Uma is a small-batch producer of luxury facial, body and wellness oils.
While the company is based in California, the plants from which the oils are derived are grown in an organic meadow in India.
The 100-acre estate is managed in such a way so as to ensure that each cold-pressed or steam distilled hand-crafted oil is as pure and as potent as possible.
Everything in the range is formulated without parabens, EDTA, phthalates, or synthetic colours, fragrances and preservatives and suitable for vegans (although the lovely bags in which the oils arrive are made from silk).
I spoke to founder Shrankhla Holecek about Ayuveda,
accountability, creating ritual and more.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START UMA OILS?
I'd be lying if I said it was an epiphany or triggered by a life-changing circumstance. It was gradual and it started to take shape when my history with essential oils intersected with my present life living in the US. As I think about it, there were three drivers.
When I moved to the US nearly ten years ago for business school, I witnessed first hand the plethora of low quality / diluted natural products that inundated the market and that customers were paying ridiculously high premiums for. There are few standards, and even fewer honest distributors and many skincare companies are buying unreliable essential oils from unreliable sources. Having grown up in a family that has farmed and manufactured essential oils for generations and been the exclusive distributor for many prestige skincare companies, I came to believe that our 100% organic straight-from-the-source oils would be an excellent fit for consumers who want (and deserve!) nothing but the best.
The 5000-year-old eastern science of Ayurveda as well as the therapeutic benefits of essential oils are extremely powerful, and deliver real results, all naturally. However, I found that perception of them was shrouded in "mysticism" and a general lack of understanding, often giving them a bad rap. As an engineer, I really appreciate the value of good information that explains how something works before expecting people to adopt it. Which is why Uma is very focused on creating that solid base of education around the science behind our products (and for essential oils and Ayurveda in general) so conscious consumers can understand how and why it is having such great impact on their skin, mind and bodies.
Finally, I wanted to create a product that means "luxury" in the truest sense – and not the kind that you just slap on thing to give them a perception of higher value. To me, promising someone luxury is promising them an investment of your time and your absolute best effort. All our products are always handcrafted, in small batches, with extreme care taken to formulate and package everything right. We use hand-stitched, hand-embroidered silk bags for packaging (also because they generate valuable employment for underprivileged women in India). Most importantly, the Uma regimen was created around giving yourself the ultimate luxury – time. We request that you spend a few minutes following the three-part wellness oil ritual in full, and give yourself a lovely facial massage every time you use our face oils. To me, that is the age-old idea of luxury we practice in India, and I wanted to bring that to the world through Uma.
WHY DO YOU FEEL IT'S IMPORTANT TO USE NATURAL INGREDIENTS?
From a scientific standpoint, it's because 60% of what we put on our skin goes into our bodies. Knowing that makes it extremely hard to justify ingredients in my products that I, or we, as a society, have little understanding of. Many of these additives have been chemically synthesised in the last few years – have they been time-tested nearly enough to know what they could do to our bodies in the long run? How could they impact our health, our children's health – even the children we haven't had yet? Many chemicals initially deemed safe can be disastrous in the long run – and I'm not talking just about asbestos! Natural products have the advantage of having stood centuries-worth of testing, and our bodies are most naturally adapted to use them.
From a personal standpoint, it's because I see and feel the difference in my skin and health when I'm using natural ingredients. I sometimes have a crazy schedule and need to rely on protein bars and synthetic vitamins – which arguably have the same nutritional value as a salad or a green juice – but trust me, I can see the difference in how I look and feel (as can others). Given such a strong personal feeling, it'd be disingenuous for me to use synthetic ingredients in our line – no matter the cost advantages or 'buzzworthyness' of a popular chemical.
I will add that when you make the switch to natural and organic products, two things are absolutely critical to seeing the same results you saw from their synthetic counterparts: potency of the natural ingredients (meaning they have to be pure and concentrated) and really powerful formulas. Without those you will simply have ineffective products.
FROM WHERE DO YOU SOURCE YOUR INGREDIENTS?
We grow, harvest and formulate our ingredients on our family farms in India, as we have done for centuries. Over the last few decades, my family has earned the prestigious reputation as the world's foremost essential oil supplier. Uma is our foray into taking that stringent ingredient purity and formulation efficacy directly to the consumer. We are proud to take accountability of every drop of product that touches our consumers' hands – knowing that, we have known and loved every one of its ingredients since it was literally a seed in the ground.
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR PRODUCTION AND PACKAGING PROCESSES ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE?
Our family estate has had a long history of providing safe and dignified employment for women and takes great pride in the fact that local women make up over 50% of its workforce. From its inception and as a pioneer for its time, Uma has provided men and women equal pay for equal work. In a country in which gender discrimination is too often the norm, Uma's progressive stance on gender equality sends a powerful, positive message that past injustice will be tolerated no more. We believe that giving our female employees financial independence through fair pay, enrichment programmes and flexible and supportive employment terms is a necessary contribution toward the broader movement to emancipate women in India.
To support and enrich our community's ecosystem, our estate also runs a host of initiates such as the only health clinic in the village (providing free services and medication), animal shelters, and academic scholarship funding. As I already mentions, our packaging includes handmade bag, stitched and embroidered by under-privileged women in India. To use, that is not just a commitment to delivery a true luxury feel to our customers, but also reminding them very tangibly about how their choice of product is enhancing and enriching someone's life significantly every day.
I will say that we are invested in our community not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because it would be impossible to create the highest-quality, locally-sourced essential oils without investing in the community that makes it all possible.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PRODUCT IN THE LINE?
This is so difficult and subjective, but if it had to be just one, it'd probably be the Ultimate Brightening Face Oil. As someone recently said to me, it feels like 'your skin is enveloped in a layer of silk'. The minute you apply it, you can feel it going to work. I've had even the most stubborn dark spots disappear with its use, and it somehow manages to make me look luminous even in time of dire stress. And it is loaded with rose oil, which can never hurt.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR UMA OILS?
We're thrilled to be launching a series of super powerful face masks with rare, skin-loving ingredients, as well as a new hair and body oil. Some of the ingredients are extremely rare and we are amongst the world's only suppliers of them – so we're excited to share our powerful formulations in the very near future.
THE SECRET TO RADIANT SKIN IS...
Good health, emotional balance and clean nutrition. Great skincare is very important, but secondary to beauty that comes from within. You know how you need that much less concealer after a great night's rest!
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY?
I've been a vegetarian all my life. I love food and derive a great amount of pleasure from a good meal and I like thinking about how each dish is a work of art (and love) from its creator – so I especially like inventive food.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING?
I try to get a little bit of a workout in every day as I believe it keeps me sane. I bought a rowing machine and put it in front of my television for the days when I can't make it to the gym. It has been one of my wiser investments. Some quiet alone time does me well for my sanity too. Even when I'm most anxious or perturbed, it gives me some perspective on how life isn't so bad after all.
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
People, good conversation and travel.