PATERSON, NJ - When the COVID-19 shutdown threatened the livelihood of her business, La Shonda Tyree did what many entrepreneurs in New Jersey did over the past few months.

She pivoted.

Tyree, the founder and chief executive officer of Nyah Beauty, a plant-based skincare company, spent this past spring reinventing how she does business. 

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Launched in 2003, Nyah Beauty produces its own line of lotions, soaps and scrubs, as well as private label skincare products for high profile clients, like Westin Hotels & Resorts. Each item is handmade by Tyree at her studio in Kearny. 

The Paterson native also runs hands-on classes teaching attendees how to hand-make soap, bath bombs, lotions, body butter, lip balms and candle-making. For those looking for a fun night out, Nyah offers a “Sip and Soap” event, where participants can make two bars of soap and unwind with a glass of wine.

“I have always been a creative person and enjoyed doing things with my hands,” Tyree said. “I always enjoyed soap making. There’s just something therapeutic about it – the scents, the colors and herbs.”

After starting Nyah Beauty, Tyree spent the first few years mastering how to create her soaps and finding her confidence as a small business owner.

Over the past two decades, plant-based products – everything from skincare to groceries to clothing – have become more mainstream. The surge in popularity means more competition for Tyree, but she said she doesn’t let that distract her.

“You can lose your focus by worrying on what other companies are doing,” she said. “I try to focus more on myself and what we are doing here.”

After the pandemic struck, Nyah Beauty began to struggle as private label clients paused orders, the supply chain became strained and in-person classes could not continue.

While business picked up on Nyah Beauty’s online store, Tyree said losing income from the white label clients and teaching put the future of her business in doubt.

“I spent a lot of time trying to figure out next moves and how to survive, how to keep the doors open,” she said.

New offerings include: the “Germ Attack Pack,” a $40 bundle of six bars of soap to help people keep up with health officials’ guidelines to wash hands frequently and thoroughly. Tyree also boosted her online presence, blogging on several current issues of interest, such as how soap can help destroy the COVID-19 virus and how to create your own hand sanitizer.

“There has been a great response to it,” she said.

As for her in-person classes, those were cancelled after the state restricted in-person gatherings in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

“When it came to the point where I couldn’t do classes anymore, I looked at how to do online classes,” she said.

Still new to virtual teaching, Tyree is using two upcoming classes – one for a luxury apartment complex in Washington, D.C. and another for employees at Barclays Bank – to see how it goes. Prior to the class, Tyree will assemble all the items needed to make soap and ship them off to those signed up.

Besides changing things up, Tyree investigated every possible source of grants, aid and loans available to help small businesses weather the outbreak.

Ultimately, she secured $22,555 through the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program, a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a New Jersey Economic Development Authority grant. Tyree also just received a grant from PayPal for Black-owned businesses.

As for now, Tyree said business is slowly returning to normal, with many private label clients returning. There’s also a lot of buzz around the debut of virtual soapmaking classes, she said.

Her future plans include expanding her soaps, lotions and scrubs, and possibly introducing plant-based candles, as well as looking into opportunities for co-selling goods.

“I try to take expanding products slowly. A lesson I learned early on was that you can’t be everything to everyone,” she said.

Nyah Beauty is just one of many local manufacturers that have shifted gears and repurposed their production lines to join the fight against COVID-19.

They are among a number of companies in the U.S. that have gotten creative not only to keep their employees safely working and stay in business, but also to produce goods that are desperately needed during the public health emergency.

With many industries across New Jersey still reeling from the state-mandated shutdown earlier this year, Tyree urges residents to support local businesses as much as possible.

“It’s putting money back where you live,” said Tyree, adding, “We are the economy.”

As a champion for small business owners, Tyree also teaches and coaches up-and-coming entrepreneurs on product development and general operations. She is one of the first female alumni instructors for Rising Tide Capital’s Community Business Academy, a 12-week training program focused on supporting starting and growing businesses.

Next up: Tyree is launching a podcast called “Level Up and Create,” which will provide guidance for entrepreneurs to level up in their business “so they can start earning what they deserve.”

Gov. Phil Murphy recently gave Tyree a shoutout for her ability to adapt amid challenging times. During his daily COVID-19 media briefings, Murphy has made a point of highlighting small businesses in New Jersey since they will be pivotal in the state’s economic restart and recovery. 

“We know these past four months have been really hard on many small businesses and through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, we’ve established a series of programs to help them through these unprecedented times,” Murphy said.

The NJEDA small business grant, the governor said, “has allowed her to cover the costs of overhead so she could focus on fulfilling online orders and acquiring new customers.”

“I had the great pleasure of checking in on La Shonda yesterday and Nyah Beauty, and she is optimistic for the future,” the governor said.

He added: “La Shonda, by the way, is emerging as a leader in our state’s entrepreneurial community and now also guides others setting out to start their own businesses. So to you, La Shonda, thank you for not letting COVID-19 make you give up your dreams for Nyah Beauty and for being a new leader in our small business community.”

A day before the press conference, Tyree received a call from one of Murphy’s staffers, who told her  the governor would be mentioning her and her business. She later linked up with the governor by phone.

“He was very pleasant and very nice,” she said. “He was happy I received the grant.”

No stranger to adversity, Tyree’s business was born almost 20 years ago after learning she could potentially face unemployment. Up until then, Tyree had a professional career in accounting, but after the bank she was working at merged with another institution, her position was only guaranteed for one more year.

Tyree wound up turning her hobby and passion for hand-making her own soaps, lotions and scrubs into a successful business.  

“I never took the plunge until I was forced to take the plunge,” she said.

“It’s amazing that sometimes the things we feel are bad can wind up being good for us,” Tyree said. Sometimes when a door closes, it can wind up leading you to your true road or path.”

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