Today’s Green Antilles interview is with the entrepreneurial team of young scientists behind OASIS Laboratory. OASIS Laboratory is a Barbadian company manufacturing botanical, eco-friendly personal care products made with natural ingredients like breadfruit, tamarind, cinnamon, lemongrass, and sargassum seaweed. The innovators behind OASIS Laboratory are Kemar Codrington (pictured above, left) and Mikhail Eversley (pictured above, right).
Please tell Green Antilles readers about yourselves. How did you meet and start working together?
We met while at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus completing our chemistry degrees. We remember it like it was yesterday. We were doing an inorganic chemistry component of a course. The entire class was stumped on a question about isomers, except for Mikhail, who was the only one who actually figured out the answer and shared it on the board. Our friendship was born at that moment. Based on our shared interests, we were always keen on doing something meaningful using science as we both believe science is life, so working together during our university career just seemed natural. This resulted in us working, along with our classmate Tiffany Husbands, on extracting a compound (sodium alginate) from the sargassum seaweed. This work was done in 2015 or thereabouts, under the guidance of Dr. Srinivasa Popuri, lecturer in Chemistry at the UWI, and ended up being featured on the cover of UWI Cave Hill CHILL Magazine. And now we are business partners!
You started Oasis Laboratory in 2018. What motivated you to launch that venture? In particular, why did you decide to focus on products that use Barbadian plants and other local resources?
We had a few motivators; one being Kemar. After working with Tiffany on her thesis, as well as briefly working in local industry, he was very keen on establishing a business, specifically an analytical & research lab. Apart from that, there was the fact that there aren’t many opportunities for scientists within Barbados and the region outside of teaching, quality assurance within the manufacturing sector, and the few small labs around, where scientists are often underpaid and not appreciated. We have lived it for a short moment and cannot fathom the idea of building someone else’s empire with our knowledge. So we wanted to create a space not only for putting our own skills and abilities to use, but also for (young) scientists to flourish. To innovate. To be monumental. To be real scientists at home in the region, and ultimately to help our Caribbean Community progress in every sphere using science and technology. Hence our name: OASIS Laboratory!
Looking around, most businesses are in business mainly for money and with little to no regard for our fragile environment. Yes, money is important, but what is the point of doing business and making money if we and our grandkids are unable to enjoy it in the future as a result of our selfish actions? As such, we are determined to be as green, environmentally friendly and sustainable as we possibly can as a business, both in our operations and our product offerings. That is why a major part of our mission is education and awareness by using our brands as a platform to promote and protect our natural environments. Using local resources is just a part of that mission to be as sustainable as possible. That’s coupled with the fact that our local and regional plant stock holds significant value, nutritionally, medicinally, historically/culturally and economically. We ought to appreciate, protect and benefit from that value as a Caribbean Community. (We’re going to be highlighting that value at Barbados’s first Botanical Symposium and Exhibition. The symposium will be held inn April 2019, and will be hosted by our partners at the Biocultural Education & Research Programme, a local NGO. Please come and be a part of the event!)
What are your vision and goals for OASIS Laboratory as an eco-friendly entrepreneurial enterprise?
The strategic vision for OASIS Laboratory at its core embraces multifunctionality with a view to inspire innovation, preserve Barbadian and Caribbean heritage, embrace all facets of nature and promote sustainability and environmental preservation. That is why it is our desire and mission to solidify OASIS Laboratory in the near future into a modern analytical and research facility with the capabilities to serve and facilitate all scientific and innovative needs of the Caribbean. We want OASIS Laboratory to be a regional hub for science & technology and with our partners, to lead the environmental fight from the front!
The OASIS Laboratory item that caught the attention of Green Antilles Facebook readers was the soap made with sargassum seaweed. What was the inspiration behind that innovative product?
Sargassum is a current recurring issue. As scientists, we wanted to be a part of the solution to this so-called ‘nuisance.’ From working with the seaweed in 2015, with fellow chemist Tiffany, we discovered that sargassum can be a gold mine. It possesses salient properties that are excellent for skin care.
Let’s delve into sargassum just a little bit. Sargassum boasts anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and ultra-hydrating qualities. It has anti-bacterial properties which make it ideal for fighting acne and the like. It is a natural exfoliant and has potential for toning of the skin. This brown, pelagic macroalgae is also packed with numerous bioactive compounds like polysaccharides, carotenoids, sterols, terpenoids, phlorotannins, saponins, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s the good stuff!
What else is in the OASIS Laboratory product line? Can you share some information about products in development that we can look forward to?
Presently, we have two flagship brands: our ocean-themed and environmental platform OCEAN by OASIS, and Nature’s Melanin, which is primarily focused on our plants, self-love and a bit of our heritage. OCEAN by OASIS is a sargassum-based line, therefore all products contain some component of the sargassum seaweed. We wanted to demonstrate that sargassum is not a nuisance. The names of the products in this line (which are mainly bath and body soaps so far) highlight the beaches of Barbados. So we have Carlisle Bay Sargassum Soap, Drill Hall Beach Sargassum with Aloe vera and Breadfruit Soap, and River Bay Lemongrass Sargassum Soap. To come in January to February 2019 will be the Bottom Bay Coconut Sargassum Bath Bar and the Ragged Point Sea Purslane Sargassum Bath Bar. Over the course of the year, we will be launching other soap-based products, as well as hair products, scrubs & masks, deodorants, and lip balms. Our toothpaste alternatives—Bathsheba Minty Fresh Toothpowder and Silver Sands Cinnamint Charcoal Toothpowder (pictured below) will be available from January at The Crate Barbados [the Caribbean’s first one stop eco-shop, founded by previous Green Antilles interviewee, Nikola Simpson].
WithNature’s Melanin, we’ve mainly launched soap products inspired by Bajan treats like the Tamarind Ball, Fruit Cake and Roast Breadfruit. In a few weeks, we’re launching our Breadfruit Cou Cou soap bar (with real okra extract!) and we will be working on other exciting products like lotions, moisturizers, and facial products.
Where can we get more information about OASIS Laboratory? And how can people get their hands on your products?
We are working on developing our website, but in the meantime, we aim to keep our social media pages updated. One can engage us via Facebook and Instagram @oasislaboratory. We love and welcome the engagement. At present, our products are available in Barbados either directly from us (you can place orders via our social media platforms) or at The Crate Barbados, in Canewood, St. Thomas. It is our hope to have our products in other specialty stores across Barbados in the not too distant future, and in an online marketplace when our site is launched. Fingers crossed!
Finally, what message would you like to leave with Green Antilles readers about making more environmentally friendly and sustainable purchasing and consumption choices?
You are the solution to the ills of our environment. As a consumer, your every action has the ability to positively or negatively impact our environment. One must always be mindful that one has the power of choice, therefore you have the power to change the course of our planet and its history environmentally. Simply, make better consumer choices—look for authentic sustainable products, demand better from our manufacturers and importers. Always seek to buy local: instead of the English apple how about a nice juicy golden apple or mango? There is a mindset that local goods and products are inferior when that is often far from the truth. Embrace local, embrace Caribbean! We encourage you to always support local entrepreneurs and play your part in protecting our environment. The solution is you!
Thanks to Kemar and Mikhail for a truly wonderful interview. Green Antilles wishes OASIS Laboratory’s continued growth and success!
[Interview responses have been lightly edited. All images courtesy of OASIS Laboratory.]