Tag Archives: LA

Shrankhla Holecek on UMA Oils Farm

UMA Oils CEO Believes in the Need For Wellness Wisdom

(Featured Image: Shrankhla Holecek on UMA Oils Farms in India)

Los Angeles based Shrankhla Holecek is the CEO of UMA Oils. A long-time Ayurvedic expert who educates on Ayurvedic traditions with contemporary sensibility, she is a lifelong vegetarian, yogi, and natural-medicine practitioner. Shrankhla grew up in India with a strong foundation in the ancient science of Ayurveda, and brings over 15 years of extensive training and understanding in the therapeutic benefits of botanicals, especially as they apply to Ayurveda. Generations of her family have been veterans who have mastered the craft of organic essential oil production and have for decades supplied some of the world’s leading luxury beauty brands. 

Shrankhla moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago for her MBA, after which she spent several years in management consulting. Exhausted by topical creams and one-off medications, she went back to her basics, creating a line of natural skincare and wellness products. In addition to serving as a media expert on essential oils and Ayurveda, she is also a regular contributor to natural health media outlets like Well & Good, Byrdie, Mind Body Green, and Refinery 29.

In this exclusive interview, she talk about her family’s century-old history of being purveyors of essential oils, her brand’s celebrity following, and how she is giving back to the rural community in Chattisgarh where her farms are located.

How did you decide to start your brand of luxurious face, body, and aromatherapy oils, UMA?

Tempted as I often am to tell others – and even myself – that it had a strategic or intellectual rationale, I think the reality is that I started UMA for deeply personal reasons. After what felt like an attempt to get as far away from my family’s roots as possible by moving to Los Angeles, going to business school, and starting a consulting career, I think I came full circle in acceptance and appreciation for all that I had grown up with: the unique value of my Ayurvedic heritage, as well as the beauty, complexity, and richness of the Indian culture. 

In starting UMA, I felt that I could serve as a conduit for a deeper and more authentic understanding of Ayurveda in the West via a platform that demystified its brilliant tenets, but without ever compromising their integrity. There’s clearly a need for wellness wisdom in the world we live in (wherever one may be on the spectrum of integrating it in one’s life, I think most will agree), and I believed that Ayurveda could offer that in a time-tested way. Importantly, building my own business allowed me to prioritize some of the core values I felt very passionately about, gender equality and equal pay is one of them. 

Tell us more about your family’s century-old history of being purveyors of essential oils, and how you translate that ancient science of Ayurveda in your products.  

My family has been revered Ayurvedic physicians for centuries, including being entrusted with creating formulas for the royalty. The role passed down from generation to generation within my family, where we formulated beauty and wellness medicine for the royal family, as well as the kingdom – perfecting Ayurvedic formulas over thousands of women and men, across a wide variety of concerns, constitutions, and skin types. Since Ayurvedic medicine is entirely plant-based, we also started farming many of the ingredients that went into our formulas – and in the last century, that paved the way for our inroads into essential oil distillation and manufacturing. 

Turns out – you need acres and acres of vetiver or jasmine to distill just a little essential oil, and given my family’s heritage and expertise in the field, it was a natural transition to move into the industry. As demand for exotic essential – such as jasmine and sandalwood – oils grew worldwide, my family started supplying some of the marquee fragrance and beauty houses with raw materials (but never the formulas since they have always been a family secret). We have supplied a variety of India-based oils for the exquisite line of essential oils based perfumes Tom Ford created. We’ve also worked with Estee Lauder for over a decade on supplying the essential oils for their beauty and fragrance needs. They expectedly have stringent standards for vendors and we’re proud to meet them!
 
UMA was created to bring not only our celebrated essential oils but also these revered (and secret) formulas directly to the consumer, as an offering and introduction to deeply authentic and trusted Ayurvedic medicine.

Tell our readers more about the products you offer.

As in the Ayurvedic tradition, a lot of our skincare products are oil-based, helping to balance, treat, and enhance the skin in an entirely natural way. We bring in beloved Ayurvedic ingredients like turmeric, honey, aloe vera, rose water, and saffron through our splendid toners, masks, and gommage cleansers – and ensure the whole of you is cared for (including your mental wellbeing) through our beloved wellness line-up, and whole-body products. We also have delightful candles and incense targeted towards creating a sense of balance in your home environment.

