Meet D’Andra Simmons

women in business series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom

Y’all I am just blown away by this interview. When I thinking about the people I wanted to profile on the women in business series for the month of March, I had a dream list. Some of these women you have already met and then there is this one. I had one name that kept bouncing around in my head and I reached out to her. I honestly thought that when I did my request would either be denied or ignored. But then I got the message that sure they would love to help. D’Andra Simmons. Her name says it all, if you are a Real Housewives fan, you will probably recognize her name. I am a huge fan of hers and love that she is out there in front of customers selling her skincare line at popup shows around the country. I also love the podcast that she does with her mom, I listen to it when I am driving to events, it has helped so much with my anxiety. I am completely blown away that this kind individual agreed to be part of this series. So sit back and meet D’Andra Simmons.

Meet D'andra Simmons in the Women in Business Series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom

Tell me a little bit about you. 

I am a female entrepreneur that has been in the skincare and nutrition industry for over 20 years. I am the owner of two brands, Ultimate Living International, which makes nutrition products, and Hard Night Good Morning skincare. I have been formulating nutrition and skincare products for over twenty years. I am a SAG/AFTRA/AEA actress, and I enjoy cooking, traveling and spending time with my family and friends. I am a current cast member on BRAVO TV’s “The Real Housewives of Dallas” for the last 3 years. I have a comedy podcast on YEA Networks with my mom, aka Momma Dee Simmons and my friend, Amy Vandereof called, “I Don’t Give a Rip”. I am married for 6 years to Award-Winning Photojournalist, Jeremy T. Lock, and we have two sons, Keatin Lock and Koen Lock. My husband and I are part-time filmmakers and we just produced a movie that releases May 22, entitled My Brother’s Crossing. Our home is full of items we have curated on our travels around the globe. My friends call me “Miss United Nations” because of our unique home, my culinary style, and my friends from all over the world. They also call me Liz for short, aka Elizabeth Taylor!

Tell me about your business. 

I enjoy helping sick people get well and seeing them get their lives back to a somewhat normal rhythm with my nutrition products, and I love seeing women recapture the “Fountain of Youth” with my skincare line. The testimonials I receive make me so very happy and warm my heart each and every day. I know that I am in a business that is making a difference in the world to so many people

My mother is a breast cancer survivor of 33 years, and she is my inspiration for doing what I do. My maternal grandmother died from pancreatic cancer, my maternal grandfather, prostate cancer and my maternal great-grandmother, breast cancer.  My maternal aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. She is in remission and is our family’s first miracle since my mother’s recovery. I am the only woman on my mother’s side to have not been touched by the scourge of cancer. 

Therefore, I decided to join my mother in 2004 in her company Ultimate Living to make her mission my own, which is to help women and men be well and live healthy lives, plus fight the many diseases and illnesses that are plaguing our society today. To that end, I studied two years towards my Naturopathic Doctor’s degree, but my business became so demanding that I was unable to complete my courses. However, I learned so much about health and wellness in the process, and during the last 20+ years since my mother was diagnosed with cancer, that it has benefitted me greatly in leading this company into the next decade. I formulate all our products myself with chemists here and abroad and do a lot of the research into the botanicals and actives that I choose personally. 

Jeremy and me at FGI Meet D'andra Simmons in the Women in Business Series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom
D’Andra and her husband Jeremy

Being married to a photojournalist helps a lot! When we travel to different parts of the world, I find out what plants are indigenous to that area, and we will find a local tribe for example, that uses these plants as part of their culture. I interview the women and have them teach me how they use a plant for a beauty secret or a healing tonic. I bring this knowledge back home after I have learned more about how they use specific plants and their properties, so that I may incorporate those ingredients and uses into my nutrition and skincare lines. An example would be when I worked with the Himba women of Namibia, and incorporated hematite and malachite into some of my Hard Night Good Morning skincare products. 

Jeremy and me at FGI Meet D'andra Simmons in the Women in Business Series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom

What struggles have you faced in your business? 

I launched my line right at the beginning of a recession—that was the biggest challenge. I was an unknown company and name, and no stores were investing in new lines and taking a chance on new products. I struggled the first year to get sales, and the phone calls were not being returned. The answer was always, “We are not considering new lines at this time.” 

I made a mistake right off the bat and priced myself out of the mainstream market which wasn’t a prudent decision considering the economy. Of course, I wanted to be a luxury line, so at the beginning, I thought I had to charge “luxury prices.” I had no track record, no huge marketing budget, and the luxury boutiques and department stores wanted to stick with their “tried and true” brands. I soon realized that I could make the same quality products as the companies charging 10 times my amount because I have access to the same ingredients. I would just have to shave my margins and change my strategy to focus on volume to make a profit, and not huge markups. 

I decided to lower my prices by 60% (a tough pill to swallow) and pitch my products to larger retail chains that focused on natural, paraben and sulfate free skincare for people that were interested in a healthier lifestyle. This way, I could incorporate my story of being the only woman in my family that has not had cancer, and my history of developing products for my mother and aunt, who were seeking natural skincare products as cancer survivors. This is a huge market as more and more women and men are being diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. They are now concerned about what goes “on” their body as well as what goes “into” their body.  

