On Friday nights circa 1990, Yasmeen Tadia’s family could be found in an empty office meticulously counting cotton balls and stuffing them into bags. At just seven years old, Yasmeen would sit alongside her brother and cousins, begrudgingly helping her parents prepare products for their medical supplies company and vividly wishing she was filling bags of cotton candy instead.
Yasmeen’s father was a doctor in Johannesburg, South Africa before he immigrated to the United States with his wife and children when Yasmeen was just two years old. He worked tirelessly to provide for his family, traveling to doctors’ offices to sell medical supplies. After witnessing firsthand the stress of owning a business, Yasmeen was adamant that she would never be a business owner herself. But now, the 35-year-old is an accomplished entrepreneur. She is the sole owner of Make Your Life Sweeter—the parent of five companies: FluffPop, Sugaire, HotPoppin, ModChocolate and ModSweets.
As a child, Yasmeen thought she would become a doctor or a lawyer, but her human resources and management degree from Southern Methodist University led her down a different path. For 10 years, Yasmeen climbed her way up the corporate ladder to eventually become the director of human resources at the largest hotel company in New York City. While maintaining Dallas as her home base, she traveled constantly, managing 42 hotels with 10,000 employees. Though the job was stressful, she loved every minute of it.
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When her son, Zain, was just six months old, Yasmeen became a single mother. Juggling both of her demanding roles—corporate HR director and single mom—was difficult. Every morning she would drop Zain off at school and commute 50 minutes to work, rushing back to pick him up at the end of the day. When Yasmeen realized that her son was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, she decided that all of the long hours were not allowing her to be the mother she wanted to be.
“When you become a parent, everything changes,” Yasmeen says. “My motivation has always been Zain. I wanted him to have a better life than me.”
As her son grew, Yasmeen became frustrated with the unhealthy foods and candy that plagued every kids’ party. She wanted an alternative, a snack that was both healthy and cool—something she had never seen before. So she decided to make one.
In January 2013, Yasmeen left the career she loved to go all in on the cotton candy business. She secured a patent for a mini cotton candy puff atop a stick, calling it FluffPop. Yasmeen dumped her savings into her own start-up and she and Zain lived on three months’ worth of savings while she hustled to make her new venture a success.
“Technically there’s no product that’s like it because it doesn’t taste like traditional cotton candy … it just has the same consistency,” Yasmeen says. Their most popular flavor is Guava. “It’s dainty. It’s cool. You can put it in a drink or spin it on a glow stick bracelet. There are so many things we can do with it.”
Yasmeen’s business expanded by word of mouth after Glamour Magazine featured FluffPop in its February 2014 issue. With just six calories and one tablespoon of organic cane sugar, FluffPop is gluten-free, vegan, kosher, halal, 90 percent air, and a hit.
In the past five years, the business has grown larger than Yasmeen ever dreamed. HotPoppin, a line of gourmet popcorn, was born when a client asked if she sold popcorn and she didn’t want to turn them down. A year later, Yasmeen was asked to work an event for Facebook just two days before Valentine’s Day, and she was adamant that her company would not show up without a chocolate product for the occasion. So, she created a line of gourmet chocolate called ModChocolate. When another client inquired about a larger form of the original FluffPop, Yasmeen developed Sugaire. It resembles the baby pink and sky blue as-big-as-your-face cotton candy balls seen at fairs and theme parks, but is made with organic ingredients in unique flavors like Banana Cream Pie, Passion Fruit, Birthday Cake and even Rose Gold.
Her most recent venture, ModSweets, is a retail-focused artisanal collection that launched in 42 Neiman Marcus stores for the 2017 holiday season. Though it was a definite success, Yasmeen admits the retail line was one of her biggest challenges to date. “It nearly killed me,” she says.
Yasmeen’s days are always different and she appreciates that about her line of work. Some mornings, she steps into her pink Christian Louboutin “gobstopper” shoes, slides into a tailored blazer and straps on an Hermes belt before leaving her Plano home to make a number of deliveries. Other days, she works in the posh lobby of The Joule hotel on Dallas’ Main Street—a common meeting place for many of her clients.
Constantly in the lab taste-testing new flavors, Yasmeen takes a hands-on approach to her business. She tries to attend every event that the Make Your Life Sweeter team works, and lives by the motto: “Today is not a dress rehearsal.”
