Student Spotlight: Leona Dondi, Founder of Uzima
Training: Pro Natural Hair Care Formulation Course, year 2020
Location: California, CA
Hero Product: UKUAJI Blooming Serum
UZIMA MEANS FULL OF LIFE IN SWAHILI
And it’s our promise to your hair.
UZIMA is a scalp-first haircare line combining the power of rich botanicals, clinically proven bioactives, and plant-based biotechnology, especially for coily and curly hair. We focus on scalp care throughout our product line and create “skincare for hair” products that nourish, strengthen, and protect the scalp and hair.
What inspired you to make your own products?
My own struggles with scalp irritation and hair loss was what drove me to create the formulas I launched with. On a trip to S. Korea in 2018, I noticed an intense focus on skincare, but there wasn’t anyone doing the same for the scalp even though it’s really an extension of our facial skin. Additionally, many complaints from women with textured hair were similar to my own, which told me that there weren’t adequate solutions out there.
What was the hardest part of starting your business?
Mindset. Having the right mindset for starting a business is so important. There are many times I doubted whether I’m actually good enough to bring a brand to market with no experience in business- I hadn’t considered creating a brand before, I was only making products for myself to use initially. Overcoming this feeling and trusting the process can be so difficult because you are in a world of your own when starting a business. It’s a lonely road and few people understand or know what it takes. Building a network of like-minded folks is really what helps.
What equipment or ingredients did you first start out with?
Back in 2007 I made my first lotion with aloe juice, shea butter, glycerin, an emulsifier and preservative. I mixed this lotion with a kitchenaid stand mixer but it was not great in terms of creating a long term stable emulsion, so I upgraded to a stick blender. Pretty soon after that, I was experimenting with emulsifiers that were not available in the US from small suppliers, I was importing them from Germany, France, and the UK as they seemed to have a more vibrant natural home-made cosmetics community. Things like natural/green emulsifiers, silicone replacements, liposomes were not common ingredients for the DIYer and we had few suppliers that were providing active ingredients at the retail level here in the US. The emulsifiers I was using were more advanced and needed high shear for the best stability, so I got so lucky on eBay and found an IKA Ultra Turrax T25 for $31 and I’ve had that ever since.
How did your training at Joan Morais Cosmetics School help your business?
I signed up for the course but didn’t finish. I really was looking for any courses that had more innovative approaches to styling using more natural ingredients and Joan provided that. I had already created my products then and was working toward launch, so I was looking to a community of like minded folks. I especially liked that Joan focused on formulating for textured hair, which is honestly a gap in formulation courses, so it was refreshing to see this aspect of the course.
What are you most proud of?
Actually launching. I had brain surgery last year and a big fear I had after coming out of it was if I’d be the same, or want the same things, or have the same drive to succeed. I did and I do, and what a relief that was! But actually showing the world what I had built was so nerve-wracking, and hearing the feedback from our community has really been what’s made me proud. When customers point out the immediate benefits they perceive in our products, it makes me really proud because I intentionally created these products to provide these benefits, so it tells me that I’m on the right track.
What advice would you give to other hair entrepreneurs?
Before even creating products, first understand the people you’re creating products for, the problems they are experiencing, and why the solutions they have tried haven’t worked for them. Most importantly, why would they buy yours over others already in the market. The market is saturated so things like natural, sustainable, vegan, clean are no longer differentiators and haven’t been for a long time, so what gap are you filling in the market? What problem will you solve? This requires in depth research with real people as well as understanding the current state of the market.
Know your why because everything will come down to that. It’s what will keep you grounded, and what will help you go through the ups and downs of starting and growing a business. And most of all, believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who do too.
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