Personal Finance, Now + Beyond, Interviews

Entrepreneur Zeyna Iman is redefining feminism

Don't let anyone invalidate your ability to be an entrepreneur with the rest of the bros, just because you don't fit the archetype.

When you’re on the cusp of giving up on society and the latest poll numbers for Donald Trump have got you down, your search for a light at the end of the tunnel may seem futile. Zeyna Iman’s got you covered. Zeyna’s “White Tears” scented candles (also available in “White Feminist Tears” and “Male Tears”) are the IT item for all of our needs. 

We had a chance to sit with Zeyna to discuss her inspiration, the feedback (love and hate) she’s received, and where she’s headed next.

The Tempest:  So, what inspired you to start the business?

Zeyna Iman: I’m not completely sure what the catalyst was, but a little over a year ago the idea struck me that “white tears scented candles” could be one of the greatest and amusing things I could produce myself  and distribute with the right supplies and aesthetic vision; it wasn’t until this past November through being broke enough and feeling creatively stifled that I decided to power through with the idea. It didn’t take me too long to design my labeling, whip up prototypes, and snap some photos. As soon as that was completed (over the course of a few days), I listed it all with Etsy, shared as much as I could without spamming social media, and hoped for the best. I think that best came when Hannah Giorgis included my candle line on a holiday gift roundup for Buzzfeed – that was really major for me.

What have been some of the internet’s reactions to your candles? Have they been a mix? Are there any particularly outstanding reactions you’ve gotten (good or bad)?

Oh, God. Definitely a mix. A deliciously if not often disturbing, messy, mix. I’ve had a lot of wonderful people reach out to me to share that they admire the candles and support my innovation and what I’m doing, which honestly will never ever get old. But of course, there have also been a considerable amount of folks who’ve decided my product is not only offensive but actually *racist*. The comments section of that Buzzfeed roundup, in particular, was riddled with debates on White Feminism and whether my “racist candles” belonged on such a holiday gift list, a list that was specifically curated for black girls/women(!). One of the first commenters said my candles are an example of the reason why he married a white woman haha. People are really amazing, though not surprising at all. One conservative media site even did their own write-up on my candles, drawing special attention to my pricing while comparing them to Walmart of all places! It’s almost as if I’m not one woman handling every aspect of a small business herself without the backing of a corporate machine allowing her to sell a handmade product for pennies… Like I said, people are truly amazing.

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Outside of your business, what are you involved with? Where do you see taking this in the future?

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I plan to expand the Zeyna Iman brand into a larger, lifestyle line. I have a lot of big visions for it that I’m pumped to see manifest soon, but don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch. Right now though I am working on some event curation involving beautiful brown people sharing space and getting free in NYC, my hometown, now that the weather is starting to pick up. If anyone is interested in collaborating with me I’m so open!

You’ve come out with White Tears, Male Tears, and White Feminist Tears candles – all of which have been incredibly popular online. What’s next in the works for you?

I’ll definitely be branching out from online to outdoor markets and festivals this spring and summer; I’m really excited to be able to connect with buyers IRL while also pursuing wholesale opportunities. Getting my product into brick and mortar locations is a huge step I’m super excited for; I’m making moves to have that happen sooner than later.

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What’s your advice for young women of color looking to create and sell in their own businesses?

Find peers whose vision, insight, and intent you can trust, definitely make sure you have people in your circle who will keep it all the way real with you and support you above all. As women and gender-fluid/-queer people who don’t have the privileges of whiteness going for us, it’s really important that we’ve got each other’s backs and create our own networks of support, and take that support seriously. A good friend of mine, Cherrell Brown, has this saying “Black women saved my life” which for me just really speaks to the significance of having people who look like you, look out for you when it’s clear that no one else cares to do so. Definitely don’t let anyone invalidate your ability to be an entrepreneur with the rest of the bros just because you don’t fit the straight white male archetype; find the people who will hold you down and then get free with them. Oh, and definitely utilize social media to every last end! Building an online network of people interested in your art/product can and will go such a long way, don’t ignore that opportunity!

Are there any women you take inspiration from in creating your products and in life, generally?

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A great friend of mine from high school, Morgen Bromell! As a creator, it’s so important to have other creative spirits around you putting in serious work and realizing their dreams into the amazing and tangible–that’s what Morgen is doing out in the Bay right now with their dating app for queer and non-binary people, Thurst. They’re just one of those people who is always hungry and in pursuit, willing to take risks and get things done–basically my favorite parts of myself but even more focused! It’s really important for me to be around that energy, to draw from my peers and friends as my greatest inspirations before I think to look to the (ostensibly?) inaccessible. Intimate and real over everything.

Zeyna Iman can be found on Twitter.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Laila Alawa

Laila Alawa

Laila Alawa is the CEO and Founder of The Tempest, a leading media company where the world goes to hear the stories of diverse millennial women. She is also the host for The Expose, a weekly podcast tackling tough topics with snark and wit. Her work has been mentioned in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, Mashable, Color Lines, Bustle, Feministing, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. She's also appeared on Al-Jazeera America, BBC World News, NPR, and Huffington Post Live.

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