College senior from Columbia launches beauty box business

For Howard Magazine
This Columbia native was on the path to medical school, but she wanted to try her hand at the beauty business.

Just three years ago Zubda Khokhar, 20, of Columbia was planning on going into a career in medicine. She was awarded early admission into three medical schools at the age of 17. All she needed to do was get a bachelor’s degree in science, and she was guaranteed a spot.

But there was something missing in that plan. It didn’t feel right.

“I was hungry for change once I started,” Khokhar said.

So she started searching for a new goal and decided to try to make a passion of hers into a career, creating her own beauty business from the ground up.

“The whole idea of makeup and beauty is something that I loved even as a little girl before I was even allowed to wear makeup,” said Khokhar, who is a senior at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. studying biology and business. “I would go into my mom’s closet and put her makeup on without permission and then take it off before she would get home. It was a way of self-expression for me.”

Khokhar started her subscription program, The Surprise Beauty Box, in June. Through her company she sends subscribers a package she curated herself, with a focus on small-business and Etsy-shop products. She uses her experience as a former Macy’s beauty adviser to find and select new items for her boxes.

Subscriptions are $15 for the standard box with five to six items per month, $25 for the deluxe box with seven to eight items per month.

And she does everything herself, from reaching out to companies and making deals to packaging and shipping the boxes — but not without a little help from Mom.

“My mom has helped me immensely, and I could not have done this without her,” Khokhar said.

Elizabeth Felix of Towson became a subscriber over the summer after she saw one of her friends post about it on Facebook.

“I have zero idea about what to buy when it comes to a primer, concealer with SPF or a facial moisturizer that will match my skin type,” she says. “This beauty box specializes in all that by asking me questions after I subscribed. It gives you a combo of high-end and indie brands for reasonable prices.”

For customer Alexis Martinez of Midland, Texas, the beauty box was a literal surprise. Martinez won a Surprise Beauty Box giveaway Khokhar did on Twitter, and she’s been a subscriber ever since.

“I love that she has everyone take a survey to customize each box to the customer’s preference,” Martinez said. “I decided to sign up for fun, not really putting much thought into it, but now I’m obsessed.” 

To learn more about The Surprise Beauty Box, visit

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