21-Year-Old Beauty Entrepreneur VaLanDria Smith-Lash Is Out to Master the Ultimate Balancing Act

VaLanDria Smith-Lash, founder of Coarse Culture. Image: courtesy of Coarse Culture/Dominique Thorpe.

Black Girl Magic truly knows no limits. If you needed proof of this, University of Miami Junior and entrepreneur VaLanDria Smith-Lash is a walking definition. At 14 years old, Lash founded her skincare brand Coarse Culture after witnessing the impact of an autoimmune disease on her mother’s skin and hair. She got busy in her family’s kitchen to find a solve to provide relief which has now transformed into a community-focused Black owned and operated vegan entity.

Based in Chicago, Illinois, Coarse Culture offers shea butter products that aid in the relief of skin care issues such as eczema, a skin issue that plagues a large proportion of the Black population. With a mission rooted in self-care and sustainability, the 21 year old business owner has reflected on her entrepreneurial journey and has dreams of growing her business while balancing the obligations that come with being a full time college student.

The skincare founder caught up with EBONY to share her journey navigating the beauty and wellness space while striving for excellence in her academic career.

EBONY: How did your beauty company Coarse Culture come to be?

VaLanDria Smith-Lash: When I was 14 years old, my mom was diagnosed with lupus, which is an autoimmune disease. At that time, the medications she took for the disease started having some sort of adverse reaction on her. I took notice to the way her skin was and how the medication was making her hair brittle and dry along with causing a lot of discomfort. I started going with her to appointments, asking questions and conducting my own science experiments in the kitchen to figure out what can I do to help her. I did lots of research and consulted with doctors. I applied the concoctions that I mixed up for her to skin every single day. Over a couple months time, I began to see a truly miraculous difference in the texture and fullness of her hair.

Establishing a workflow and multitasking can be extremely strenuous for a college student on top of everything else life brings, let alone as an entrepreneur. How do you find time to balance your responsibilities as a business owner while making the most of your time in college?

We have a production site in Arlington Heights, Illinois. When I started this business at 14, I had to take a break when I went away to boarding school. When I felt felt mature enough to run the business, I partnered with my older sister, Valencia Brennan She is our operations manager and I’m so thankful for her. She manages absolutely everything while I’m away at school. That’s pretty much how we balance things at Coarse Culture. We also have a great team that help us with events and making products and such.

At school, I had to learn how to delegate different tasks because I’m such a hands-on person. I want to be heavily involved in every process and make sure that everything is going well while experiencing the growth. But, I just simply can’t do that and be in school, right? That was very challenging for me to internalize. However, I realized that there was a way for me to feel equally involved in my company while being at school. I developed a process of treating Coarse Culture as an extracurricular activity. After I do my homework, I set aside one or two hours to the business and stay on track that way.

Do you feel pressure to not only excel as a student but ensure that this legacy you’re building with and for your family continues to grow?

I definitely feel some pressure. For example, I know that everybody makes mistake but I can feel high-strung where I feel like that is not acceptable and I just don’t want to produce a bad product. My primary goal of creating Coarse Culture is to help people—
with the aid of plant-based products—who have skin sensitivities or who have issues with their hairs. I’m in the business of doing what I can to take care of others. Therefore, I am dedicated to making sure that if I’m going to do that, I’m going to do it the right way. So, there is pressure to make sure that I’m producing something that is helping my community. I am always focused on that goal.

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I feel pressure being young as well. It’s kind of a lot because I’m still growing and learning about the stage of life that I’m in right now. Along with that, I have to make sure that I have this business component in line and straight. This is why I am so thankful for my team members because they help me delegate and relieve a little bit of that stress. When I go to school, it’s kind of like a light switch I turn on. I have to go into school mode and then work mode. So although my focus is self-care, I need to learn to extend that to myself as an entrepreneur and student. I need to know when to say “okay, that’s enough for today, LaVanDria. You need to take a step back and work on it tomorrow.”

Can you share more about the impact that being a company that primarily prioritizes the empowerment and service of its customers has on the general culture of your business?

It warms my heart to see people come back and tell me that they like the products, especially those who have sensitive skin because it reminds me of why I started. Similar to my mom, they may have experienced a lot of discomfort so it makes me feel good to make sure that I can do something for someone else. I really think that being community focus is what makes a business a great one. For me, that is the value in being a business owner. It ensures that the positive actions you’re doing comes back around. Even when it’s not about sales, we make sure that we go and participate in local drives. We make sure that we’re also uplifting other young, Black entrepreneurs by holding pop-up events and shouting them out on Instagram. We just try to make sure that we’re bringing everybody up with us, right? It really means a lot to us to be able to do that for other people.

Reflecting on where you started at 14 years old to being 21 years old now, how have your drawn strength from the growth of your entrepreneurship journey?

Being an entrepreneur is definitely more difficult than I had anticipated. It has forced me to grow up a little bit faster with things that I probably wouldn’t have seen for another few years, such as taxes and payroll logistics. Figuring those parts out has made the journey a little difficult. At times I wish I could just focus on the products and how I am making sure that I’m helping people but that’s just not realistic. It’s not realistic for being an entrepreneur, especially at my age and of my nature. This journey is teaching me kind of how to be resilient. It’s also showing me how to be open to new ways of doing things and how to be creative. I have to think about new, innovative ways to figure out how things will work or how I reach the community. I also am very conscious of how I am presenting myself as a young, Black entrepreneur.

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