“In Barbados, we have a lot of plants and other natural resources which we may just see as bush or weeds, but many of them have significant medicinal, pharmaceutical and nutritional qualities, and we should really start extracting those properties and creating value added products that can earn us some foreign exchange.”
This is the view of two young scientists, Kemar Codrington and Mikhail Eversley, who recently established Oasis Laboratories, which is aimed at doing just that.
Eversley explained that the idea for the company began in 2015, when they were at the University of the West Indies and were asked to find ways to utilize the Sargassum seaweed that was washing ashore on Barbados’ coasts.
“We wanted to find a scientific solution, so with the supervision of our Chemistry lecturer, Dr Srinivasa Popuri, and our colleague, Tiffany Husbands, we extracted a compound from the seaweed and used its properties to make natural cosmetics and it was a success,” he said.
The two young men said their company was founded on four main pillars: preserving Barbadian and Caribbean heritage; sustainability; innovation; and education.
With that in mind, they are using environmentally friendly packaging for all their products.
“We want to get away from synthetic plastics and would like to develop plastics using the same seaweed,” explained Codrington.
The company’s ‘Oceans’ line focuses on products extracted from the sea and beaches. Its products have been named after some of the island’s beaches, like Carlisle Bay and Drill Hall, and the packaging includes facts about whales, turtles and coral reefs.
Apart from the Sargassum seaweed, the two are examining tropical almonds found on the Drill Hall beach to determine their chemical properties.
There is also a second line called ‘Nature’s Melanin’ which utilizes chemical extracts from breadfruit and tamarind to make skincare products, including soap.
“Breadfruit has amazing properties. It has natural moisturizers so when you put it in a soap, it is a fantastic product that helps with anti-aging,” explained Codrington. “Tamarind is also a good anti-aging product, and we use its pulp to create a soap which acts as a chemical exfoliant. We call the brand ‘Nature’s Melanin’ because we are encouraging our customers to love their skin and take good care of it; they are not bleaching products.
“In our efforts to capture the local market, we also have names with which people are familiar, like ‘Roast Breadfruit’ and ‘Tamarind Ball’. The ‘Roast Breadfruit’ soap is a combination of breadfruit and charcoal, which has great detoxifying properties and it looks similar to a roast breadfruit, as it is black on the outside and white on the inside. The ‘Tamarind Ball’ soap, as its name suggests, utilizes a tamarind extract, while ‘Cinnamon Fruit Cake’ is scented with cinnamon, which also has some healing properties.”
The ‘Oceans’ and ‘Nature’s Melanin’ products are available via Oasis Laboratories’ Facebook and Instagram pages, and several retailers have expressed an interest in them as well.
Codrington said their overall aim is to set up a laboratory that will cater to the entire Caribbean, with the goal of making the most of the many natural resources the region has to offer.
“We want to be a lab or a space for young people who can come and explore ideas, but it will be an expensive undertaking. One piece of equipment alone can cost up to a quarter million dollars, and a fully equipped lab can cost as much as $5 million,” he said. “What we want to do is create a lab that can serve every sector, such as the rum industry or sugar industry, for analysis. I work at the West Indies Rum Distillery and we have to send out samples to accredited labs in the UK or US every two weeks, so ideally it would be good to keep some of this business in the region.” (DH)