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.