if you give me a problem, I will give you at least 5 ideas to help you solve those problems. I am a problem solver. I am not afraid to learn. Its god given!

What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

Drowning! I don’t know how to swim. Isn’t that ironic? How do I manage? I don’t swim. I know what I don’t know, and unless I have the tools to help me, I won’t go there. When not going there is not an option, then I find the solution. In the case of swimming, it’s a boogey board ☺.

What inspired you to begin making goods to support people during this pandemic?

To be honest, it was desperate determination. I had to be part of the solution in some form or the other. I asked myself, what can I do? How can I be of service?  How do I save Ziba Beauty? What is the need of the hour? And then boom…it hit me. I have all this access. I know suppliers, I am good at sourcing. I have respect and have earned peoples trust. Most of all, I am crazy enough to believe I can make a difference.  One thing led to another and before I knew it, we were delivering toilet paper from our storage, in our Tesla, to our community. LOL! I was officially in the toilet paper business. This week we started selling to our clients… and the campaign #savezibabeauty was born. 

What would you share to other business owners during this time of crisis?

This is an unprecedented time. It is not the time to sit back and wait for things to come to you. It is the time to think, delve deep into your soul, your idea box, your resources and figure out how you will be a part of the solution. It is Definitely not the time to binge watch TV and complain about the President.  I love going to the Lakers games and shouting, “Let’s Go Lakers Let’s go”. I would tell my fellow entrepreneurs, immigrants, women, and Community to ask themselves – What can I do to be a part of the solution? I would tell them  “Let’s go Makers, Let’s go!”

What is the most rewarding part of doing what you do?

Doing it!

For the aspiring entrepreneur reading this what advice will you give ?

Now is the time to reshape, reform, and build partnerships. It’s a time to re-examine our businesses; perhaps by adding products and services you would never have offered in the past. 

At Ziba Beauty, we are making available essential products and supplies that we were using in our day-to-day business operations. By doing so, we are staying afloat and also providing essentials that our clients are currently searching for. We are re-examining our entire operations and removing anything that is not essential to the survival of our business. 

Touch services such as beauty, nail, and hair salons will be the last to regain business at 100%. Timing will be essential. If we reopen too soon, a resurgence will make us shut down again. We can learn that there is power in numbers. 

Collective bargaining and strength are vital in negotiating relief from our landlords and our vendors. There was never a more critical time than now to come together with other small businesses to align our efforts and brands to help each other survive. We need to share resources, spaces, clients, products, and whatever is possible!

What final words do you have for all of the supporters?

The retail landscape has changed forever. We will not easily forget how this pandemic took hold of how we work and live. It will stay in our minds and will have a profound impact on the way we do business moving forward. The distinction between essential and non-essential services has been made evident. 

A new normal may include wearing face masks and increased use in sanitizers and fever monitors. The retailers that have always embedded sanitation and cleanliness in their brand DNA and processes will stand out and be rewarded for it. My prediction is that post-Coronavirus, retail will dominate online, primarily in essential products. 

The foot traffic will return slowly, once health concerns are stabilized. But retail services will only survive if their vendor partners support their return. Otherwise, we might see many businesses shut down. 

I will leave you with some questions to ponder. How you answer these questions will be the game changer.

What are you going do about all this? How are you contributing to the solution? What are you waiting for?

You can visit the inspiring company here

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