UCF alumna sees passion as perfect formula for skin care business – NSM.today

UCF alumna Stephanie McDonald says that she put her ‘soul’ into her skin care line, which began right in the kitchen of her Knights Circle apartment.

UCF alumna Stephanie McDonald says that she put her ‘soul’ into her skin care line, which began right in the kitchen of her Knights Circle apartment.
When Stephanie McDonald first smelled the enticing scent of essential oils, she knew her love for skin care was just beginning.
In the kitchen of her Knights Circle apartment, McDonald experimented with thyme oil and rosemary to find a perfect scent, but it didn’t turn out how she had hoped.
“I’m there heating it up in the pot, and it smells like, ‘What the heck is going on?’” McDonald said. “That does not smell good at all.”
McDonald eventually found the right mixture and in 2018, at just 20 years old. McDonald’s small mishap turned into something bigger — she founded her line Âme Skincare.
Âme means “soul” in French, and McDonald said that she put her “soul” into her business, dedicating hours of research to her newfound love. 
McDonald said her line comes from humble beginnings right here at UCF. From friends to professors and resources, her story is marked by the loads of support she received while she attended the school.
McDonald graduated from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences pre-clinical in 2020. She said that her decision to even come to UCF was a no-brainer. 
Originally from Fort Lauderdale, McDonald didn’t intend to stay in that area. She only applied to colleges in Central Florida, North Florida and out of state. Additionally, UCF was the only campus she looked at in person, and it drew her in at the first glance.
“The campus was so vast. It looked like a lot of fun, not going to lie,” McDonald said.
In addition to its general appearance, UCF gave McDonald the diversity she was looking for in an institution. As a Jamaican woman, McDonald loved being able to connect with other Caribbean students.
“That was really nice to be able to connect with people who are also Jamaican, or Trini, or from other Caribbean islands,” McDonald said.
During McDonald’s second year at UCF, Sacha Jadotte, McDonald’s then boyfriend, introduced her to essential oils. She said that Jadotte was the one who ultimately pushed her to expand on her passion.
Jadotte passed away from cancer in 2020. However, McDonald still credits him and his unwavering support for her success. McDonald said he was her No. 1 supporter.
“He encouraged me to try something new. So I started whipping up a cream. My skin was super dry at the time, so I’m like, ‘OK, let me try this out,’” McDonald said.
And that she did. With her roommates being in and out of the apartment, McDonald said that she had free rein to use the space in her kitchen. It was all trial and error for McDonald. Eventually, she found the right mixtures to make the authentic products.
Hand-making her own products, McDonald first produced a salt scrub and her “Dream Cream,” which consisted of shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter, safflower oil, essential oils and hibiscus powder.
Danielle Webster, an associate lecturer at the College of Health Professions and Sciences, remembers when McDonald brought samples of some of her products to try.
“They were great. Smooth, which is great on skin. The scents are long lasting; subtle enough, but not too strong,” Webster said.
McDonald was a student in Webster’s pathophysiology class. Webster said that McDonald’s business endeavor was something that she always saw in her.
“When she brought me her samples, I knew that this was something that she was passionate about, and she would put her all into it. She’s that type of student,” Webster said.
Initially, business was slow for McDonald. She said that it was a lot of word of mouth at first.
“I would just sell to friends and family, and then friends of friends,” McDonald said.
It wasn’t until McDonald updated her website that the business really gained traction.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’m really tired of this Wix site.’ So, that’s when I transferred to Shopify. And, I feel like that’s when things really started to take off,” McDonald said.
McDonald recalled the first time someone purchased her products in fall of 2018. She said that moment made her feel nervous.
“I was like, ‘I’m not a miracle worker, but I really hope this works,’” McDonald said.