Your brand has also garnered a celebrity following. Tell us a little about that.

Yes, we’ve been fortunate to have some amazing people show us, love! Anne Hathaway, Kelly Ripa, Ariana Grande, Emma Roberts, Eve the Rapper, Molly Sims, and Emma Willis are a few that come to mind immediately. In truth, it is the kind goodwill of many of these incredible people to support a young brand like ours, and the love and passion of so many women and men who have built UMA on our farms and factories over the years that we have to thank for all these blessings every day!

Women Working on UMA Oils Farm in Chattisgardh
Women working on UMA Oils Farm in Chattisgarh.

Relate to us how your brand is giving back to the rural community in Chattisgarh where your farms are located.

On average, we reinvest a third of our annual profits back into our local community. We operate the sole health clinic in our village free of charge and provide the specialized resources to treat Thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder prevalent in the area. We also offer academic scholarships to encourage promising local youth to pursue higher education.

UMA is a woman-founded and run company, and takes great pride in the fact that the UMA estate was among the pioneers in “equal work for equal pay” within India. Our estate has historically employed over 50 percent women, a fact mirrored in the composition of the US-based UMA team. We have always believed that sustainable gender equality can only be achieved by the means of creating true financial independence for women, and for decades have invested in creating the infrastructure necessary to ensure our women employees feel supported and empowered.

Avoiding synthetic pesticides and additives, we actively convert our waste into value. Loving and caring for the environment in the Ayurvedic tradition is a consideration in everything we do. This is why our farming and distillation processes are designed for sustainability and have been since our inception. We farm completely organically, and convert most of our waste into consumer products, like incense, or alternative fuel to power our distilleries. We minimize our dependence on artificial irrigation, and the water used in our distillation processes is cycled back into the farms we grow our crops in.

What are your plans for UMA’s future expansion and other efforts?

Our mission is to continue to educate on Ayurveda and empower people to take full control of their wellbeing, health, and beauty. Ayurveda was so generously shared with us millennia ago, and it’s our company’s responsibility to share that with the world in the altruistic, non-commercial way it was shared with us. I think of products as a way to delight and indulge oneself – never as alternatives to mindful diet and lifestyle habits as Ayurveda recommends – but rather as conduits to enrich your self-care rituals. We hope to continue creating thoughtful products that bring joy, and help strengthen one’s connection to oneself.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box. 

A Mason Jar of Fortunes

The most far-fetched prophecy I have ever received is: maybe you can live on the moon in the next century! Although all Bollywood and Western romantic numbers croon about flying up to the moon, I feel safer on terra firma.

To pull out a fortune from a cookie seems gimmicky to me. Regardless, it’s okay to succumb to a little bit of self-love and to justify this behaviour,  we read our message in a cookie with an enthusiasm that slowly dwindles as we go around the table and read each other’s luck. 

Unfortunately, the United States has the largest number of COVID-19 infections in the world and with it, we have seen a rise in anti-Asian sentiment. I chose to remind you of all of the precious fortune cookies that unite families at a dinner table.

In 2013, our friendly yoga teacher gave us a mason jar with a picture of her place of worship, a fragrant herb, and a colored strip of paper with a blessing. Mine was – “Get up and out, the day is bursting with moments.” by Rabindranath Tagore. We all went home with our jars and I put mine on my kitchen alcove. Over the years I kept putting other blessings in this jar along with strips of fortune. 

Growing up, we ate Indian food at home every day and so to change our taste we went once a week for and Indian Chinese dinner in Mumbai. Hakka noodles, American chop suey, chili chicken/paneer, and big bowls of hot and sour soup were our favorite entrees.  Indian Chinese food is not available in Huntsville but the next best option for my Indian friends is the American style Chinese food at PF CHANGS, doused generously with extra hot chili sauce. After spicing our palettes and clearing the sinuses, it’s time to read our fortunes. Unlike my other friends, I don’t like to eat the sugar cookie. I just hold the twisted fortune crisp in my hand and take a tentative bite of the vanilla and sesame flavored shell. Then I put it down and after everyone else has read their fortunes, I read the vague aphorism silently. Then I put it in my purse and at home transfer it to the mason jar. Every time I open the jar, I think of my yoga teacher and once again I read my fortune. I turn it over in the palm of my hand, look at the random lotto numbers and stash it away in my jar.  

