(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!
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.