The difference between living in the Caribbean and in Los Angeles is more than a change of scenery. Shani Chen and Joseph Jones, co-founders of Oshune Body Care, found that out the hard way.
When the two business partners moved to Los Angeles, Chen said they began to struggle with severe dry skin. In the process of trying to come up with a solution they went back to the basics of their island upbringings.
“Both of my grandparents were farmers. I grew up with yams, scallions, ginger, papaya, mangos, mint, and more growing in their backyard. Everything I ate was always fresh even the Tamarind balls,” recalled Chen, who grew up in Jamaica.
Both she and Jones, who was born and raised in Belize, grew up with their respective island’s humid climate, which was a distinct contrast to the dry California weather.
And that was the problem, discovered the two entrepreneurs. Then they received another wake-up call about that same time which helped crystallize their business concept of creating natural body care products.
“Joe and I had a friend who died of breast cancer around this time (2001). She was our first customer, and it was a wake-up call,” said Chen of their 31-year-old friend. “It was a wake-up call for us to start examining everything we consumed through our mouth and our body. It got to the point where we literally started to look at everything from deodorant to toothpaste; anything we could (change) to eliminate the toxins from our body,” added the entrepreneur, who stresses during her conversation that many people forget that the skin is a living, and also the largest, organ.
As part of their vigilance, Chen and Jones began to make body creams and body butters for themselves, and they shared them with friends. With much encouragement, the duo decided to take their wares to a farmer’s market at Melrose and Fairfax avenues.
“We did very, very well,” remembers Chen.
Using that as motivation, the couple borrowed $2,000 from friends and family to start their business and today have 40 different products including hair care items, an aromatherapy line, soaps, shower gels, sweet cream hair and body moisturizers, and a natural line of baby care products call BabyBum Bum.
Next on the agenda is a natural deodorant.
Chen is very well aware that getting people to plop down $4 for a bar of soap is a matter of education, but as she talks you can hear the passion in her voice about how important and vital the need is.
“When you really find out the basics about a regular bar of soap, a lot are made of lard and oil . . . Most products usually have a 20 percent oil content. But our skin needs more. That’s why when you leave the house (after a shower and moisturizing) you wonder why the ash is back. Most of our products are 60 percent oil,” Chen said.
But not the petroleum-based oil that is found in the two ever-popular favorite skin moisturizers used by many in the black community–Vaseline and baby oil.
“With more knowledge about the basic function of the skin–the largest organ in our body . . . we need to be able to take accountability and responsibility and not be a victim, when it comes down to issues of cancer and things we can prevent,” Chen said.
And that is what is at the root of Oshune Body Care products–giving people options that have not always existed.
Oshune products can be found at Simply Wholesome, Agape Quiet Minds Bookstore in Culver City, Peponi in Venice, Liberation Yoga in Los Angeles, and online at www.oshune.com.