2022 Innovator Award Winner

Experienced Alumnae | Honors

Yewande Masi, SSH’09

Co-Founder and CEO, Ornami

Lose the Guy, Gain the Business, says Entrepreneur Yewande Masi

by Molly Callahan   |   November 2, 2022

Yewande Masi believes that with the daily stress, dehydration, and toxic ingredients women face day to day, basic body care just won’t cut it—innovative healing and restorative action is crucial. That’s why she founded Ornami skincare, a brand that helps make women feel confidence, built on the tenets of empowerment, sustainability, and toxin-free living.

When Yewande Masi and her boyfriend would visit family in West Africa, they’d often return stateside with a block or two of raw shea butter, an ivory-colored fat that’s extracted from the nuts of shea trees—and that makes for an excellent moisturizer for your skin.

The blocks of rich, creamy butter were easier and less expensive to buy in West Africa, Masi says, and once the pair was home in Hershey, Pennsylvania, she set about using them to create super reparative, natural hand creams.

Masi mostly made them just for herself, and her boyfriend at the time. Occasionally, friends would ask to buy her luxurious, homemade creams, and she’d laugh, flattered by their support, she says.

Not long after one trip, Masi and her boyfriend broke up. Nursing a heartache, she just kept moving forward, working harder at her day job and pouring herself into her homemade salves, which had become something of a salve for her whole life, too.

“You know that saying, ‘If you stay in motion, you won’t stay in your emotions’? That’s exactly what I did,” she says. 

Soon, friends of friends were asking Masi about her skincare, as word spread about her all-natural products. Interested to see where it would lead, Masi opened up a few one-off pop-up shops at various events to sell her skincare products.

“It was incredible,” she says, of the reaction to her products. Not only did they sell, but Masi found a community of women who supported her as a sister, an entrepreneur, and as a woman finding her way through an emotional breakup.

“I would tell people the story of these products—how it started out with just me making them for my ex-boyfriend and myself—and they would joke, ‘Lose the guy, gain the business!’ It was this camaraderie of women.”

—Yewande Masi, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ornami

“I would tell people the story of these products—how it started out with just me making them for my ex-boyfriend and myself—and they would joke, ‘Lose the guy, gain the business!’ It was this camaraderie of women.”

—Yewande Masi, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ornami

At the same time, Masi, who graduated from Northeastern University with her bachelor’s degree in 2009, was also having what she calls a “self-care moment,” learning to love herself and take care of herself. She was slowing down, getting introspective, and turning her morning moisturizing routine into something more akin to a ritual.

“As I learned that I deserved better in my personal life, I was learning that I deserved more from the products I used to nurture my body, too,” she says.

The enthusiastic reception to her pop-up offerings, combined with the relative dearth of pure, toxin-free body moisturizing products on the market inspired Masi to turn her homegrown products into a full-blown business called Ornami.

Ornami products have the kinds of tongue-in-cheek names that offer a wink to Masi’s own journey. “Let that Mango Body Butter,” and “No Scrubs EX-Foliator Sugar Scrub” are the kinds of names you might share with a best friend, recalling all the heartbreak and laughter over the course of your friendship.

That’s intentional, Masi says. Ornami is as much about fostering community as it is about the products themselves. The company offers a “Bestie Combo” of both products, and a rewards program for “Glow-Gettas.” And Masi says she’ll test out new fragrances and products in pop-up shops so that would-be customers can weigh in on what they like best.

“At least once, the scent that I thought was going to be the most popular was at the bottom, and the one I thought would be at the bottom was the most popular,” Masi says, proof that being in community with her customers is also just good business.

Mary McNamara, director of MBA admissions at Northeastern, and one of Masi’s mentors, describes the entrepreneur as “resilient.”

“That strength flows from Yewande’s curiosity and humility, which drives her habit of iterating,” says McNamara, who also co-directs the McCarthy(s)
Venture Mentoring Network at the university. “Whether it is with Ornami’s formulations, pricing, packaging, website, or social media, Yewande will try something, consider the data or feedback, make adjustments, and forge ahead, again, and again, and again. Yewande doesn’t see obstacles; she sees opportunities to adjust. And, Yewande always keeps it 100—her authentic voice inspires Ornami’s community of “Glo-gettas” and reveals
the reality that a founder’s journey is not linear.”

The products also—and this is at the core of Masi’s mission—offer people a natural balm for their beleaguered skin.

“Skincare so often just means the skin on your face,” Masi says, “but most of the skin is on the rest of our bodies. And those bodies also absorb stress, dehydration, hyper-pigmentation—the list goes on.”

Masi was recognized with a 2022 Innovator Award, a competition hosted by Northeastern’s Women Who Empower, that drew more than 100 entries in this, its second year.