Shrankhla Holecek, founder of the wellness beauty company Uma, is an oil heiress — essential oils, that is. Growing up in India, Holecek knew she was expected to take over her family’s 800-year-old company, but she was never quite fully on board.
“As a child, I wanted to be a lawyer or an actor, neither of which is respectable in India,” Holecek laughs. “I grew up knowing I was expected to become a doctor or an engineer and eventually take over my father’s business.” she says.
After graduating with an engineering degree in college in India, she moved to L.A. to earn her MBA at UCLA. Instead of returning to India, Holecek remained stateside and became a consultant at McKinsey and Company. While loving nearly every aspect of advising companies, she also knew she didn’t want to be a career consultant, so she left after six years. Of course, everyone suggested taking over to the family business. Instead, she became a client.
“I was so fortunate to be sitting on all of these formulas in my family’s company, so I decided to take that experience, as well as the raw materials and formulas that date back several hundred years,” she says. “Uma was developed as a step up from that.”
She launched five Ayurvedic face oils and five wellness oils, packed with essential oils like neroli, lavender and ylang ylang, and housed in elegant glass jars — a rather unusual move back in 2016.
“One buyer said, ‘Nobody wants glass cosmetics!’ Another said, ‘Have you considered modernizing your scents? You are selling a luxury product to a luxury purchaser who has a very specific portfolio. You’re kind of ethnic,’” recalls Holecek. “I mulled it over for a day, then ignored it. I had to depart from the norm in order to build the DNA for my brand.”
Good thing she stuck to her guns. A mere three years later, plastic is experiencing some tough press while Uma’s products (now 28, including bath oils, candles and incense) remain in glass, the ever-growing new normal.
Holecek spoke with the Cut about her GP bath aspirations, being a vodka whisperer and the most circuitous chapped lip prevention ever.
Bath or shower?
Shower. Though my heartiest wish is to grow up to be Gwyneth Paltrow and bathe every day.
Preferred bath or shower product:
Diptyque Do Son Shower Oil.
Shampoo/conditioner of choice:
Gloss Moderne Shampoo and Conditioner.
Facial cleanser of choice:
UMA cleanser. When traveling, I switch to Farmacy’s cleansing balm as it’s a one-stop cleanse including eye make-up (you avoid the area with UMA cleansers due to their grainy texture).
Fragrance of choice:
I don’t always wear fragrance. But when I do I prefer Viktor and Rolf Flower Bomb.
Scented candle of choice:
UMA Pure Calm Wellness Candle.
What, if anything, is usually on your lips?
I use a drop or two of ghee in my belly button at night to prevent chapped lips. It’s an ancient Ayurveda treatment technique. The navel has special significance on account of it being the epicenter for many veins, and also the key way that we all consumed nutrients in the womb. Accordingly, a variety of Ayurvedic treatments are centered around medicinal oils in the navel, as well as massage techniques and herbs around it. The simplest of them is using an oil like ghee or mustard oil in the belly button every night to enhance the skin’s overall lipid barrier and moisture content. I also love a Dior or Tom Ford Red when appropriate. And also when inappropriate.
What shade, if any, is usually on your toes and/or hands?
It’s a good day when each of my finger and toe nails is roughly the same length.
What beauty look do you struggle with achieving?
Cat eye. I absolutely love it. I absolutely cannot do it.
What was your first beauty product obsession?
Really bold, shimmery, extremely tacky eye shadow. I must have been about six. I promptly went about overusing it (secretly, since my mom was a real stickler about makeup) until my eye lids nearly fell off. It was a glorious few days.
Work shoe of choice:
Alexander McQueen pumps. They’re shockingly comfortable and edgy but not outlandish.
Weekend shoe of choice:
White Puma sneakers.
Netflix and chill outfit:
Free airline pajamas.
What fashion look do you think is silly?
Bike shorts are so silly!
What fashion look do you struggle with achieving?
That casual chic California look with jeans and a beautiful blouse, or a fancy wifebeater from Karlie Kloss’s closet.
Fashion item you can’t believe you once used to wear:
Those aforementioned biker shorts.
What do you splurge on?
What do you scrimp on?
T-shirts. I don’t get the point of expensive t-shirts.
I can hold my breath for a really long time.
Most useless talent:
I can tell brands of vodka apart.
What could we use more of?
Arrogance. It’s so classless.
What tiny thing can make your day?
A morning workout.
Favorite Saturday activity:
Sleeping in. Day drinking.
Last great book you read:
I recently reread The God of Small Things. Brilliant now as it was then (20 years ago?).
What would the name of your autobiography be?
The Procrastinator Who Loved Wine.
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
I rub my feet with oil. I’ll massage the fleshy muscles between my thumb and forefinger. I’ll try alternate nostril breathing.
Sleeping right until landing time. Late afternoon/evening workouts. Espresso martinis.
Ginger, turmeric and honey, and sleeping all day.
UMA’s Pure Bliss Wellness oil. TV. Carbs. Wine.
Least favorite smell?
You know how a restaurant can smell of weeks from food stuck in its plumbing? That.
What do you think Pantone’s color of 2019 should have been?
Tiffany Blue should permanently be Pantone’s color or the year.
Brunello di Montalcino.
What do you foresee as the top beauty trends of 2019?
I think we’ll see more and more beauty products that feel good as they help you look good. More indulgent rituals, more wholesomeness, more instant gratification for the soul, not just your skin. I know words like “self-care” and “wellness” have been thrown around a while, but I think they need to be held to a higher standard. Self-care should be deliberate, ritualistic — something that fosters a deeper connection with self, so you can truly create these heightened moments of reflection, pleasure and care.
What product in your domain is misunderstood and should be a best seller?
I think cleansing and exfoliation are misunderstood (overused, leaving skin stripped) and, accordingly, there’s an over-reliance on traditional washes and acids. There’s an incredible opportunity to switch to unique organic ingredients and formulations, such as gommages, to really change your skin, and how glorious beauty rituals can feel.
If you won the Power Ball tomorrow, what are the first five things you would do? (After, of course, donating the majority of it to your top charities…)
Hire a CEO for UMA. I’d still work as hard in the president capacity, but if I never had to negotiate a lease or argue with my Taiwanese supplier about bottle delays again, I will attain mini Nirvana. Hire a personal chef. Buy a private jet. Buy a case of 1982 Haut-Brion. Donate to the most suitable candidate going up against Lindsey Graham in the next election.