Yasmeen’s clients are a driving force behind the growth of her company because they constantly ask for new creations. She is currently working on a drink line that would center on a bar where people could infuse their own drinks, like bubble tea or other fancy creations served in martini glasses. She plans to develop a new product each year.
Though Yasmeen’s mother is a tremendous help with Zain, school days are hectic. After walking together to school each morning—a duty she insists on performing—Yasmeen goes for a run and then works until 3 p.m. when she leaves to pick her son up. Most days, they head back to the Make Your Life Sweeter corporate office in Dallas, where Zain does his part in the family business. When he was three years old, he opened every single Mason jar as his mom spun the cotton candy that would fill them; now, at age eight, he strings twist ties into HotPoppin bag tags, serves popcorn, helps spin cotton candy and charms guests and clients at events with his sweet demeanor. Yasmeen tries to make dinner before putting Zain to bed each night, and then continues working as late as 3 a.m. She gets three to four hours of sleep each night. When asked if she’s tired, she replies, “I’m blessed.”
The eight-woman Make Your Life Sweeter team, Yasmeen and often Zain travel all over the world for events. They provided the sweets for the birthday bashes of A-list celebrities like actor Neil Patrick Harris, Paris Hilton and even Steve Forbes. Other clients include Rolls Royce, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, NASCAR, DryBar and Tesla. Make Your Life Sweeter even catered the White House Correspondents Dinner, where sponsor USA Today gave attendees nine HotPoppin popcorn kernels in a mini mason jar. They also provided the goodies for Oprah’s visit to Plano this April, fully stocking her VIP room, serving popcorn at the car valet, performing a FluffPop live spin, and serving up infused drinks.
Yasmeen doesn’t accept every business proposal she receives, in part, because she wants to preserve the exclusivity that her brand holds. She also adheres to her Islamic faith-taught values fiercely; she does not sell alcohol or cave to the many bacon-wrapped popcorn requests she receives. Her goal isn’t solely to make money, but for people to respect her for staying true to her values.
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Though Yasmeen is confident in her beliefs, she’s experienced prejudice in many forms. As a child, she wore a Hijab to school; other than her cousin, Yasmeen was the only student in her school that wore one. One classmate used to pull it off her head every day. As an adult, waiting with her clients in a car valet line, a man shouted at her that “the terrorists have to wait in the back of the line.” She believes that she would never be where she is today if she still wore her Hijab.
“The judgment is just part of being a minority in America, and I’m Muslim so that’s even harder with the media coverage,” Yasmeen says. “It’s always a battle. I tell my son that it’s not going to be easy, but it’s okay to be different.”
At every event, the Make Your Life Sweeter team serves the staff in addition to the guests. Some clients have a difficult time with this concept, but it is a non-negotiable for Yasmeen. Her religion teaches her the importance of the Arabic term Barakah, which means that sharing returns a bigger blessing.
Despite persistent advice from powerful and successful business owners and her mentors to do so, Yasmeen has never taken on investors. She does not want to owe anyone anything—something she says her Muslim faith also teaches her. When the popular TV series Shark Tank recently asked her to come on the show, she politely declined.
In addition to her booming business, Yasmeen also runs a charity organization called Random Acts of Sweetness. In the U.S., the charity celebrates people who do good things for others without expecting anything in return. They also donate to events put on by non-profits like the Leukemia Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Earlier this year, Yasmeen and Zain visited India to expand the charity there. Donations allowed them to help people they met along their journey, including children at a local school, orphans, and rickshaw drivers who normally make less than $2 per day. They also met a single mom who sews dresses for 15 U.S. cents apiece. After seeing the conditions there firsthand, she says she will never sleep the same. Yasmeen decided to focus the India arm of her charity on single mothers, a role that is close to her heart.
Yasmeen’s life has truly come full circle. She used to stuff cotton balls, and now she spins cotton candy. Her son also helps with the packaging of her products, though he typically eats more than he stuffs. While in India, Yasmeen and Zain visited the villages of their ancestors. Five generations of Yasmeen’s family are from South Africa, but the rest hail from Tariya and Barolia in central India. When Yasmeen visited the villages, she learned that both sides of her family were sugar cane farmers. As she walked through their sugar cane fields, she felt that her new career may have been meant to be all along.