My whole life, I’ve wanted to leave a legacy for women and for empowering women. I know a lot of people are working toward that goal today… I would like to have some sort of organization to continue to work with marginalized or victimized or abused women, and give them a new start. Because of my domestic violence background, I really want to be a champion for women…People that were trafficked really inspired me to want to make more money to do more and to do better in the world… I want to leave a legacy to empower women and help women, give them the ability to rise above unfortunate circumstances.
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing D’Andra Simmons. D’Andra Simmons is a pioneering businesswoman and skin care expert who’s spent more than 20 years in the nutritional and beauty industry. She’s the founder/CEO of the skin care line Hard Night Good Morning and CEO/owner of Ultimate Living International Inc. She’s also the star of the hit Bravo series, The Real Housewives of Dallas. As the creator of Hard Night Good Morning, D’Andra has traveled to the world’s most exotic locations to source key botanicals and unique ingredients to create a luxurious yet affordable product line that is inspired by nature and proven by science. She’s spent hours in the lab, producing and playing with cutting-edge materials to deliver the best results. She received the “Rising Star” award in 2011 in the beauty category by Fashion Group International. For Ultimate Living International Inc., started by her mother, Dee Simmons, in 1996, she worked extensively in the skin care field, gaining insight into production as well as sales and marketing. D’Andra’s passion has led to years of national exposure and recognition. She’s an official cast member of The Real Housewives of Dallas, currently in its 4th season on BRAVO network. In 2012, she was named the 43-year-old winner of People magazine’s “Real Beauty at Every Age” search and featured again in its “Most Beautiful” issue in 2018. She’s appeared on numerous television programs, including Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends on the Travel Channel. National press attention includes features in W magazine, Entertainment Weekly, People, DuJour, Us Weekly, In Touch, Vanity Fair, Bella Magazine and More magazine in Britain. A former Presidential Political Appointee at the Department of Energy in Washington D.C., D’Andra is an in-demand public speaker. She’s written columns for Suburban Style magazine, Voyage Magazine and co-authored, along with her mother, the comprehensive 2005 book, Natural Guide for Healthy Living. She is a frequent guest on the Varney & Company show airing on the FOX Business network. D’Andra is an avid philanthropist who supports many charitable organizations. Her contributions include raising money for UNICEF (where she sits on the Great Plains Regional Board), the Salvation Army, and the Friends of Simmons Cancer Center. D’Andra is an International Ambassador for Mercury One and The Nazarene Fund, which has taken her to Iraq and Lebanon to visit with victims freed from ISIS captivity and persecuted minorities. In 2011, D’Andra became one of the youngest women to receive the Distinguished Woman award by Northwood University in Michigan for her community work. D’Andra holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Sweet Briar College in Virginia and was honored as a distinguished alumna in 2006.
Thank you so much for joining us D’Andra. Can you tell us the story about what brought you to your specific career path?
Yes, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. I was 18 years old. Back then, nobody talked about breast cancer because it was the c word and especially with women. It was very taboo. My mother was always very outspoken, open and determined. When she decided to have a modified radical mastectomy, she had been in the middle of a very successful career in the fashion industry. She closed that down and then decided to travel the world and find out why she became ill, why she got breast cancer.
Eight years later, with all the information she had discovered and collected about her diagnoses, she felt the best option for her was to attack the disease through diet. So she started a company called Ultimate Living. She was one of the first women to own a nutrition company. She made one product that was full of vital nutrients, antioxidants, fruits and vegetables — a complete food product called Green Miracle. After her operation, she didn’t go through any chemo or radiation. She absolutely believes the drastic change in her diet and her green food powder saved her life.
I grew up watching my mother create these businesses and being inspired because she always worked, she was always very successful. I am an entrepreneur, as well, so when she asked me to come back to Dallas and take part in running Ultimate Living, I thought, not only could this be my business, but it would be great for carrying on my mother’s legacy.
Nutrition was my mom’s thing and skin care has always been my passion. I was a model. I loved skin care and beauty and makeup. I’ve been playing with this since I was four years old. My mother was a beauty queen, and I was in some pageants, but they weren’t my thing. I love the makeup and skin care and that’s how I got into it. It’s just really following in my mother’s footsteps to create a legacy.
Can you share the most interesting story since you began leading your company?
