Few upstart companies get this close to stardom: a place for its products in the official Oscar gift bag, and movie stars, including Helen Hunt and Drew Barrymore, wearing them as they walk down the red carpet.
In 1995, Hana Zalzal (BASc 1988) started Cargo Cosmetics Corp. from her home in North York, Ont. She credits her civil engineering degree as laying the groundwork for her success. “The engineering background gave me the confidence to do it. It was a very difficult degree,” says Zalzal, 39, who also earned an MBA from York University in Toronto. “Everything after that seemed easier, even the MBA. It gave me that discipline and sense of confidence that when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.”
Zalzal drew on professional make-up artists to provide feedback about the products she was developing. She says Cargo’s line “spread by word of mouth” then “caught on like crazy.”
While Cargo’s first retail client, Eaton’s, was going bankrupt in 1998, the cosmetics line was being snapped up for use on such prime-time TV shows as Friends. Now the line sells in 142 stores in six countries and is a multimillion-dollar business. Make-up artists use it on Malcolm in the Middle, Six Feet Under and Will and Grace, and celebrities such as Courtney Cox, Camryn Manheim and Debra Messing have each designed a lipstick shade for the company.
Zalzal, who was recently named to The Caldwell Partners list of Canada’s Top 40 under 40, remains low-key about the glitz. She’s focused on the reasons for Cargo’s appeal: “It’s high quality with amazing application, it’s natural looking but photographs very well.”