*Editor’s Note: Diva By Cindy and Open Mic Rochester are giving away 12 travel sized conditioner and shampoos to allow Rochester residents a chance to try the products as owner Tawiah celebrates being featured in local grocery stores. Enter here.
At 16, very few of us have it all figured out. We’re struggling with SATs, college applications, finishing school, getting driver’s licenses and more.
So imagine struggling through your junior year, unsure about your future, when suddenly your chemistry teacher announces he’s going to take your education – and your future- into his hands and teach you how to make nail polish and lipstick. After a lot of hard work, he introduces you to the science fair, where the room is filled with crème of the crop. Then there’s you. You’re shocked and terrified as a military man and his wife approach your table. You’re silent; you can’t figure out what to say.
Finally, your chemistry teacher, with all the confidence in the world, says, “She’s a cosmetologist and a chemist.”
That is how Cindy Tawiah’s story begins.
Born in Ghana to diplomat parents, Tawiah retells a childhood jarred by abuse. When she turned 16, she was introduced to the world of cosmetology through chemistry but her parents quickly presented a hurdle. They wanted her to do something more worthwhile with her life.
“Fear held me back,” said Tawiah. “My parents wanted me to do something practical. They’re like other parents who wanted you to make a good living and good money. They would not support me if I followed this path.”
So Tawiah went to nursing school in London and became a Registered Nurse in Baltimore, Maryland, where she made good money, but she says she allowed fear to hold her back for 13 years. Being a nurse wasn’t her dream and she dreaded going to work. After a run-in with a doctor at the hospital, she made one of the most drastic decisions of her life. She headed to the nearest printer, handed in her resignation, and then opened a new salon.
Starting this new chapter in her life, Tawiah was soon on her way to starting her own path- though it’d prove to be a tough one.
Tawiah’s salon began to experience turnover- and a lot of it. Banks denied her loans. She was seen as a business risk. People thought she’d fail and fall. Her own intuition told her that she was now in an industry that focused on how you look versus how you feel and that was something she sought to change.
But it was during the holiday season of 2004, with some inspiration from her husband, that she was able to marry her love for beauty with a passion for helping.
Starting her Day of Beauty, Day of Healing, Tawiah began giving makeovers to homeless women, partnering with shelters and opening her doors to those who couldn’t see their worth.
“This allowed me to take a closer look at people and how they feel. It wasn’t just about making them look good on the outside but beginning the healing process on the inside,” said Tawiah, speaking about what is now known as the Diva Project. “It’s not as simple as just making them look good. We had to build up their self-esteem and self-worth, which is not an easy process.”
Though her project opened her eyes to what her purpose was, Tawiah still found herself with only a single committed stylist and a lot of questions about what she wanted to do in life. One of those questions was “Why did you open the salon?” She thought back to her science teacher when she was 16. Realizing she’d put her dream on hold since she was 16, she closed down her salon in 2009 and made her teacher’s words a reality. She became a cosmetologist and a chemist.
Having already tested her own products in her salon, Tawiah went to a contract seller to begin her line of products for her new brand, Diva by Cindy. “I went in and told them what I needed. I had my formulas. I knew it had to be performance base,” she said as she listed off ingredients and their purpose. “Surprisingly, nursing helped build a foundation because I knew how the body worked. That’s when I realized that step in my life needed to happen. The turnover needed to happen. It taught me that adversity doesn’t just knock you flat; you can use adversity to create something great.”
Today, Diva by Cindy is growing into a national brand. She’s becoming well-known in Maryland, featured across YouTube and name-dropped by celebrities like K. Michelle. Tawiah is in the process of expanding her products across grocery stores across the country and recently landed in local Tops Friendly Markets and Great Eagle.
Thanks to the support she’s received from the community and the women she’s helped in the past, her current aspirations are to take the Diva Project on a tour sponsored by her Diva by Cindy brand, which allocates 10% of all proceeds back to the Diva Project.
“So many people want to help but don’t know how. Just by picking up the products, you are picking up a healing vehicle. You are helping someone, possibly someone you know, experience inner and outer beauty,” she said. “Ten percent of all proceeds go into treating trauma.”
Besides being a business woman, Tawiah is also an author and mentor helping women transform their lives, realize their potential, and she has advice for others who may face adversity.
“We all have a gift,” she said. “Knowing we all have a gift, know that your gift doesn’t pale in comparison to others. People who are hit the hardest are lifted the highest. But remember to execute. A vision without execution is a hallucination.”