She finished whipping up her concoction and carried it over to her mom. When she lathered it on her rash, her mom sighed and blessed her daughter.
VaLanDria Smith-Lash, a senior speech pathology and audiology major, first experimented with shea butter skincare at 14, from scratch in her home kitchen, when her mom got diagnosed with lupus. Her mom’s own products made her symptoms worse, so Smith-Lash took matters into her own hands by learning about vitamin and mineral ingredients and talking with dermatologists.
Balancing the mixture for a soothing texture came with plenty of trial and error, but she just kept applying it on her mom. Her mom, a cosmetologist specializing in hair, supported her until her inflamed skin improved.
“She’d tell her other friends with lupus, ‘This is what my baby made; this is what’ll work for you,’” Smith-Lash said.
Now, Smith-Lash sells her shea butter skincare, called Coarse Culture, on her website. She launched the business at a manufacturing site in Chicago in Nov. 19, 2021. After participating in trade shows and pop-up shops in the city, she grew enough to begin marketing on Amazon in October 2022. She even won $10,000 for it in the Launch It: Cincy pitch competition and landed a feature in Ebony Magazine.
However, Smith-Lash credits a lot of her success to studying at Miami and her experience as the first student to ever headquarter a production site at College@Elm.
“There’s been an overwhelming amount of support from Miami,” Smith-Lash said. “They’ve done nothing but help me connect with alumni and a variety of people. I’m taking the [skincare] industry by storm as a college student.”
Anyone can try the skincare, from blue-collar men with worn hands to moms relieving diaper rash, but the young entrepreneur inspires her brand around her main customer base of college students.
“They need better wellness and self-care that will last a while and not break the bank,” Smith-Lash said.
Coarse Culture offers 100% plant-based hair-to-toe shea butter topicals, scented with aromatherapy from pound cake to orange twist and priced up to $20. It naturally moisturizes and provides an extra layer of glow, smells great with perfume and purifies the skin’s surface.
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In her process from conception to counter, Smith-Lash collects scent requests, sources those fragrances ethically, measures everything for proportion, strategizes the image, sends it out for beta testing and sampling, creates labels and finally releases her products into the world.
Smith-Lash puts it on too, but not just for her skin. Every morning, she sprays her hair with water and uses her creation as a sealant for all-day moisture. She also uses it on her still-wet face after her evening showers to sleep better.
She hopes to fully commit to Coarse Culture for her career after graduation, deferring grad school for about a year until she moves further along. Smith-Lash aspires to stock Walmart’s shelves with it in the next two years.
Until then, Smith-Lash gets to collaborate one-on-one with students in her entrepreneurship course and focuses on giving back to Miami. She encourages anyone with inventions like hers to believe in them, like the university did for her.
“People always want to say ‘what if I fail?’ but what if you fly?” Smith-Lash said. “If you just ask [Miami], they will love you.”
Most of all, Smith-Lash feels pride in her mom for being her most personal advisor and thankful that her mom’s struggle resulted in this positive chain reaction.
“You never know how many people you’ll be able to help in your efforts because it’s so much bigger than you,” Smith-Lash said. “I just wanted to help my mom.”