For McDonald, it took a while to really take in what her products were doing for others. But the positive feedback made her more sure than ever. Along with the continued growth of her products, McDonald expanded her creative space.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, McDonald was on spring break and staying with her mom in Pembroke Pines, and she ultimately made the decision to leave Orlando and move there. McDonald stayed in the kitchen using all the space that she could until her mom made a suggestion.
“She’s like, ‘You need to get a little work table.’ So, I got a work table,” McDonald said.
Marie Hoskins-McDonald said that she has always been supportive of her daughter’s aspirations. When McDonald was growing up, she and her mom were very close. Her mom even reminisced on her daughter being like her “handbag.”
This bond made Hoskins-McDonald willing to do anything to help her daughter grow her business.
“I’ll look for stuff online with her. If she needs for me to order it, I’ll order it for her,” Hoskins-McDonald said.
She recalled seeing the products on McDonald’s friends and realizing how well they worked.
“For her friends, I see a lot of improvement when they use it, especially to help with their acne or dark spots,” Hoskins-McDonald said.
Sharnisse King has known McDonald since they were high school freshmen. Their friendship carried on as they reached college, with King attending UCF as well.
King got to witness the work that McDonald put into crafting the products for her line. When McDonald asked her to try her product out, King said she volunteered her face willingly.
“I have really bad eczema, so she created a cream that was supposed to help with really bad dry skin and eczema. So, I was like, ‘Yeah I’ll try it out and see how it works,’” King said. “And it worked really well for me.”
With her products continuing to produce positive results, McDonald decided to take part in a Markets for Makers event. These events aim to give independent makers a platform to sell their products to the general public. At a two-day weekend market, McDonald said she sold out of all the soap that she had.
“Granted, it wasn’t, like, 100 bars or anything; it was maybe, like, 25 bars. But, that’s still a lot of mixing,” McDonald said. “So, I went home and made some more and sold out again.”
This experience gave her even more confirmation of the success of her formulas. McDonald said reading the reviews she received kept her going.
“When I was making the products, I would just read the reviews, and it really fueled me, I’d say. People are like, ‘Man my skin was acting crazy, and this just soothed it in like a day or two. It’s so much clearer now,’” McDonald said.
Never did McDonald imagine she could have that type of impact on anybody.
“I don’t even know if to say that was never the intent. But, it was more of just like a, ‘Oh, I’m doing this, and I want to share it with people so that they can enjoy it too.’ And it became so much more than that,” McDonald said.
But with the highs come the lows. King said she can remember when the pressure became too much for McDonald.
“She was becoming so overwhelmed by everything selling out because she didn’t make enough for the demand. So, I remember her breaking down and she’s like, ‘Shar, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this,’” King said.
But, as her friend, King said that it was her job to help encourage McDonald to keep going. King told McDonald, “This is the success. Although it’s hard right now, you’re going to reap the benefits later on.”
Nowadays, McDonald is medical student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, working toward a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. As McDonald is balancing her long days and nights in medical school, she ultimately did have to press pause on making her products.
However, McDonald said that she hopes to continue finding ways to build her brand after medical school.
With the Âme Skincare brand finally getting trademarked this year, McDonald plans to expand it in multiple ways.
“I think the way I want to expand it, I’d say is getting better packaging, finding a company to make the product in their lab,” McDonald said. “A little bit more hands off; a little bit more systematic.”
McDonald said that she has considered transitioning to selling in-stores as well as online but described doing so as frightening. 
“My fear comes from, ‘Can I supply the demand?’ It’s only me making it,” McDonald said.
But McDonald is saving that worry for the future. For now, she hopes to bring her products back full circle.
“Hopefully one day I can have it in my office. And if my patients ask about it, then I can pretty much just give them a product,“ McDonald said.
McDonald hopes the business that started in her kitchen reaches new heights in the future. And for UCF students who are trying to start their own businesses, McDonald has some sound advice:
“If you have a crazy idea, it might sound crazy to some other people. But if you think it is viable, and you can make it into something that’s impactful and money generating, do it,” McDonald said.
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