That female entrepreneurs are going to have to do just about everything differently than our male counterparts, especially when it comes to raising capital. I follow a lot of women who own companies and are entrepreneurs, and I believe it’s more than 78% that have to put their own money into their businesses. It’s hard to get a loan. It’s hard to get people to invest in your business. It’s hard to be taken seriously. Even though I have this legacy of a company of my mother’s, still I’m the person that’s coming behind as her daughter and people don’t necessarily trust me at first or view me as the authority of my business, even though I might have been there for years and years. We have to work and fight for it. We have to fight every day to keep our business alive and to be taken seriously.
The hardest part was timing: I started in a recession. The mortgage crisis was happening. The banks were collapsing. I was starting a business, and my father said to me, “You don’t have to do this. You cannot do this.” And, of course, me being the stubborn child that I am, I fell on a sword, “I am doing this right now in March of 2008”.
So we had all these meetings set up for my line and products and all of a sudden, my calendar just vanished. No one was taking new products, no one wanted to meet new people in the industry, no one was considering anything new. They were just trying to stay alive.
I paid for my entire business myself. It’s all self-funded with money I had saved over the years. There was no money in the industry to support a new business.
It’s been a long struggle since 2008. We’re 11 years in and I finally turned the corner, but I had to do that, like I said, with my own money, my own blood, sweat and tears. We did a complete rebrand, changing the product and upgrading most of the product line. Skin care is one of the most competitive and saturated businesses you can be in and it’s changing all the time.
I’ll give you an example, they’re changing the names of products. Mine are very what you see is what you get, well, that’s not what people want. People want pro-collagen boosting anti-inflammatory cream, which is the name of one of my creams now because people aren’t okay with just moisturizer anymore.
And every time you make a change, there’s a cost associated with packaging and components and reformulation, so it’s something that you can’t just say “Okay, this is my product and it’s going to be my product,” some of them stay the same, but most of them are always changing and always evolving, which is great, because you’re getting better products all the time. It’s a tricky industry, and to stay on top and being an Indie beauty brand is one of the most difficult industries and difficult things you can do because you’re always trying to stay relevant.
And that’s why I did “The Real Housewives of Dallas,” that’s exactly why I went on that show, to get my brand name and awareness out there. The money I made on the show, I put back into my business. And that rebranding and the marketing, it’s all part of the plan I had made for myself in order to be successful.
Everything I do, I have to show pretty much on the show. I’m not comfortable making up a story to sell a product. It has to be real and something that I believe because integrity is very important to me.
So is helping other women and if I can help someone avoid some of the brutal learning curves I’ve had to endure, then I know I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.
What do you think makes your company stand out from others that are out there?
Both companies were founded on truly understanding every ingredient that goes into every product and what the benefits are of those ingredients.
What makes HNGM stand out is it’s a certified organic aloe product, which is my first ingredient. Aloe is my delivery system and it’s more efficacious than a water delivery system. And the product works. Also, most company owners that I have met, they don’t actually travel the world and procure ingredients and meet the people and hear the story about why these women use the ingredients that they do.
Also, they don’t go into the lab and formulate their own product. I mean, I am the only one I know that is in the lab. I make everything myself with my lab. I know all about the raw materials, I work with the people in the lab putting everything together, coming up with new ideas.
I was just at a CBD lab on Tuesday because these guys are probably the best CBD lab in the country. Yeah, everybody has CBD in their skin care, but does it really work? Not always, because their strains are all wildly varying and the consistency is a problem. So, I went to get more knowledge, to a lab in Dallas that makes a very successful CBD product to find out all the answers myself. I don’t think a lot of people do that or I think maybe they have people tell them what to do, or they may partner with somebody that has more knowledge and they’re just the spokesperson.
I’m really soup to nuts hands on from marketing to going to the lab to learning about the ingredients. I’m very hands-on with everything. Just like when I worked for my mother’s company, I was hands-on putting that Green Miracle together, checking the ingredients in the lab and making sure that everything that was supposed to be in there was in there. I’ve always been that way, so I do think that sets me apart because we just don’t have a lot of owner’s that do that. Many times when you have a celebrity involved with a product, they’re really just a spokesperson.
Are you working on any other new projects that you are excited about?
