Born into an Indian family, Priya Shah, Senior, has always been fascinated by her culture and is interested in many things Indian. An Indian tradition that captured her attention is the act of applying henna on a bride’s hands a few days before the wedding ceremony. Since a little girl, Shah has been a guest at many Henna Ceremonies in her life. Each provided her opportunity to watch professional henna artists create their magic.
“It amazed me to see her [Henna professional] whip out those designs effortlessly and beautifully, and I thought,” said Shah, “that’s what I want to be able to do.”
Shah practiced and studied the art that she dreamt of doing. She trained herself. She applied henna on her own hands and on her closest friends’ hands. She practiced her art even at school. Once she was applying henna on a friend’s hand in school, and a teacher saw her work. The teacher appreciated Shah’s talent, and later asked her to practice on her too, but after school. So impressed by Shah’s work, the teacher told Shah she should start a business. And that’s how our 17-year-old Shah became a business woman.
Shah, who is dually enrolled in TJHS and Frederick Community College, is a busy entrepreneur. She is the Vice President of TJHS’s National Honor Society, an intern with an orthodontist, and an assistant dance coach at the Arya Dance Academy where she also dances. She also takes voice lessons.
How does one manage school, extra-curricular activities, internship and a busy henna business? “I compromise on sleep,” Shah said. She admits that being her own boss helps with the workload; she schedules appointments on the dates and times she is free. Her family is also supportive.
Business was hard at first she said. She is young and people would ask the older and more experienced henna artists to do their hands rather than her, but Shah worked to get the word out about her business. She took out ads and she made sure to fulfill her commitments. Her artistic talent started to circulate, and customers eventually turned to her.
Often Shah makes her henna at home using henna powder and organic materials, for she believes the chemicals some henna dyes have may be the reason why some people are allergic to henna. She said the quality of the henna is important because the best quality gives the best results. That is why she uses only fresh henna without harmful chemicals.
Shah sets up an exhibitor stall every year at the Annual Indian Festival at the Armory where she continues to expand her customer list. She has also set up business at TJ’s tailgates. The most popular occasions for henna applications are weddings, Holi, and other Indian festivals.
At this point, Shah does not see this business as her lifelong career. It is a stepping-stone to fulfill her dream of being a doctor, but she said, “I am never going to quit henna. [It will] always be a side business.”
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