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This Mother and Daughter Were 'Kind of Fringe Weirdos' When They Started an Uncommon Business in Their Garage. Now They're in Major Retailers — and Victoria Beckham Is a Fan. Jenefer and Melissa Palmer's slow-and-steady approach to growth helped their skincare and body care brand OSEA thrive over decades — but lately they've been taking things up a notch.

By Amanda Breen Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • Jenefer Palmer's grandmother inspired her to harness the ocean's properties for her skincare brand OSEA.
  • She and her daughter took the business from their garage to hotels and spas as OSEA remained profitable each year.
  • Now, they're leaning into a DTC and retail approach as they eye increased brand awareness and continue to build their community.

"All good stories start with your grandmother," Jenefer Palmer, founder of Malibu-based skincare and body care brand OSEA, tells Entrepreneur. The story of how her business came to be begins with her own grandmother, who turned to the ocean for healing after an accident left her bedridden with a torn ligament in her leg. After dreaming that "the ocean and seaweed would heal her," Jenefer's grandmother asked her husband to carry her down to the beach near her home in Beechhurst, New York every day. She saw improvements in her condition in just a few months, Jenefer says, and her daily swims became a lifelong habit.

Image Credit: Courtesy of OSEA. Jenefer Palmer, left; Melissa Palmer, right.

"So I grew up with this deep understanding that the ocean is a source of healing," Jenefer explains. "That influenced me when, in the early 80s, I became a spa director and was seeking products based on wellness — because that had always been my whole focus. That's how I was raised."

Jenefer couldn't find products with "good, marine-based" ingredients. So, "out of necessity," she launched her own line OSEA — pronounced Ooh-sea-yah, the letters stand for "the core elements of wellness": ocean, sun, earth and atmosphere — in 1996. OSEA's seaweed-infused skincare prioritizes "naturally-derived," scientifically-backed ingredients. The business chose her, Jenefer adds.

Related: This Co-Founder Was Kicked Out of Retailers for Pitching a 'Taboo' Beauty Product. Now, Her Multi-Million-Dollar Company Sells It for More Than $20 an Ounce.

"Every day [I get] to carry on all the wisdom of the women in my family, which is such an incredible honor."

The business also chose her then-teenage daughter, Melissa Palmer. In the early days, Melissa helped her mother set up QuickBooks for the young company, and she's remained involved ever since (with a brief departure to focus on a hula hoop venture), serving as OSEA's CEO today. "Every day [I get] to carry on all the wisdom of the women in my family, which is such an incredible honor and opportunity," Melissa says.

OSEA started in the Palmers' living room and then moved to their garage, as the mother-daughter team did everything for the business in its first 12 years: shipping, packaging and sales. OSEA's products were sold almost exclusively in hotels and spas then.

Melissa calls her mother "a visionary" when it comes to the brand's ingredients and product efficacy, and Jenefer stresses that her daughter has "an incredible business mind," skilled in communicating the company's message and incorporating wellness into its every aspect — complementary strengths that have helped OSEA enjoy nearly three decades of profitable growth.

Related: The Secret to Profitability — 3 Ideas to Build Your Backend Sales Infrastructure

"Our product has been the same since the 90s. It's taken a while for the market to catch up with us."

"Our product has been the same since the 90s," Melissa says. "It's taken a while for the market to catch up with us. When we first launched, it wasn't even called 'clean beauty.' We were definitely the kind of fringe weirdos talking about natural and sustainable packaging and products, and we were explaining the choice of why."

Some of the products launched in the 90s remain on OSEA's top 10 bestseller list today. What's more, the company's glass bottles and packaging are also the same as they were at launch — details that people used to object to but now love, Jenefer says. Although OSEA's slow-and-steady approach to growth has paid off over the decades (allowing it to become "a 25-year overnight success," Melissa quips), the company has utilized a more aggressive growth strategy in recent years.

When Melissa's hula hoop "obsession" led her to start her own hula hoop business, she experienced firsthand the power of direct-to-consumer (DTC) and social media marketing. So, she returned to OSEA in 2016 and "jump-started" its next growth phase. Over the past eight years, the company has grown 7,600% and expanded into retailers, including Ulta and Blue Mercury, across 3,000 combined stores, marking an "even split" between DTC and retail, Melissa says. Some of OSEA's celebrity fans include Victoria Beckham, Sophia Bush, Brie Larson and Kelly Ripa.

Related: 6 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Launching a Direct-to-Consumer Brand

"I've really learned what the word 'omnichannel' means."

"I've really learned what the word 'omnichannel' means," Melissa says. Gone are the days when the mother-daughter pair did it all: OSEA boasts an 80-person team now.

Naturally, there have been some obstacles on the way to more rapid growth. "One of the biggest challenges I encountered over the past five years was the fact that the company was scaling so quickly [and] built on systems that were started in the 90s. [We] have had to shift so much of our processes, our manufacturing to keep up with the growth," Melissa says. She notes that it was challenging to see competitors come in with large amounts of capital because OSEA bootstrapped up until three years ago, when the company "did a small raise to have some more cushion."

OSEA has an ambitious international expansion plan, including entering Australia and New Zealand later this year with Mecca Cosmetics, Melissa says. Additionally, the Palmers are excited to focus more on OSEA's brand awareness, marketing and the growing community they've built as the company enters its third decade in business.

Related: Supercharge Your Brand Awareness with These Game-Changing PR Tools

"There's so much trust and freedom with each other and what we're doing."

They're also looking forward to the ongoing rewards that come with their family-run business.

"You bring this being into the world," Jenefer says, "and you love and nurture your children, and then they leave you. And that's what you want them to do. You want to have your children grow up and have autonomy. I have the privilege that I actually get to see Melissa in the world on a daily basis. Not just when she comes home for Thanksgiving, [but] I get to see her as this dynamic, incredible, powerful businesswoman. And to see her in her world — it's just such a beautiful thing."

Related: A 400-Year-Old Family Business Remains the 'Gold Standard' in Its Category — Its First Women Leaders Reveal the Secret

Melissa notes that the mother-daughter relationship allows their business partnership in OSEA to thrive.

"There's so much trust and freedom with each other and what we're doing," she says. "We both understand each other completely and understand each other's strengths enough to have total freedom. It's the ultimate complementary skill set and balance as a team. It would have been difficult for me to allow anybody else to take the risks [we've taken]."

This article is part of our ongoing Women Entrepreneur® series highlighting the stories, challenges and triumphs of running a business as a woman.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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