Today small businesses are facing another struggle in the COVID 19 virus that is affecting our economy greatly. Luckily, there is more access to social media platforms than in 2008, and you can literally run an entire business online with social media messaging and ads, but you still must have buyers for the products. Without consumers that have money to spend, it is hard to survive. I am currently redirecting my focus to our immune boosting products in our Ultimate Living nutrition line, like Green Miracle, ORAC and Ionic Trace Minerals since people are looking for ways to keep their bodies healthy during this challenging time.

How have you overcome those struggles?

Most of this I answered in the above question.  

I joined RHOD in 2016, which was an amazing opportunity, plus a way to increase brand awareness and get the word out about my product lines and the challenges female entrepreneurs face. I knew this would give my business a fresh start. We rebranded both lines and have increased our messaging through our social media platforms. People have been extremely supportive of my business and my struggles with my mom, as I work to make changes that are beneficial to the business. I was left with the shell of a once very successful business due to bad decisions made before I took over, but I have managed to turn it around, and we are working day by day to improve and to bring it back to its glory days. I have a committed new team that are eager and excited to make this business better than ever. They are truly invested in the mission. 

Who were your mentors growing up? 

My stepfather, my teachers at public school (yes, DISD) and Sweet Briar College – an all-women’s college in Virginia that I graduated from in 1991, and Rose Marie Bravo. She was the President of Saks Fifth Avenue before her position as CEO of Burberry. I landed a gig as her personal assistant when I was living in New York City, and trying to “find” myself. I learned a lot from her in the short time I worked with her. She has always been someone I aspire to emulate, as she commands great respect in the fashion and beauty industry. She is smart, classy, beautiful and graceful—an amazing combination. 

Jeremy and me at FGI Meet D'andra Simmons in the Women in Business Series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom

If you were to give advice to a woman going into the field, you are in what would it be?

Make sure you have a story that resonates with people if you are going to compete (yes, I said that) in the nutrition or beauty industry. This is a VERY competitive space that is oversaturated as it is, and the more you can differentiate yourself, the more successful you will be. 

Skincare is about beauty and making people look and feel beautiful, which is very sexy. I have always been drawn to fashion and beauty, but fashion is more erratic and constantly changing with seasons, colors, etc.  As a clothing designer, that is a lot to keep up with. I know with my personality the fashion business would be overwhelming to me. 

In the skincare and beauty business, you have the same changes with regards to new ingredients on the horizon or color palettes for cosmetics, but it is less frequent and there is always the tried and true and your “anchor product” that normally does not change. Find the “anchor product” in your line or a story to expand upon and build your line around that, so that your uniqueness and personality or personal brand shines through your product line. 

Also, identify a philanthropic aspect of your business when you are creating a business plan and getting started. People resonate with you when they know you are not only doing your part to boost the economy, but also giving back to those less fortunate with your profits. We give to various charitable organizations throughout the year. I know we must streamline this to be much more specific and targeted, and we are currently working with industry experts on a plan for our business to pinpoint exactly where we want to give, so it is not all over the board. I think focusing on one or two issue areas is best with regards to your business. You can spread the love more widely with personal income and charitable donations, but in a business environment, it is best to have a focus. 

Have you found that being a woman in your field is harder or easier? Tell me about the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman. 

I think being a woman is challenging in any field period. I do believe that women know and feel the pressure in society to look and be perceived a certain way, especially when it comes to physical appearance. Therefore, in some ways, women are more suited for the beauty business and understand it better than men from just that limited perspective, but this is not true in all cases. I know of a few amazing men I would immediately hire if I was able to expand my company right now, and hopefully, I will be able to do so in the near future. 

Have you ever had to overcome a hostile work environment? 

Yes, I was a stockbroker in my 20’s and was sexually harassed…continuously. Also, I found this to be true during my time as a model and in the entertainment industry. Luckily, in the last few years women have felt empowered to speak up and tell their truth without shame and fear of consequences (in some cases, but not all) about their experiences of harassment in industries across the board. 

I still feel like employers do not want to hire someone that has filed a harassment claim at another company because they don’t want to deal with it if it happens at their company. This is sad, but until everyone is held accountable for their actions and women are made to feel safe and protected in the work environment, then we really aren’t making progress. To keep someone from working because they had a bad experience at another company is punishing them without just cause and is reprehensible in my mind. 

What made you decide on your chosen field? 

See the second paragraph of question 2. My mother and other family members having had cancer. 

Jeremy and me at FGI Meet D'andra Simmons in the Women in Business Series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom
2017 Mercury One – Iraq

Anything else you would care to share. 

I am the Global Ambassador for Mercury One Charity. The photos of me in Iraq are from my trip to that country to work with women who had been captured by ISIS and organizations that support their rehabilitation as they are rescued from slavery and integrated back into society. 

I am a survivor of domestic violence, so I tend to work with organizations that help women who are recovering from domestic violence, slavery, and torture, etc. My husband is a veteran of the USAF and we support veteran charitable organizations together as well.

Jeremy and me at FGI Meet D'andra Simmons in the Women in Business Series from North Carolina Lifestyle Blogger Adventures of Frugal Mom
2017 Mercury One – Iraq

You can follow D’Andra on social.

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