Uma Oils founder Shrankhla Holecek has one foot in two worlds. The MBA graduate lives a typically fast-paced, entirely modern life – supplying organic oils to some of the world’s most trusted brands from Estee Lauder to Tom Ford, as well as seeing Uma boom into some of the blockbuster names in beauty, like Sephora and Net A Porter. On the other hand, she’s steeped in tradition and history, carrying on the legacy of her centuries-old family business in India, and all its handcrafted, sustainable, small-batch processes.
Raised in India and now happily settled in the US, Shrankhla brought Uma to the Western market out of a frustration with the way Ayurvedic beauty was portrayed. “Everything seemed shrouded in mysticism, as opposed to the highly scientific and proven (over thousands of years!) system of medicine that Ayurveda is…As an engineer, I really appreciate the value of good information that explains how something works before expecting people to adopt it.”
Her no-nonsense, science-backed approach worked: “it wasn’t an emotional decision to move into this category. It was the fact that consumers were finally (and very rightly) questioning the ingredients and the formulation of their products that gave me the confidence to believe that our story and our absolute dedication to ingredient purity will resonate with customers.”
It’s not just business acumen that’s seen Shrankhla take the beauty world by storm. She shared with us her top beauty tip (tongue cleaning!), her daily routine, and why she and her husband eat out every night (“we find it helps us focus on communicating much more than a meal at home does”).
Something old, something new – there’s certainly nothing blue about Shrankhla Holecek.
You started out studying business - how did you find yourself working in the beauty industry?
That’s a great question – and one I ask myself often, especially on days when the idiosyncrasies of small business insist on making themselves particularly felt! More seriously though, I believe that it was all part of a natural transition and journey; importantly, one where I had to come a full 360 to accept and appreciate my upbringing and my background. I think a part of Uma was born when I was, in that my family has farmed and distilled some of the world’s finest essential oils, literally for centuries. So as a child, I spent long summers at our organic rose farms, learning about our sustainable farming or extraction processes. And yet another part of me wanted to get as far away from the family business as I could – so I studied engineering and moved to the States, got an MBA and worked with management consulting firm McKinsey for five years.
It wasn’t one precipitating inspiration per se – it was the sum of my education, experiences and heritage that led me to found Uma. I have long known that my family produces some of the world’s finest organic oils, and that our potent family formulas are very illustrious, but it wasn’t an emotional decision to move into this category. It was the fact that consumers were finally (and very rightly) questioning the ingredients and the formulation of their products that gave me the confidence to believe that our story and our absolute dedication to ingredient purity will resonate with customers.
You mentioned that when you moved to the US you were frustrated by the misrepresentation of Ayurveda. Can you tell us about that?
Almost bastardized by pandering to the ‘fringe’ elements that seemed to have more shock value. Everything seemed shrouded in mysticism, as opposed to the highly scientific and proven (over thousands of years!) system of medicine that Ayurveda is. This general lack of understanding often gave Ayurveda a bad rap among those who seek an educated perspective on how Ayurveda creates results. As an engineer, I really appreciate the value of good information that explains how something works before expecting people to adopt it. 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 thinking consumers can understand how and why it is having such great impact on their skin, mind and bodies. We invest heavily in our editorial – and completely non commercial – arm, UMA Elements, to illuminate audiences on the science-backed, ritual-rich and completely transformative world of Ayurveda.
How is the Ayurvedic approach different to standard beauty?
The first key difference is the holistic approach that Ayurvedic beauty takes, as opposed to standard skincare which often tends to be more topically focused. Second, Ayurveda lays a real emphasis on working with, and supporting, the body’s natural processes of the body to thrive and look and feel its best, whereas a lot of traditional skincare can take the approach of ‘stripping’. For example, the idea of constantly peeling for anti-aging: peeling often, as women start doing, leads to very thin, fragile skin that is unable to defend itself against damage.
Within Ayurveda we would instead go the route of strengthening the skin barrier through nourishing oils, or using an organic gommage exfoliant instead of acid peels, so skin feels strengthened, never stripped. Finally, I think there’s an expectation of ‘instant gratification’ in traditional skincare regimes, which is quite the opposite of all of Ayurvedic philosophy. Ayurveda not only cautions ‘easy come, easy go’, but also systematically lays emphasis on building a strong foundation that can weather changes and imbalance. Strong foundations take investment, but are very worth it, like all good investments.
