By Ike Wilson The Frederick News-Post, Md.
Priyah Shah has accomplished a lot in her 17 years, and that includes experience as a budding entrepreneur.
Priyah is a senior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, earning straight As. She also is vice president of the National Honor Society, and works two internships -- in an orthodontist office and a medical office.
In June, the Entrepreneur Council of Frederick County honored her as a youth entrepreneur for her henna business, By Elegant Design.
Applying paste from the henna plant to create designs on the skin has been a tradition for thousands of years in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East.
Women use henna for festive occasions such as weddings, religious events and traditional ceremonies. Henna is believed to attract good energy and positive vibes, Priyah said.
A henna design will usually last a week or two before it fades away, depending on individual skin type, Priyah said. Using cleaning materials or scrubbing your hands with soap also affects how long the designs last.
She became fascinated with henna at an early age when she would attend pre-wedding ceremonies.
"I could sit there for hours and watch the henna artist apply henna on the bride and the guests -- and many times I did, too," Priyah said. "I wanted to be able to create beautiful designs just like the professional henna artist, so I asked my mom to buy me a henna cone so I could start practicing."
The activity was a hobby at first, but as she practiced, Priyah's designs took on artistic shapes comparable to professional henna artists, she said.
She began to volunteer her skills at community events and international nights.
"One day, my ninth grade teacher asked me to do henna on her, and when I finished, she admired my work and suggested I should make henna a business."
Priyah did just that in 2011, while still in ninth grade. Her early clientele were mostly people at public festivals where she would have a booth or table. Today, the self-taught henna artist gets one or two customers every couple of weeks for her part-time vocation.
"I am a high school senior, so my school and internships usually take up a lot of my time, but they usually don't interfere with scheduled henna appointments," she said. "As more people learn about my business, the more clientele I receive."
Teneice Bowie is a satisfied customer.
Bowie read about Priyah in a local magazine, she said, and contacted her for a henna design to celebrate her birthday in August.
"She responded to my email in a professional manner, and she went over and beyond what I expected," Bowie said. "I showed her a picture of something I wanted to try and she just about duplicated the picture.
"For a senior in high school, I think she has a remarkable business. I will recommend her whenever I have the opportunity."
Priyah's henna requests have included artistic renderings on hands, arms, backs shoulders and feet. On hands, the most common request, designs can be half hands, three-fourths hands, or full hands. Patterns can stretch to the wrist or to the elbow. Other sites for henna application vary by customer, she said.
"A few people have jokingly asked for a Mike Tyson-type henna tattoo on their faces," she said.
Priyah's prices range from $5 to $350. She usually charges $5 at community events and higher amounts for brides or bridal party members. She donates some of her proceeds to groups that provide her business with a booth or table.
Most of her clients are women, but one man asked for a barbed wire design around his upper arm.
"He really loved it when I finished," Priyah said.
Priyah, who lives in Frederick with her parents, Dr. Hemen Shah and Arti Shah, has traveled to Brunswick, Urbana, and Germantown for work.
Priyah expects her business to grow over the next few years.
"I am working on wider and more effective advertisement, so hopefully more people will hear about my business," she said.
Her competition include people who are twice or three times her age, she said, and are already known in Frederick.
"I have a lot of competition, and many people underestimate my ability because of my age, but I am here to pleasantly surprise them."
Her customers vary.
"They include people who provide their skin as an open canvas, people who know exactly what they want, people who find it difficult to appreciate the effort and skill I serve, and people who put great value and appreciation into my work," she said. "I have learned to interact with all types of people and provide their varying desires in my work. When the client is happy, I'm happy."
Priyah also paints, sings, writes poetry and short stories, and enjoys choreography. She won first place for a Bollywood dance at her school's talent show and her "Believe, Dream, Inspire" paintings took top honors during a Reflections Contest organized by the Frederick County Parent Teacher Student Association.
As vice president of the National Honor Society, Priyah heads the tutoring program.
"I decide when, where, and how they should tutor -- and in all subjects," she said.
After high school, she wants to pursue a career in biological science.
Priyah's family have offered her the support she needed to have come this far, she said.
"All of my skills are rounded around my Indian culture, not only because of my exposure to our culture, but also because of my family's motivation and confidence in me."
All parents try to motivate their children, Priyah's mother, Arti Shah, said, but it is up to the children to heed their parents' advice.
"So it was up to her to make the right decision, and she did," Shah said. "We are extremely proud of her, and I'm so lucky to have her as my daughter.
"She learned henna on her own. She just practiced and practiced."
The Entrepreneur Council of Frederick County created the youth category to recognize entrepreneurship among the younger members of the community, councilboard member Kara Norman said. Tomorrow's leaders need to be nurtured and encouraged, Norman said, and the award helps the council achieve that goal.
"Priyah's high school teachers did an excellent job of describing her efforts to create and build a business while learning full time as a high school student," she said.
Council Vice President Dave Esworthy said Priyah received an excellent recommendation from teacher Kathy Zepp-Imhoff.
"We were impressed with her ability to handle a tough academic schedule with quite a few advanced placement courses, plus leverage her artistic abilities to create a small business," Esworthy said. "She also demonstrated concern for the community through her many volunteer efforts. Overall we concluded she is an excellent role model for teens and deserving of recognition as successful entrepreneur and budding community leader."
Priyah said her favorite quote is from psychiatrist and author Theodore Isaac Rubi: "Happiness does not come from doing easy work, but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best."
Learn about Priyah's business at http://pshenna.squarespace.com/
Henna is the powdered leaves of the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis.
Henna will not stain skin unless it is crushed with a mildly acidic liquid. To make a stainable henna paste, henna leaves are crushed into a powder then mixed with lemon juice (or another mildly acidic natural liquid such as certain teas) to make a henna paste.
Certain oils can also be added to the paste to improve its staining capability.
Henna paste is usually put into a paper or flexible plastic cone and squeezed out at the tip (like cake decorating with icing).
When henna is applied to the skin, the stain it leaves will grow darker the longer the paste is left on. If it is removed too soon, the stain will be very light. The color ranges from orange to deep maroon.