Being an ocean apart couldn’t stop this duo of innovators from starting the business of their dreams despite all the odds.
The scene is like one out of a romantic movie. A young man and woman embrace each other in the middle of a bustling South African airport, parting ways after a shared vacation in Mauritius. He is set to fly home to the United States and she is on her way back to her family in Nigeria. They say their farewells with optimism, confident that the visa issue keeping them apart will be resolved soon and that they will be reunited on American soil in no time. The date is January 2020. Unbeknownst to anyone, a global pandemic is about to turn the world upside down.
January 2020 was the last time that John Warfield and Onome Ukoli saw each other in person.
An engaged couple kept apart by a pandemic, politics and shifting immigration policies; they have managed the herculean task of running the company they started together from two different continents, keeping their passion for plant-derived skincare as alive as their undying affection for each other.
John and Onome’s skincare company, Picasso Skin, is a humble brand tackling a host of significant issues from environmental custodianship to inclusivity and representation for all races, genders and ages. As an interracial and intercontinental couple, John and Onome have received their share of hateful comments from closed-minded individuals who could not accept their relationship. Instead of allowing themselves to be dragged down by intolerance, this inspirational couple view these kinds of comments as reminders of the work that lies ahead of them as they stay focused on their mission of changing hearts and minds across the globe.
John emphasizes that the basis for their business and personal relationship is staying focused on their ambitious goals: “For whatever reason, there will always be challenges presented by those who view life and people differently. The positive that Onome and I see in this is that it gives us an opportunity to learn and grow and turn that negativity into something good.“
John and Onome believe that their brand has the potential to become a platform to spread messages of positivity, inclusivity and environmental responsibility. They launched Picasso Skin in 2020 after both losing their jobs due to health complications and the far-reaching economic effects of the ongoing pandemic. Within a matter of months, a fledgling idea of a high-end plant-derived skincare brand was turned into a reality and a business was born.
As business owners, this dynamic duo always strives to put honesty and transparency at the forefront of their efforts as they feel that prioritizing their customers’ best interests is paramount to their success. Leaning on their own experiences with the brands they support, they have learned from the things they do and don’t enjoy and have made efforts to perfect their offering accordingly. Above all else, they strive to build a reputation as an honest, safe and respectable company that always puts people and our planet first. These commitments have shaped every decision they have made since founding Picasso Skin and have become firmly entrenched in their company’s ethos.
Picasso Skin takes the guesswork out of skincare by offering plant-derived, earth-friendly formulas that deliver precisely what the skin needs to flourish. Through continued dedication to research and development, the brand ensures that every product stands up to scrutiny by partnering with an internationally recognized dermatology laboratory and manufacturer for all of its topically applied skincare products. With the vision of providing top-quality natural skincare products,
John and Onome have gone to great lengths to ensure their customers’ protection. From the in-house botanical extraction process and use of selectively picked plant-based ingredients to rigorous testing of their formulas, the couple takes exceptional care in providing their customers with a safe and high-performing skincare line suitable for all skin types.
Despite these outstanding values, John and Onome still felt that they were not doing enough to support their customers and the environment. They decided to go beyond the standard brand experience by including free shipping for purchases in the US as well as adding a complementary skincare gift with every purchase. As John puts it: “We believe that everyone deserves something free in life at some point. We pay from our pockets to add a personal touch that will bring a smile to someone’s face. Nature inspires us by providing for us without cost, so we feel if we can give someone something for free then we will.”
In addition to ensuring that each product is paraben, and sodium lauryl sulfate-free and never tested on animals, John and Onome choose recyclable packaging and biodegradable starch-based packing peanuts that dissolve in water instead of clogging up our oceans and landfills. John recently discovered an app that uses data on product types, packaging, and transportation to calculate how many trees need to be planted to offset each sale’s associated carbon footprint. This discovery has enabled Picasso Skin to contribute a portion of every sale – from their pocket – to plant the appropriate number of trees.
On the success that Picasso Skin has already seen, Onome notes: “Over time we have created our identity and brand and built up an inventory and we are very excited to give others products that we use regularly and love. But just because we have accomplished one goal doesn’t mean we can remain complacent. We have to keep moving forward. We have to keep improving.“
It is this same drive to improve, move forward and focus on the positive that first drew John to Onome and formed the bedrock of their unexpectedly long-term, long-distance relationship and their thriving business. “We still have our struggles in life, but Onome has taught me never to give up. She has been through so much on her own, but the one thing she has done is stand by my side and never let me quit,” says John. “I feel that if a person like Onome can go through so much, and such tragedies as losing her mother, and still do so much good for herself and others around her, then we have a chance – by her example of inner strength – of completing our mission as people.” Onome’s name translates to “My Own,” as no one but her monther was present during her birth. Her mother said: “If no one wants her, then I do.” She said,“She is my own, she is Onome.”
When the two star-crossed lovers will be reunited in person is yet to be seen. They are currently waiting on their K1 visa application status and have talked every single day on the phone for almost two straight years without missing a day.They even sleep together on the phone before John wakes up and they begin their day working on Picasso skin. Their story is undoubtedly shared by millions of couples across the globe who have been kept apart by the pandemic. Still, they remain hopeful and dedicated to building their business and relationship with John explaining that: “We draw inspiration from each other. That is the heart that drives Picasso Skin,” John also says, “Onome and my son are my strengths and I know we are Onome’s. We have been to the depths and back, but we keep moving forward and believing. We won’t let each other quit. Never.”