JVBCOM: We are fascinated by the rich history and heritage behind the brand, could you tell us more?
Shrankhla Holecek: Our young Ayurvedic beauty & wellness brand – is built on my family’s centuries-old (800+ years) heritage and experience as the family physicians for the Indian royal family. When you think about a story that unfolds over so much time, and wisdom that emanates from having touched so many lives (and skins, and health concerns, and wellness protocols) – it’s hard to box the brand into one clean category – or one tagline. Yes – we stand for proof-based results from our formulas, but also underscore the importance of rituals when using them to connect deeper with your body. Yes – we create sublime beauty elixirs – but they produce these stellar results because they are inherently backed by a DNA of whole wellness philosophy. Yes – we created these formulas over centuries of study, diligence and practical experience – but they’re also rooted in Ayurveda and honestly – the driving healing philosophy belongs to everyone. There’s so much nuance to Ayurveda (and UMA, as a consequence) that sometimes I don’t quite know where to start, or stop, but the beauty is that I think each bite-sized portion has appeal, and you can take from it as much – or as little – as you like, and still be better for it!
JVBCOM: Were the formulas recorded or were they passed down through oral history, and how did you bring them together into Uma?
SH: It is a combination of both – and the library of our formulas is rather voluminous. UMA represents some of the best-loved “crown jewel” formulas from that library. In starting UMA, I felt that I could serve as a conduit for a deeper and more authentic understanding of Ayurvedic formulas in the west via a platform that demystified its brilliant tenets, but without ever compromising their integrity. There’s clearly a need for holistic beauty 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.
JVBCOM: What was something that surprised you most when you were learning about your heritage? How do the founding principles of Ayurveda play a role in your daily life?
SH: I think of it more as a rite of passage – or growing up – than perhaps a ‘surprise’ that I came to accept, embrace, even love the elements of Ayurveda, big and small, that I’d grown up with (the herbs, the pranayama, the khichadi that I was made to eat when sick – and hated – but have now come to crave). Tempted as I often am to tell others – and even myself – that it had a deeply strategic or intellectual rationale, I think the reality is that I started UMA for deeply personal reasons. After what felt like a tryst quite deliberately executed to get as far away from my family’s somewhat “earthy” feeling roots by moving to Los Angeles, business school, 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/ Ayurvedic culture (which are in some ways intertwined).
JVBCOM: Can those who may not be familiar with Ayurveda or know their constitution still use Uma effectively?
SH: What’s great is that many already are! So many practice tongue scraping, or dry brushing, or Yoga – without realizing these are very fundamentally Ayurvedic. There are so many easy-to-integrate practices that are great for all (tri-doshic) that can work for all, along with these: oil pulling, a daily self-massage practice, drinking water no cooler than room temperature, washing your eyes with cool water first thing in the morning when you wake up.. There are so many places to get started with Ayurveda!
JVBCOM: Are the ingredients for the Uma supplements all sourced from the family farm?
SH: With oils, a little goes a long way. You don’t need more than a few drops per application to cover your entire face. Your skin is primed to absorb oils, and the nutrients and active ingredients within, because they mimic what already exists in your dermis—which means you get more results with less product.
Also – too many end up using way too much product. Oils – at least the right ones – are beautiful in that they can very often serve as both your serum and moisturizer. Too many products isn’t necessarily going to help your skin – it may lead to wax build up or even sensitize your skin!
The biggest misconception around oils is probably that oily or acne prone skin must be stripped of all oil! Here’s how your skin works: you strip it of all moisture, it will overproduce to try and compensate – your body’s natural processes are your biggest defense against imbalance/ disease – so beauty rituals should always work to strengthen them! The right oils – such as grapeseed, jojoba, clary sage – can actually signal to your skin cells to moderate their oil production. Think about it – your skin is made up of fat (oil) cells – how could all oils do it harm? Sure, steer clear of comedogenic ones like coconut or even avocado if you have acne-prone skin – but not all!
JVBCOM: We’d love to hear more about the sustainable practices implemented in the farming and factory production, are these modern initiatives or have they grown with/despite technology and modern farming practices?
SH: Ayurveda lays a strong emphasis on remaining in balance with your environment – a philosophy that extends itself to our farming practices. would interfere with the natural balance of a plant’s composition per Ayurveda, and hence we farm organically. We also respect plant seasonality and adhere closely to practices that enrich the earth’s natural fertility – and try to minimize our dependence on artificial irrigation – all in accordance with the belief systems that natural energy thrives when natural functions are least disturbed. The harvesting and processing of our crops, including timing (e.g., never harvesting before ripeness or in the late evenings), all integrate Ayurvedic wisdom, as do the processing of our raw materials into their ingredients (never overheating substances to try and get higher yields, etc.)
However, we also embrace efficiency and modernize thoughtfully to keep in step with the “new balance” of the world and environment we live in. I think the best concepts and ideologies are meant to evolve in keeping with the times – and we embrace a modern and balanced approach to everything – of course, keeping in mind fundamental guiding principles such as doing right by the environment and our community.
