Entrepreneurial Darden MBAs Launch Natural Beauty Product Company, Empower Women of Color
Entrepreneurial spirit runs deep at Darden. Students are known to team up to leverage UVA and Darden’s resources to get a new venture off the ground, and many go on to create innovative products and business practices once they leave the on-Grounds ecosystem — putting their intensive learning experience to work.
Allison Shimamoto (MBA ’19) founded Oemi Botanicals, a “nutrition-forward” natural beauty product company, out of necessity. She was not satisfied with the natural hair products available in the market, and after taking matters into her own hands, realized that there was a tremendous need for natural products designed to work with type 4 curly hair.
“In 2011, when I went natural, finding products that worked for my type 4 coils was a challenge,” said Shimamoto. “Most natural hair curly products were designed to work with all curl patterns, but left my hair dry, flat, or rigid. The products that did work claimed to be natural, but when looking at the ingredients they fell short. Fed up with the fake, I started making my own natural products at home, and have been perfecting my craft for over seven years.“
Shimamoto started out creating products for herself but word quickly spread (thanks to the power of Youtube), and she was soon developing products for friends and family. After encouragement from Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy, Shimamoto worked on building the brand as part of an independent study in her second year, and continued through the summer before starting her full-time job at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Since the company’s official launch in June 2019, Oemi has grown to a passionate team of five — all with UVA roots. Oemi was recently named a finalist in the UVA E-Cup competition, a highly anticipated annual event which aims to “enrich the area’s entrepreneurial community by encouraging new ventures with the potential to address unmet needs, solve social and economic problems, and do so in an interdisciplinary way.”
The Oemi team includes:
- Allison Shimamoto (MBA ’19), Founder and Product Development
- Morolake Thompson (MBA ’20), Community and Customer Engagement
- Cecily Sackey (MBA ’19), Marketing and Growth
- Itohan Omorodion, Hair Science (UVA ‘16, Class of 2022 UVA School of Medicine)
- Zoda Carey, Social Strategy
The team’s most recent focus has included product development, overhauling the website, developing a vibrant social media presence (follow them on Instagram) and providing educational hair science content through their blog and other channels.
Hear more from the Oemi team:
What is Oemi?
We are a nutrition-forward natural beauty products company for people with Type 4 hair — that’s kinky, coily and curly! Our goal is to bring our customers healthy hair care and skin care products using 100 percent natural raw ingredients, green and ethical sourcing, all while empowering women of color along the way. Type 4 curlies deserve 100 percent natural non-toxic haircare solutions for soft, luscious curls without compromising nutrition and product purity. Our recipes are curated, high performing, and prioritize organic, non-GMO, fair-trade and cruelty free ingredients. Our goal is to take what the food industry did for clean eating, and transform natural hair care. As the products are toxin-free and 100 percent natural, many of our customers also use them for skin care. This is an area that we are eager to explore!
Where is Oemi now?
This past year has been a whirlwind! We’ve near doubled our product offerings and have two new products on the way to launch this summer. We’re also excited to offer new scents for our top seller, Cupuacu + Kokum Cream this month. What’s next for us? We’re actively looking at financing opportunities (grants, angel investors etc.) to fuel the next chapter of our growth and take the necessary steps to scale efficiently.
Tell Us About Giving Back.
Although we’re still a new and small company, we know the importance of giving back at whatever stage we are. That’s why over the last week we dedicated 50 percent of proceeds from sales to Eva’s Village. Eva’s Village is a non-profit organization in Paterson, New Jersey that combats poverty and substance abuse by providing meals, housing and health care to those in need.
We are also very deliberate in how we conduct our operations. We believe in bringing more women of color to the forefront of the business world. So, we prioritize partnerships with women of color who look like us! When we needed to find a scientist, we chose a Latinx woman cosmetic chemist. Because we focus on raw 100 percent natural ingredients, we need to source directly from the regions where these plants grow, and why not partner with women farmers and women suppliers? For example, we get our Cupuacu directly from a woman in Brazil who owns her own farm and employs workers from a local village to harvest and process the fruit.
Our dream is to shatter that glass ceiling in the beauty industry — and create space for more women just like us.