Omilade Davis-Smith has a heart for Africa.
The Chester resident and Richmond native incorporates products from French-speaking Senegal into her business, Essentially Omi.
Each year, Davis-Smith makes anywhere from one to three trips to Toubab Dialaw, a West African town located on the Atlantic Ocean.
She brings black soap back to the States, where she cuts it into bars her home in Stoney Glen. She also uses black soap to make shampoo and hair conditioner. She uses shea butter to make soap and lotion.
The shampoos and conditioners that she sells are targeted toward those with African ancestry who have fine, kinky hair. She makes beard balm and hydrator for any man, she said.
“I started making these products for me,” Davis-Smith said, noting the federal Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate fragrances. She had concerns about endocrine disruptors that can change the body’s hormonal response over time, along with carcinogens in substances that are used as preservatives.
Davis-Smith planned to fly to Senegal on Aug. 30 for two weeks and bring back a 50-pound suitcase of products that she will use. She explained that shipping the product directly on a boat is cheaper, but takes four to six weeks and can be moldy. Other alternatives include using DHL or Delta Cargo, which run about $470 with tax to ship 22 pounds.
Her connection to Senegal isn’t just about making hair and body products, however.
Davis-Smith said she earned the first degree in African-American studies issued by Virginia Commonwealth University. She followed that up with a master of fine arts degree in dance from Arizona State and a doctorate in dance studies from Temple University.
She teaches a two-week dance workshop in Senegal once a year.
She has a staff of 12 Senegalese who work for her company during those two weeks, where she stays at an artist’s residence. “We have our own cooks who buy local food and [use] taxi drivers,” she said, emphasizing that she uses Senegalese businesses.
“Senegal has become my life’s work without me realizing it,” she said, noting that the dance she teaches is a combination of the culture and politics that helped form it. “It’s not just movement. It’s something deeper.”
Her husband, Dwayne Smith, also caught the international bug and took over an eyeglass distribution nonprofit from a woman who died. The couple plan to take 2,000 pairs of eyeglasses to Nigeria in December.
For more information, go online to essentiallyomi.com or danceinafrica.com.