To me, Ayurvedic beauty – just as all of Ayurveda – is an integrated approach and lifestyle that lays emphasis on the interconnectivity of the mind, body and environment to deliver the results you seek. It’s the emphasis on better sleep for glowing skin, and balancing your hormone triggers to battle acne. So Uma creates Ayurvedic products that are not only targeted towards rejuvenating the skin to ensure a radiant glow, but also to allow you to rest better, and feel more positive – and products that are free of endocrine disruptors and toxins, because you should never have to compromise on your health to try and have better skin. Within Ayurveda, that simply doesn’t work.
Uma takes a real artisanal approach to production, with a focus on sustainable harvesting and small batches. How do you make this work when supplying a beauty mega store like Sephora?
Through an honest dialogue and managing expectations early on. Even while operating within our larger scale partners like Sephora or Net a Porter, we are careful to select into initiatives that allow for incubation and scaling thoughtfully. We introduce fewer products and focus on a key priority – such as wellness has been for Sephora – and work closely with our partners to build the category and our support resources accordingly.
It has been heartening to see a greater number of retailers understand the nuances of our unique business, such as the small batch production, and partner with us to bring or vision to fruition so we can touch more lives and customers, but without compromising on the core values of distinctive production methods and stringent quality control.
Face oils have been around for thousands of years, but they're fairly new to the modern Western beauty market. When you first launched was there much demand for them?
Even as demand and education for face oils builds, we find there’s still some leftover stigma around dated misinformation, such as the worry that oils will break you out, or sit on your skin all day. The most common misconception that we hear about is that using oil on your skin is bad for you. There has been so much miseducation around oils, suggesting that they’re bad for your skin—but this is not the case at all! Your body naturally produces oil to moisturize your skin, so why would offering a substance with a similar molecular structure suddenly cause your body to react badly?
That being said, not all oils are created equal (which is why I don’t love coconut oil), but that’s primarily based on the size of the molecules in the oil which can lead to clogged pores. For many of our face oils, we use pomegranate as the carrier oil (which, in itself, has many properties of an active) since it has the smallest molecular structure and can penetrate the skin the best—which means it can help carry all the nutrients from other essential oils deep into the skin. One of the biggest benefits of using face oils it that they moisturize your skin with a substance it recognizes, and over time you’ll find that your skin’s oil production will begin to regulate itself, which actually reduces breakouts.
Fortunately people are doing more research and we’ve had the privilege of better facts and science around the issue – which has really helped build the market for us.
How should we be using facial oils in our beauty routines?
We recommend following the “lightest to heaviest” rule of skincare! Face oils can be worn over many light moisturizers and serums, but should be worn under thicker products like creams or heavy moisturizers. Of course, the oils can stand alone in your skincare routine as well. Face oils can also be worn under makeup, and can actually help enhance the appearance of makeup. We also always recommend the use of sunscreen in the day, and that should be applied over the oils (or at the end of your regimen.) I’m a huge fan of a gentle facial massage after the application of the face oils – it helps with deeper absorption of the oils and with additional lymphatic detox as well as greater collagen generation!
What does a typical day for you look like?
Ah, there are rarely ‘typical’ days because there’s so much going on – but if pressed, I’d say I start with breakfast in front of my laptop scanning urgent emails and then checking in with my fulfilment team about the day’s orders. Customer experience is our top priority so I like to stay as close to it as possible. I then go into the office and check in with my marketing team at about 9 am, followed by a LOT more email! I usually have strategy calls in the afternoon with potential partners and I head out for a workout around 7 pm, getting home about 8pm – same time my husband Michael gets home. We go out for dinner almost every night – it’s our thing – we find it helps us focus on communicating much more than a meal at home does! I typically do an hour more of work while watching TV – and get to bed around midnight.
What's your number one beauty tip?
I know this is a departure from the norm for a ‘beauty tip’, but hear me out. Many of us complain about a variety of skin conditions such as puffiness, water retention, and acne, that are all signs of toxins building in the system. The easiest way to healthier skin – and a clearer mind, fitter body – is incorporating a daily detox habit. Start mornings by cleaning your tongue with a tongue cleaner and with a cup of hot water with lemon squeezed in it. You’ll marvel at the increase in skin clarity, your immunity and overall vitality (Jennifer Aniston swears by these Ayurvedic tips!). For the win – add oil pulling (swishing sesame or coconut oil around your mouth for 10 minutes in the AM – try it in the shower) and dry brushing a few times a week. You’ll feel like a new person!