A hobby turned into a full blown business for entrepreneur Leona Dondi.
“I was experiencing extremely dry skin and I tried a lot of lotions in the drug stores and supermarkets, and nothing really helped my skin,” she told AfroTech.
She recalls a Google search she did nearly 15 years ago to develop her first product, which included shea butter, aloe vera gel, glycerin, and water.
After using the formula, she achieved the results she wanted for her skin.
Her efforts didn’t stop there.
She then focused on maturing the formula and pivoted toward creating haircare products after developing a hair allergy.
At this time, she didn’t intend to sell her product.
“I wasn’t even thinking of becoming a business person,” Dondi said. “I was in a Ph.D. program. I was studying psychology. My career was headed toward becoming an academic professor and doing research on implicit bias. That was my plan.”
She continued: “Being an immigrant to the United States and not knowing a whole lot about what there was out there in the world to offer, it wasn’t something when I started making products that I thought, ‘Oh, I could make this into a business.'”
“There were no solutions that were teaching me how to kind of stop these things from happening,” Dondi explained. “There were never any products that were about preventing irritation, keeping the scalp calm, throughout the whole haircare routine. So, that’s when I decided that I was gonna start my company.”
In preparation, she enrolled in a 12-week workshop titled “Launch and Grow Your Business” offered by her local Small Business Administration (SBA).
Her work as a user experience researcher at Google and her position as a senior product researcher at Netflix also provided her with additional resources and knowledge.
“All of the work that I’ve done as a researcher really has helped me think about what problem I’m trying to solve,” she detailed. “I identified a problem, how do I fix it? How do I understand from my audience what they need in order for me to create a solution? So those skills came in handy for me.”
Her dedication can be seen today through UZIMA and the fact that she still maintains her position at Netflix while simultaneously running her company.
With active ingredients inspired by her Kenyan roots, the sustainable haircare line promises to nourish curly and kinky hair.
“We’ve got ingredients from really all over and trying to benefit from nature wherever it is. But then also being mindful of being able to source those things sustainably, both from an ecological standpoint, but also from an economical one,” Dondi expressed. “We work with manufacturers who certify that they are providing fair wages to all of the workers that they work with. We work with a small collective of wild harvesters for our oils.”
She added: “We’re really trying to find what are these secrets, these ingredients that have not really shown themselves as spotlighted in haircare and bringing those into the market and introducing them to our audience.”