I’m excited that I’m getting back into my first love, which is entertainment. I have a podcast called I Don’t Give a Rip! It’s kind of like a comedy podcast where I get to be irreverent and silly. I love comedy more than anything in the world. If people don’t know that about me, I hope when they watch Real Housewives this season, they’ll see some of the stuff I do that’s so childish and silly, it’s because I love comedy.
My husband and I are co-producing a small faith-based film called “My Brother’s Crossing” with Tony White also producing, and it’s being released in January.
It’s a story that’s so relevant to the divisiveness of our world today, and it has some amazing, talented actors including Joe Estevez, Paul Ben-Victor, and Paul Roebuck.
It’s about an African-American pastor who accidentally hits a Caucasian couple who are also pastors, and how the family extends them grace and favor in this time of divisiveness in our culture. It’s a very sweet story, and it has a wonderful message.
I have a new product coming out very shortly and it’s a hydrating cream cleanser. I’m very excited about that. I’m working on an oil product for the face that will have some CBD, some other things in there to make you go to sleep, because I am menopausal and I don’t sleep. So I went and put some on my face and in my body!
I want to do a full sleep program, so I am working on launching something in the nutritional line and in my skin care line that you can pair together.
What are five leadership lessons that you learned from your experience?
All five would be the same thing, integrity, integrity, integrity, integrity, integrity. You need to be able to stand behind your product, and be honest about your product, and be truthful about your story and about the message, whatever your product. If you have a financial product, a cooking item, or a skin care item. It doesn’t matter what you do, you just have to make sure that what you say and what you do matches up equally, and that’s where character is the most important thing, and integrity. And that’s all about your value system, because your value system in business means everything. Your word means everything.
My father told me a long time ago, reputation is everything. You only have one reputation, now of course he hasn’t seen my antics on Real Housewives.
You also have to be aware of everything that’s happening in your business, whether it be with the books, ordering inventory, the operations, the customer service. You have to know every little aspect, even how to run the dishwasher. You need to have your hands in everything and your finger on the pulse.
People will give you one chance, and if you screw up, they won’t come back. I learned the had way. Recently, a very, very large drug store chain was interested in carrying my line. We had sent the presentation over, everything was great. Someone who was in my office, who is not there any longer, I had to my podcast that day, it was a Monday. I said “Don’t send the product out, let’s send it out to the retailer with a hand-written note.” I inspect everything, because we have different lots in our office. We have some that are good, some that may not be so great. Every single thing comes in a lot.
Well, she sent them out anyway. So, she sent out eye cream that had been overfilled, coming out of the top. I had already told the lab, and they fixed all that, but then she trudged into our office and grabbed it. She didn’t pay attention, it’s attention to detail. She didn’t pay attention, that it was the wrong product to send out. Then, she sent out a product that I’m not even making anymore that had decreased in size, that had gone to half the fill. I took it out of the line because obviously it wasn’t good to fill anymore.
All that went out, not thinking, she didn’t even check anything, and of course, they got the product and they canceled the meeting with me.
The good learning lesson in that is, and I apologized profusely to the woman, I told her what happened. She goes “Well, you can’t guarantee every single product that’s going to come out of your business is going to be good.”
I said, “You’re absolutely right, but by the time it makes it to my consumers, I’ve gone through all these processes and the little groups of product in my office are either products that are just used for marketing, which would be for her that she should have gotten, or there is product that I’ve had a problem with and we were fixing. It wouldn’t be, if it’s in the warehouse, it’s already been vetted. So, she didn’t give me another chance, and that was a hard pill to swallow, and I literally sat and cried that night because I worked so hard and I deserved another chance, and I apologized. As the owner of the company, it doesn’t matter who did it, it’s my responsibility. And she just said, “Nope, sorry.”
That was hard, that was really hard, and it just happened. It broke my heart.
It wasn’t meant to be I guess, so maybe another time. You know, we’re launching a much more luxurious place than they were, but you know, it just upsets you when things like that happen.
For any females looking to go into business, what advice would you give them if they’re looking to start their own company?
I would say, don’t give up. Obviously follow your dreams, you can say, as long as your pockets are deep. You’ve got to figure out how you are going to get this business to be sustainable on its own, because you’re going to have a limit, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care if you are Jackie Onassis, you’re going to have a certain amount where you’re going to stop putting money in. Or you’re going to need an investor to get to the next level. Just know that and have a plan, a 1 year plan, a 3 year plan, a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan, and stick to that plan. Always have a different plan and a marketing plan and a branding plan. There’s a lot of things you really have to and stick to it. Define your brand effectively and live by that mission because if you kind of jump all over the place, then you’ll never make sense to anyone in your industry.