JVBCOM: Rose is the shining star of the factory and Uma Oil line, what is another ingredient that we could call the unsung hero?
SH: I’m not sure if it’s quite unsung but I can’t say enough good things about Sandalwood – a sublime, rare oil (The rarity has a little to do with sandalwood farming having been banned in India some centuries ago by the ruling king who believed that only the royals should have access to it!). Sandalwood is incredibly effective at creating the most luminous of complexions and doubles its worth for also having the most exquisite aroma – it’s great aroma-therapeutically for enhancing confidence – and many of our products feature it.
JVBCOM: Are the ingredients for the Uma supplements all sourced from the family farm?
SH: We do source some organic “additive” ingredients from other farms that are specialized in growing ingestibles – (e.g., plant based binders that help the tablet come together as cohesive unit with the Ayurvedic herbs). Since we are set up more for organic farming and extraction of the “actives” – we do rely on some very trusted partners for some necessary ingredients that allow for creation of the supplements in a user friendly manner (e.g., most find it easier to consume a tablet or capsule instead of a powder form supplement).
JVBCOM: Do you find that there are still principles of eastern wellness that tend to get misinterpreted or lost in translation in western application?
SH: I think a few different things transpire (and this is not a judgement – merely an observation); first is how we are wired to approach medicine in the west – with such a great emphasis on the rule of numbers, in that what works for 60% must work for the other 40% – eastern wellness tends to be more personalized and individual.. In fact, this is why I think many are exploring it for answers because many of us feel “unseen” by doctors when talking about a more nuanced ailment like chronic fatigue, or debilitating anxiety that’s not going away with Xanax. However, I think there’s still skepticism about that approach in the west because it hasn’t undergone rigorous, billion-dollar-pharma style lab trial. I think in the East we are more trusting culturally in the power of meditation or Yoga, or innate benefits of consuming turmeric.
Second is the ‘obsession’ (for lack of a better word) with instant gratification.. Eastern medicine relies on solving the root cause rather than symptom, and also in “easy come easy go” (that sciatica triggered pain may go away with an Advil, but is also likely to return if you don’t comprehensively change your lifestyle to address the issue)..
To truly see an impact and life changes from ancient sciences like Ayurveda – you have to have an open mind, patience and a commitment to change. If you need ‘proof’ look at the likes of Jennifer Aniston who swears by Yoga and hot water and lemon in the morning, or Jerry Seinfeld/ Howard Stern who swear by Eastern meditation practices like Transcendental Meditation for productivity and calm.
JVBCOM: In your approach to your personal wellness and beauty, are there any rituals or products you can’t do without?
SH: Ayurvedically – I do have a few wellness rituals – like scraping my tongue is as important to me as brushing my teeth in way of oral hygiene (very, very important to clarify!), I take Brahmi, Ashwagandha and Triphala supplements often and there are many things I do often, even if not everyday, such as dry brushing, oil pulling, Yoga (I’ve practised since I was 8 or 9), transcendental meditation, eating Ayurvedically (I’ve been vegetarian all my life; to clarify vegetarianism isn’t a mandate for eating Ayurvedically, it can just be easier), etc.
Beauty-wise, I’d say I’m definitely a minimalist and my go to ritual would probably be a face oil and a face/ hair massage. I sit up in bed at night watching TV with my husband and just massaging away (while confused at first, he’s pretty blase about it now – in fact, often asks for said facial or hair massage!)
JVBCOM: What product should we all ditch for 2021?
SH: Single-use plastics? Highly processed foods that can live on for years on a shelf? I don’t know – it’s a tough question so I’ll punt back to the individual. What should you ditch? Search your feelings (Luke).
JVBCOM: What is your favorite part of the day?
SH: I theoretically love the morning though I have to admit I come alive at night.
JVBCOM: Coffee or tea?
JVBCOM: Wine or champagne?
SH: Wine, red. Tuscan, from Montalcino, preferably.
JVBCOM: If you could change one thing about the beauty industry over night, what would it be?
SH: Hmm. Maybe let’s take ourselves less seriously? I think products, treatments, tools, rituals, skincare hacks, makeup tricks, etc. are all so pleasurable, fun, exciting – but sometimes I think we forget to acknowledge and embrace that fully, and conflate that with the definition of our ‘identity’, which can be problematic.
JVBCOM: What is your number one beauty trick for travel?
SH: Ice would be my one trick – I really believe it wakes up tired skin (and eyes) very quickly. In fact try alternating warm water and ice water splashes on your face in quick succession. It really gets blood flow going and drains anything stagnant.
JVBCOM: What are you most looking forward to next year?
I’d say a more well-balanced life. I kinda see both my pre-pandemic and current life as a bit extreme in some senses (I was on the road a lot before) – so I’m hoping we’d go at 2021 with a best of both approach.