At the beginning of the recession, Sherry Okamura, digital director for Urbaca Salon in Portland, Oregon, tried her hand at product development, throwing ingredients, essential oils and her hand-crafted concoctions on the breakroom table and inviting the salon’s team to give her feedback on a scale of one to 10 by writing on the bottles’ labels. “For almost a decade, Urbaca’s team members were my ‘skinny pigs,’ while I experimented with scented candles and hand lotions, then tested wax balms on their hair and skin,” says Okamura.
The experimentation led to the birth of Okamura Farmacopia, a line of beauty products based on popular Urbaca stylists and named for local places such as the Pearl District or Mount Tabor. For example, the Hood River fragrance was inspired by Urbaca’s owner Daria Daniel who chose the fragrance tones and suggested the name. “The most popular scents really did correspond with the most popular stylists, and I’ve learned the people I couldn’t ‘brand’ with a scent no longer seem to work here,” says Okamura.
The first product Okamura made though was out of necessity—a room freshening spray for the spa bathroom. “Soon I was making body lotions, scrubs and bath salts which we used in the spa,” Okamura says. “I felt a bit like Madge from the Palmolive commercials, telling clients ‘You’re soaking in it!’”
When her mother-in-law faced a fifth battle with cancer, Okamura refocused her efforts on putting together a facial care line for sensitive and compromised skin types. She discontinued working with fragrance oils and focused on pure aromatherapy and essential oils.
The products create a definite point of distinction for Urbaca, where each product is hand-packaged, labeled and fragranced. “We have testers in the lobby and at every station, inviting guests to play and customize their salon experience through the senses of smell and touch” says Okamura.
Today, Urbaca stylists still inspire the line’s development. As Portland is the epicenter of the beard culture, two stylists, whose boyfriends both sport facial hair, suggested Okamura develop beard oils. “The beard oils have taken on a life of their own, sparking a video featuring Madison Rowley, Portland’s own Mr. World Beard 2014,” Okamura says.