If your passionate about something it will sell. The passion will then garner you the connections, and the financial connections, and all of the things that you need. That passion will show through if you are really passionate about what you do and you love what you do and you want it to be. Products that other people will use.
I can tell from talking to someone who really wants their brand to work, somebody that doesn’t want their brand to work that are just in it to have something to do, or someone that really really believes in it, you know. Whether it’s a handbag or a skin care line, it just depends on how you portray yourself about your passion you feel for your business. That shows to everyone.
Then you’re not going to get people in your business that are passionate that want to grow with you and help you and be devoted to you and will work for less money in the beginning because they know there’s rewards on the end. That’s hard.
You don’t want somebody that just there to collect a paycheck. You want someone that wants to make a huge empire with you.
It’s hard work, and it’s work. I have four jobs right now, because I want my business to go, and it’s working. It’s turned around, but it hasn’t been easy the last few years. I’m telling you, it has not been easy at all.
None of us have been able to achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person that you are grateful towards that helped you get to where you are today?
My mother, bless her, my mother is a hard, hard worker. She’s tough, tough as nails. And she had no education at all. Just a high school education, but she build a multi-million dollar company, so determination, success. And my stepfather as well, self-made and you know, they both came from absolutely nothing, and then made this huge empire. He also, he and his brother Harold were very, very successful with their businesses. So, I think just watching my parents.
And the one person I always mention with regards to business and mentoring is Rosemary Bravo. I worked for her when she when she was president of Saks Fifth Avenue. She left to be CEO at Burberry and completely turned that brand around. She was the most difficult person I ever worked for, but am I thankful for her now. I saw what it took to be a successful woman, and that was back in the 90’s, and it instilled a lot of determination, passion, and the drive for success in me, and wanting to be that pinnacle like she was. And wanting to achieve that in my life. So I always look back to that time, which I said is very difficult, she was very hard on me. You know like, if you don’t know how to make the tea just right, you’re automatically out as assistant.
She gave me an opportunity to go in the stores a buyer, I’m sorry the corporate office as a buyer of the store. I didn’t choose the corporate office because I was very uncomfortable with math. IF I had gone into the office, I would probably have a fashion career today. I was just not very comfortable with my math skills. Back then, we were doing a lot of it by hand.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement to bring the most good to the world, what would it be and why?
My whole life, I’ve wanted to leave a legacy for women and for empowering women. I know a lot of people are working toward that goal today. I’ve been a global ambassador for Mercury One, which is an organization that was started by Glen Beck. We go with persecuted minorities all over the world, women, children, Christians, Muslims, Transgender, doesn’t matter what it is.
I would like to have some sort of organization to continue to work with marginalized or victimized or abused women, and give them a new start. Because of my domestic violence background, I really want to be a champion for women. Meeting with women that I was with in Iraq, I’m meeting with persecuted Christians that have been captured by ISIS. What the hell they went through. People that were trafficked really inspired me to want to make more money to do more and to do better in the world.
I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but my husband and I fund veterans, because he’s a veteran. Domestic violence, violence against families and children. That’s kind of really, we focus on persecuted people and veterans. Those are our two main things. I work with UNICEF. Something in the future that will leave a legacy to empower women and help women, give them the ability to rise above unfortunate circumstances.
Some of the biggest names in business we see, founders, sports, entertainment. Is there a person in the world or US that you could have breakfast or lunch with that you would want to and why?
Everyone probably says the same thing Oprah Winfrey. I love seeing how she came from her background to where she is today and the legacy that she’s created. I mean, that was just amazing. Definitely, she’s somebody that I would love to sit down and talk to. I would really love to sit down and talk with Rosemary Bravo. I haven’t seen her since I was 24 years old. That would be somebody that I would love to just say “Hey, you inspired me, I have my own brand today. I’m on the show. All these good things are happening and I always mention your name when I have an interview because that short time we were together, you inspired me to go on and to create a career and a business for myself.” I’d love to sit down with her and tell her that.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media or to get in touch with you?