Indian Country Today
MESA, ARIZONA — Kamia Begay is the 13-year-old owner of Nizhóní Soaps. She wants to be the next Lush or Bath and Body Works but “with a Native American flair to it.”
The Navajo entrepreneur has three locations with about 16 employees in Mesa, Farmington, New Mexico and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I like how I get to express myself through the soaps I create,” she said.
In March 2019, Kamia’s dad died and as a coping mechanism she turned to a new hobby in making soaps. She found ways to tie in her culture by infusing herbs like Navajo tea, yucca, sage and sweetgrass. Nizhóní means beautiful in Navajo.
Soon friends and family encouraged her to sell them. She sold her products for the first time in late 2019 at First Friday, a monthly event in downtown Phoenix, where artists and community members come together.
Later, she went every weekend for months to the Native Art Market in nearby Scottsdale, where she met other artisans and was given a larger platform.
Watch: Kamia Begay talks Nizhóní Soaps
She said she enjoys naming the soaps because it allows her to “share different parts of the reservation.” Some soaps are personal to her like the “Shima Red Rose,” which stands for Kamia’s late great-grandmother, the “Cheiis New Boots” smells of red leather because her cheii (grandfather) would always buy boots, and her favorite “Rez Dirt” reminds her of home in Shiprock, New Mexico.
A lot of time and planning is done when making a scent. She goes to Cove, an area in northeast Arizona, to pick out herbs to infuse in the soap. She said it takes about two weeks to make a bar.
Some Native customers have told her they are reminded of a specific memory like their grandmother’s home when they smell her products.
“It brings me joy to see that people like my creations and I hope it inspires them,” she said.
Shirley Deedman, Navajo, from Chinle, Arizona came to visit the store after hearing about it from her daughter. She said she’s amazed that Kamia makes her own soaps instead of outsourcing elsewhere.
When she was a teacher she would tell her students to go as far as they could up the ladder from rug weaving to jewelry making.
“I just came to tell her I’m very proud of her, as a Navajo child. I like to support students in that way too — the youth,” Deedman said.
Kamia is working on opening up a soap factory in Farmington, New Mexico for various activities like soap-making classes and workshops. She said she wants to teach the younger generations their culture and local people about the culture.
“I also want to show that people have the capability of going into whatever they want or passionate about whether it be sports, music, entrepreneurship,” she said.
It’s expected to open around spring and she plans to open up more stores in other states in the future and expand the product line within the next few months.
As of now the Nizhóní Soap Company LLC is priority one for her and she’s still deciding on what she wants to do, focusing on either medical school or art. She likes to read comics, draw, clean, listen to music, play the violin and percussion.
She is also the student council president and on the student advisory group, while maintaining straight A grades .
Her mom, Rhianna Begay said she never expected her daughter to be where she currently is. She said Kamia began learning how to make soaps from YouTube.
“It started from seeing a lady infusing flowers. That's when she was like why not give it a Native flair, and she went to Navajo tea, and I was upset with her because that was my Navajo tea,” she said.
She describes Kamia as very independent, who starts her day at 5 a.m., cleans, does her online store orders and cooks for the family. Kamia also has three younger siblings.
“She’s been through a tough time when she lost her father, and I’ve seen how much joy this has brought her,” Begay said. “It was a blessing in disguise. We can definitely say that.”
Begay said one day her daughter wants to open a shop in New York City.
“All the younger generation I really hope they start going into businesses or whatever they are passionate about,” she said.
Nizhoni Spa in Apache Junction, Arizona and the Grand Canyon National Park visitor center sell her products as well. The company is at various flea markets too in New Mexico and Arizona like the Holbrook Flea Market, Begaye Flea Market, Shiprock Flea Market and Gallup Flea Market.
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