(LOOP NEWS BARBADOS) – Sargassum seaweed has been viewed as a nuisance to Caribbean countries, washing up in large quantities on our shores, emitting a foul scent, affecting tourism and disrupting coastal eco-systems.
Keen on innovation and determined to find solutions to our issues, two chemists from Barbados have turned the seaweed into skin care products, becoming the first in the world to use sargassum in this manner.
Kemar KJ Codrington and Mikhail TA Eversley are founders and owners of OASIS Laboratory and its flagship brand OCEAN by OASIS.
OCEAN by OASIS presently consists of four novel bath bars which not only highlights the wonders of Sargassum, but also promotes Barbados’ tourism product and the island’s coastal plants.
The bars are: Carlisle Bay, a Sargassum Bath Bar; Bottom Bay, a Sargassum Coconut Bath Bar; Ragged Point, a Sargassum Sea Purslane Bath Bar; and River Bay, a Sargassum Lemongrass Bath Bar.
Codrington was the inspiration behind the business.
“He was very keen on establishing a business; specifically, an analytical and research lab after working with a colleague, Tiffany Husbands, under the guidance of Dr S. Popuri, Senior Lecturer in Analytical Chemistry. Here the potential of the sargassum seaweed was noticed and explored in some regards. This coupled the innate drive to solve problems encouraged the principles of OASIS Laboratory to further explore the viably commercialising the invasive resource,” the duo told Loop via email.
They also wanted to create a space for young scientists to realise their true potential.
“Kemar realised that there are not many opportunities for scientists within Barbados and the region outside of teaching, quality assurance within the manufacturing sector or the few labs around where scientists are often underpaid and not appreciated.
“So, essentially we wanted to create a space not only where we can put our own skills and ability to use, but also for (young) scientists to flourish, to innovate, 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!,” they explained. The company was established in 2018.
While the both men wanted to be doctors and surgeons, they were also passionate about environmental protection and conservation.
With their skincare line they marry that passion with their scientific knowledge and learning to develop and run a business.
Like any new venture, developing OASIS Laboratory and OCEAN by OASIS has not been without challenges.
“Chemistry is always interesting. In theory, A and B may work or sounds like it would work. Then you put that to the test and you don’t get the expected AB result but Z instead. To put it differently, as a cottage-industry (home-based) with limited resources, many challenges were definitely encountered along the developmental journey,” they said.
“But those challenges were the stepping stones that contributed to the brands that OASIS Laboratory and OCEAN by OASIS has evolved into today. Like many others before us, we’ve started in the kitchen and now working in our garage to produce and continue to develop our novel products while we continue to work toward establishing a modern facility to truly capitalise on our natural resources sustainably for a greater Barbados.”
The feedback, they said, has been amazing to date.
“We have only received positive feedback about our products. This is testament to the time, and novelty put into all of our products to offer nothing less than the best products from Barbados to the world.
One user recently said:
“I recently started using your River Bay soap bar and wanted to let you know it is the best soap bar ever! I usually use Lush products but have not been able to replenish my stock due to the current travel situation. I have been looking for a good line of natural bath soaps made in Barbados for some time as I do my best to support local products, but found them lacking for various reasons. A friend introduced me to your soap bar and it is excellent! The texture is great, not too sudsy, just the right amount of grit from the salt, and a nice clean scent without intense perfumes. I am particularly impressed with how clean my skin feels without any residue. Really impressive product guys! I’m looking forward to trying the other soaps and would love a price list.”
The use of seaweed in the beauty industry, even in the Caribbean, is not new but sargassum has not been explored for that industry. A biotech company in St Lucia, Algas Organics, has used the invasive seaweed to manufacture fertiliser and there have been ongoing discussions across the region on ways to utilise it.
The duo said from observation, science and innovation as we know it in other regions globally seem to be been absent in the Caribbean on an equal scale.
“We have had a culture of waiting for outside forces to influence us and exploit our valuable resources. For this reason, we believe this is why no one has thought of utilising the sargassum biomass as we have. We fail repeatedly to see the value in our people and our natural resources. However, as scientists, our principles think differently, instead of being problem-oriented, we are solution- oriented and that is the culture we seek to cultivate as a business entity beyond sargassum,” they said.
They said two species from our shores, positively identified as Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans by the University of the West Indies (UWI) are underutilised species of macroalgae but are viable and valuable resources for their similar micronutrients, macronutrients and bioactive compounds found in seaweed generally which IS used widely by the cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical industries.
Asked if they have considered working with other Caribbean Governments to utilise sargassum in the lucrative skin care industry, they said while they are big supporters of CARICOM and regional integration, OASIS Laboratory still has much ground work to cover before they can consider taking this route though they have considered selling and licensing formulas and processes.
Sargassum to them presents opportunities not problems.
“We see sargassum not as a problem per se, but an opportunity waiting to be tapped. Why aren’t we looking at this free biomass with the same lenses that we are looking at Guyana oil discovery?”
Looking into the future, Codrington and Eversley said there are plans for the company beyond sargassum and cosmetics.
“We are a biotech company with a thirst for innovation and sustainable development of our island’s natural resources. We are working on a number of projects and product in varying fields – agriculture, culinary and more, but COVID-19 has caused us to amend immediate and future plans and timelines as one can imagine.”
OCEAN by OASIS products are available at four local retail partners in Barbados: Free Range Farm Shop, Ganzee Island Shop Broad Street, My Collection Barbados and Wifetch.com.
The company is working on its online presence and on expanding local retail partners to make their products more accessible to the world.