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Images provided by Tops Friendly Markets
Images provided by Tops Friendly Markets

Passion for cleaner skincare products has two local female entrepreneurs thriving


Fri, Feb 16th 2024 01:55 pm

Tops honors local businesses during Black History Month

Submitted by Tops Friendly Markets

For 15 years, Jill Miller proudly spent her days taking care of others as a nurse, which she said was where God put her, until he set her on another path by way of her infant daughter who was born with infant eczema.

As a mom, Jill was intent on finding a solution that didn’t involve steroids or antibiotics.

“I was just being a mom, doing research and trying to help her naturally,” she said.

But that research, consultation with doctors, and skincare classes led Jill to the line of thinking that, if this can help her child, why not help others. It didn’t dawn on her at first that the product she had created to care for her child would one day evolve into a thriving business. It was simply a solution. Today, its better known as Skincare Essentials by Jill.

Once she mastered the formula using all-natural ingredients such as shea butter and oils, she took that product from her kitchen to the public.

“People like knowing what they’re putting on their skin,” Jill said. “I think, because it was simple and contains very effective ingredients, people liked it. It’s made to help improve your skin because it’s supposed to help heal versus using chemicals. When you’re working with natural ingredients, it’s just easier.”

Jill’s products are 100% organic, small-batch, hand-crafted, high-quality skincare that she takes tremendous pride in. She also prides herself on providing products that are relevant to all skin types, races and genders.

“A lot of times, women of color want to stick to specific products – but I’ve made a product for everyone,” Jill said. “Skin is skin at the end of the day.”

When the business started to take off, Jill knew she needed to expand from her kitchen to a bigger space. So, her business took over the other half of her house to run a storefront to keep up with demand. Then Tops called, launching her product line first at Tops on Jefferson Avenue in 2023, and soon expanding to four additional Tops locations.

“Tops has been a blessing,” Jill said. “When I was meeting with Kristen Hanson (vice president of center store, our brands and pharmacy for Tops), my mission was to help people with dry skin, acne, dark spots and eczema.

“I wanted to offer people chemical-free, not water-based products. Just quality skin products. Tops took a chance on me, and I’m so grateful.”

Jill said she values her partnerships; her team, which is a strong, but mighty team of three; and those who believe in her.

“I won’t change the quality of my product just to get to the next level,” she said. “Whatever is coming to you will come. I just have to pace myself. One step at a time – one foot in front of the other.”

When asked if she ever thought this would be what she would be doing, Jill responded, “Not in my wildest dreams. This wasn’t even a dream. I love being a nurse. I love helping people, and I take pride in that. If it wasn’t for my daughter, I would have never started doing this, and I love what I do. I know I’m just touching the surface!”

She said the most eye-opening part of the journey was seeing what a need there was for her product and seeing how it helps people.

“It is so rewarding to see how my line has helped people and to see my own growth,” Jill said. “Knowing that this is my purpose – my calling – what I am supposed to be doing in life, and being of better service to people, allows me to go to bed satisfied and excited to start the day.”

Images provided by Tops Friendly Markets


The same vision and drive was innate for Zandra Cunningham of Zandra Beauty who, at the young age of 9, was already experimenting on how to make a lip balm that was moderately sweet and sticky, but made of natural ingredients.

After a lot of trial and error, she finally made her own and, from there, her passion for business continued to grow – and so did a full line of plant-based skincare that is now available not only at Tops, but worldwide.

Zandra’s wide array of products, from lip balms, scrubs and body washes, to lotions and soap bars and soufflés, all promote a positive message like “Be true to you,” “B. Confident. Strong You!” and “You’re perfect just as you are.”

When asked what the biggest reward has been going into business for herself, Zandra said meeting other young people and helping to inspire others at a young age.

“It’s great to see them become more confident, that they can do it and not wait on something until they are older,” she said. “You can see the wheels turning. I felt like I was one of those kids. You have to utilize the opportunity that is given to us, and I’m working on building up generational wealth now and prioritizing being happy.”

Success didn’t just fall into her lap, though. She started very early going to entrepreneurial classes at the college level well before her time. She tells a Tops representative they thought it was her mom signing up for the class, not her mom signing her up for the class.

“You have to be passionate about it,” Zandra said. “Do your research. Ask the questions. Options are not limited.”

She added, “Partnering with Tops was very welcoming. I never really thought about partnering with Tops initially. I always want to be making sure things are a good business move and, when the opportunity came through, the Level-Up program it made sense.”

To learn more about Jill’s products, stop by select Tops locations or visit her website at Home | Skincare Essentials By Jill.

To learn more about Zandra Beauty, visit www.zandrabeauty.com or look for her products at select Tops stores.

Based in Williamsville, Tops Markets currently operates 148 grocery stores in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, including five that are run by franchisees. For more information, visit www.topsmarkets.com.

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