Meet The Skincare Entrepreneur Whose Immigrant Roots Pushed Her To Seek Leadership Without Fear

When it comes to entrepreneurship, and celebrating the success of a growing business, we reserve a special amount of celebration for women and mothers, because we know the business world is still structured to favor male-dominated ideas of leadership. Women and minorities aren’t just looking to succeed in the same way, they also in many cases have to equip themselves with tools that help them overcome added barriers.

Which is why someone like Mandeep Shahi, managing partner and owner of skincare brand Zenmed, is the perfect example of a badass who is showing other women and mothers that those barriers don’t have to stand in the way of your entrepreneurial ambitions. Over the past 20 years, Mandeep has been leading the growth of Zenmed and overseen its newest product additions, brand refresh and marketing strategies. All while caring for her newest baby! 

Mandeep is a strong entrepreneur that knows how to scale a business and account for competition in such a crowded space. She’s used her experience to build this brand and also balance life after a move to NY from Canada, raising the newest addition to her family, and ensuring that her business has responsible practices, including being a PETA-certified corporation. 

We spoke with the woman who wears many hats about her immigrant upbringing, navigating the male-dominated business world, and why she chooses to tackle leadership and new challenges without fear.

Tell me about your upbringing as a first generation South-Asian woman born abroad? What was it like to balance your personal identity with the culture around you? 

I’m part of the first generation of kids born abroad in North America. I grew up in a very small blue collar town, and since I was born into a newly immigrated family, I had very little exposure to “North American” living in my household. Also having English as my second language, a lot of day to day talk at school went over my head. I think I kind of always felt like I was on the outside looking in.

I embraced my “differentness” and just went with it. I shaved my head at 12, I started writing letters in protest of fur, animal testing, human rights and environmental causes. I just didn’t feel I had any need to fit in anywhere.

Your parents also raised you in a gender neutral environment which allowed you to reject sexism as you grew older. How has this impacted your view on women’s struggles that you see in society today?

I think it was two-fold because in my eyes gender discrimination didn’t really exist so I was blissfully unaware of inequalities in the outside world. But it also created a foundation where sexism is so foreign to me that I just don’t let anything slip by me. It’s so insidious, how it slips into every aspect of our lives on a day to day basis. I remember early on an employer telling me that “I was too ambitious” and using remarks like “too bad you are a woman.” I remember being told I was aggressive because I wanted something done badly for the business I was working for. I remember being told in another job that there was no reason to stick around because no female was ever going to advance past the position I was in. Sad to say but I definitely felt like entrepreneurship was my way out of these stereotypes. 

But in a broader sense I am very happy that the #metoo and #timesup movements have really brought to light the role of sexism in poverty. Gender disparity makes our entire society suffer. Poverty is indeed sexist.

You’ve been running Zenmed for 20 years. How did you initially launch the brand? 

I was suffering from horrible acne myself and was looking for an alternative way to treat it. The natural beauty industry was just emerging and we launched ZENMED as a strictly online store back when ecommerce was also still in its infancy. It was launched as a bespoke skin care brand created for individuals who suffered from acne and other skin conditions who perhaps did not want to seek help from outside sources and preferred the privacy of shopping from home. This all came together as a self help exercise but also wanting to do good for people out there who felt the same sort of emotional pain I was feeling from having this horrible condition.  

As a successful entrepreneur, what were some of the key ingredients along the way, mentorship, funding, community etc, that helped propel you toward your goals? 

Mentorship was #1. My mentor was a project manager by nature, not at all related to skincare. But the skills of project management can be taken and applied to almost anything in life. I leaned to multitask, manage teams, delegate.

My mentor was also the most persistent person you could ever meet. There was no “try,” there was no “I don’t know.” He made me accountable to myself first and foremost.

The beauty industry is a very crowded space. How have you set yourself and the Zenmed brand apart from the others?

I identified a niche in the market when it came to dealing with troubled skin. All the products for acne were harsh and stripping. We created natural formulas blended with drug actives and the ability to mix and match based on your skin type. We also pH balanced all products to work with your skin in a bioidentical manner so we let your own body aid in the healing. 

Why was it important to you to create a brand that focused on natural living with responsible practices? 

It was important for me to create products that aligned with my conscience. That meant no animal testing or ingredients, and being free of toxins. It meant recyclable packaging as I am a self-professed packaging hater. I think my beliefs really resonate with our customers and I am proud to say we have followed this design model since day one. 

What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs who can see the barriers in front of them but don’t know how to overcome them?

Being told “no” is never the end as an entrepreneur. It means you innovate, get resourceful. You have the ability to bring almost anything to fruition. Especially as us being child bearers and all… c’mon, our entire DNA is loaded with creation!

As a mom of two boys, what wisdom and values do you hope to share with them as they grow up?

I hope from my experiences and role modeling they can learn that there is no room in our society for “locker room talk,” sexism, or harassment. Zero.

Finally, what makes you a powerful woman? 

I always subconsciously know that I am one decision away from a complete life change, if I want that for myself. Having that knowledge makes me powerful.


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