I did not know that these fortune cookies are not Chinese. They were popularized in America by Japanese immigrants in the 19th century. They were first made in the Benkyodo bakery in San Francisco and served with hot tea. Later, Kito the founder of “Little Tokyo” in Los Angeles sold his flour tea cakes with fortune slips to the Chinese. During World War II, when 100,000 Japanese were in internment in America, the Chinese started mass producing these cookies. Ever since that time, they appear as a courtesy dessert along with the check at Chinese restaurants. These cookies are accepted all over the world, including India, where people are fond of fortune-tellers, soothsayers, and Palm readers. Strangely enough, they are not popular in China and are considered to be too American. 

I have never visited China but I have lived in America for almost three decades. We live in a sparsely populated region in the South but my American friends, family members, and strangers are all sheltered in place. A few of us go for solitary walks or wave at people from our porches. Friends FaceTime us to update us about their health or share their thoughts on social media. We wash our hands, run fingers through our hair, take naps, and spend days and nights in our pajamas. Time as we know it has slowed down. There’s nothing rushed. We all are running out of projects at home. We clean, purge, organize, sort, grow herb gardens, sew and donate masks, cook, share jokes, indulge in arts and crafts, read the stack of books put aside for a rainy day. 

Today, I decided to open my jar of fortunes to look for a clue to solve the viral pandemic. I pour a cup of coffee and pour out my fortunes on the floor and arrange them in a cyclic semblance of destiny.  

Affirmative:

  • You will be honored with a prestigious prize or award.
  • Your dearest wish will come true.
  • A pleasant surprise is in store for you.
  • You will always be surrounded by true friends.
  • You have a strong desire for home, family comes first.
  • Good news will come to you by mail.
  • You have the ability to sense and know higher truth.
  • You will conquer obstacles to achieve success.

Sarcastic:

  • You are an evening star in someone’s romantic eyes.
  • You are competent, creative, careful. Prove it.
  • Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.
  • Focus on your long-term goals. 
  • Good things will happen sooner or later.
  • Golden hours are coming to you eventually.
  • A cynic is only a frustrated optimist.

These strange words remind me of the hilarious attempts of two Asian women working at the Fortune cookie factory in Amy Tan’s novel “The Joy Luck Club” who are not able to translate these proverbs into Chinese. They give up thinking that they don’t contain any wisdom but just bad instruction.

Cryptic:

  • Your smile is a curve that gets a lot of things straight. Answer the call to help a friend.
  • Now is the time to call loved ones. Share your news.
  • Don’t pursue happiness, create it (Mango?!).
  • Your luck has been completely changed today.
  • Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen?
  • The joyfulness of a man prolongs his days.
  • What you plant now you will harvest later.
  • You will learn about love and a peaceful heart. A smiley face and a Spanish translation. 

Mysterious:

  • Be prepared to receive something special.
  • The best times of your life have not yet been lived.
  • Everything will now come your way.
  • You will discover an unexpected treasure.
  • Now is a lucky time for you to take a chance.
  • You are going to change your present line of work.
  • Soon someone will make you very proud.
  • You were born with a sixth sense. 
  • Confidence is at a high? Whose?

Ominous:

  • If it seems fate is against you today. You are right!
  •  A closed mouth gathers no feet!
  • You will die alone and poorly dressed!

Duds:

  • How about another fortune
    • Blank fortunes are the scariest because you freak out that something bad is going to happen to you. 

I look at all these fortunes and put them back in the Mason jar and sit on my deck under a blue sky. I pray for all the people who are ill with this virus and especially for those who have succumbed to this terrible illness. I take a strip of green paper and tune into higher consciousness. I breathe in and out. I write, “VIRUS BEGONE!” and put it back into my mason jar.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.