From high school to a Fresh Thyme Market deal
When Kalamazoo resident Anaya Fernando was starting high school, two years before the pandemic, she decided to launch her business.
She’s now celebrating her recent graduation from Portage Northern High School with a June 19 launch of her Sugar Sweet Bath + Body Treats line of all-natural personal care products at Fresh Thyme Market in Portage.
The 18-year-old signed her first retail deal with the chain this week to bring four of her products to a much larger market — achieving this milestone that began with a desire to be an entrepreneur back when she was four years old.
“I knew I wanted to do something that had to do with women because I know there are products out here that are harmful to our bodies,” Fernando says. “So, I wanted to come up with something that specializes in natural self-care products.”
She’s had some of the best help a young entrepreneur could ask for.
Fernando participated in Teresa Baker’s Junior CEO Conference and Business Fair in 2021 where she learned the ropes of running a business. There, she got help with redesigning her logo from Sherilyn Bennett, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Camden Lane Creative Agency.
Beyond the business fundamentals, the conference also helped Fernando become comfortable with public speaking — necessary for an entrepreneur to tell a compelling story about her journey and products.
“At first, speaking, I’d be nervous. I’d be shaking. Literally,” Fernando says. “Now I’m understanding the crowd, and I’m really trying to open up to people.”
And then there was mom.
“Because she started a business, I’m in business,” D’Andrea Bolden laughs. With a background in chemistry, she helped her daughter create many of the formulas for products like body scrubs, lip scrubs, and body butters.
“I use my science background to pull the formulas together to see how they work,” Bolden says. “And once the formulas are together and once the process is together, I train her to do it, and she takes it over.”
Fernando launched Sugar Sweet Bath + Body Treats in 2018, when she was 14. Two years later, the global pandemic forced her to pivot totally into online retail.
“We had a huge learning curve,” Bolden says, from building a website to maintaining customer contact.
Through Baker’s “Ready to Retail” program, they began to prepare for the post-pandemic economy and get back in front of people. Fernando also couldn’t attend all the meetings because they happened during school hours.
After all of that preparation, they were ready to pitch.
A pop-up event, with samples and a meet-and-greet with Fernando, takes place June 19 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Fresh Thyme’s Portage location, 6212 S. Westnedge Ave.
Two body butters and two sugar scrubs will then be available for purchase at the store, and the Sugar Sweet Bath + Body Treats website will list all of the Fresh Thyme locations carrying the products.
“The exciting part is to be in stores and see how people rock with the products. Then the scary part is will people give it a try, are they going to see it?” Fernando says about the launch. “I know that I like it, but I don’t know about others. We have gotten a lot of feedback and I hope as we expand, people keep loving our products.”
This retail success is only Fernando’s next step. She’s got plenty of plans, for herself and her business.
She will attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College for the next two years before heading to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) afterward.
She will continue donating her products at community events and for distribution via social agencies.
“I know in one year I want to be able to have a warehouse because my little, tiny space that I have isn’t going to work if we get into all the stores. In five years, I’d like my products to be in every state, and in 10 years, I’d like to be international,” she says.
Bolden, Fernando’s mother, says they are focused on reducing the amount of packaging and “anything extra or unnecessary to become more environmentally friendly,” beyond already being fully recyclable and reusable packaging.
She may be a young entrepreneur, but she’s gotten enough experience to pass on sage advice to the next generation of business people: “Look at your competitors and see what they’re not doing. I looked at my competitors, and they’re using really bad things for your body. Then I’m like, well, I’ll come out with a natural self-care business.”
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