Nikki Eslami may have stepped away from the day-to-day operations of Bellami, the hair extensions brand she cofounded and built into sizable enterprise, but she is still very involved in growing things. Literally.
Eslami is an avid hydroponic gardener, whose interest was piqued a few years ago when she started thinking about her next act and went through the certification process to become a health coach.
“I learned a lot about how food is grown and became really interested in that,” she recalled. “I learned how intensive traditional agriculture is and as I looked for different solutions, I came across hydroponics.”
Hydroponics is a type of horticulture in which plants are grown without soil and instead cultivated in mineral-rich water.
“You have nutrients for your body and each person requires different nutrients — plants are the same,” said Eslami, who notes the method conserves significant amounts of water, too. A full-capacity hydroponic farm that can grow about 4,000 heads of lettuce uses just five gallons of water a day, for example, versus conventional farming that uses 250 times more water.
Eslami herself has multiple hydroponic farms, both a commercial-size venture with about 500 square feet of space in a shipping container, which produces the same amount of food as five acres of traditional farmland, as well as a smaller vertical garden in her Manhattan apartment, where she grows cherry tomatoes, basil, mint, red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce (“it explodes when it grows”), peas, baby lettuce, mini cucumbers and edible flowers.
The entrepreneur insists she doesn’t have a green thumb, and said the parallels between building a business and growing produce are many. “Hydroponics thrive in the right environment — the right nutrients, enough sunlight. If you compare that to a business, it’s the same,” she said. “You have to have the right team and resources.”
Recently, for example, she woke up one morning and noticed that one head of lettuce had completely wilted, while the rest were thriving. “I checked the water levels and pH levels and everything was fine,” Eslami said.
Then she noticed that this plant was closest to the heating vent in her apartment. She moved it, gave it light and kept it hydrated, and within a day, it was starting to show signs of life again.
“Business, it’s the same,” she said. “You really have to tend to it and if you give something love and care and you have the right people and right intentions, it makes a big difference.”
Eslami’s interest in health and sustainability has also informed her newest venture, Wild Element, which she called a “purpose first platform. It will have philanthropy, storytelling and brands under it,” she said, “all fueled by the idea of the power of three and the symbiotic union between animal-kind, humankind and plant-kind.”
The first brand is set to launch in 2022.
Eslami is also an investor and board member of Selena Gomez’s brand, Rare Beauty, and, through Wild Elements’ Foundation, is supporting female-led brands that are creating impact in their communities via a grant program. Recipients thus far range from a hydroponic farmer in Liverpool, England, to a woman who works with lions in Kenya.
“My next chapter is building businesses with purpose in a way that enriches people and the planet,” Eslami said. “This new way of building with intention and with a triple bottom line — people, planet and profit. I’m focused on how do you build a new model of business that authentically looks at all three equally.”
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