31.1.12

Student Spotlight: Alyssa Wise Taylor of Blue Hoot Soap Company

Blue Hoot Soap Company's beautifully packaged soaps.
The following is an interview with Alyssa Wise Taylor, owner of Blue Hoot Soap Company.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where were you born and whatever else you'd like to share as to how you got to this point in your life?

I was born in New London, Connecticut but I grew up in Acton, Massachusetts.  When I was a kid, I was into art...I spent a lot of time drawing.  I considered being an art major in college but chickened out...the whole starving artist thing.  So I ended up majoring in marketing at UMass Lowell.

As a young adult, I really got away from my art, I had a career in marketing communications at a couple high-tech companies...Not exactly my dream job, but it was steady.  It wasn't until we had our second baby that I got back in touch with my creative side.  I started taking watercolor classes one night a week, and the light went on.  I didn't realize how much my creativity defined me as a person.  But once I opened that door again, the creativity came fast and furious.

After we had our third child, I quit...and I thought, when I'm ready to go back to work, I don't want to go back to corporate scene again.  That's when I started thinking about starting my own business.  I'm one of those people who enjoys working alone, I'm creative and I have practical business experience.  My marketing background is so useful to me, especially with my branding. So my path has been a crooked one, but now it's serving me well.
Alyssa Wise Taylor of Blue Hoot Soap Company

2. How did you get interested in making bath and body products?

I've always been a bit of a soap freak, there's something about the weight of it in your hands, it smells incredible and of course, it is beautiful.  Soap was always the thing I would buy on vacation or in gift shops.  So I told myself one day I'd learn how to make it...and I did. 

3. When did you launch your company?

Blue Hoot Soap Company launched in February 2010. I named my company for my late grandmother. She was a feisty, independent woman and she loved owls. When she passed, I inherited one of her owl necklaces with blue lapis eyes. I thought the name was a terrific way to honor her spirit.

4. What do you sell? What sets you apart from other bath and body companies?

Blue Hoot's Body Scrub
Well to start, plain and simple, I make fantastic cold process soap.  I don't cut corners with my ingredients, each variety is made with 85-95 percent organic oils.  I use a lot of olive oil and shea butter.  I use pure essential oils and I play with blending scents and natural colors.  But as far as what sets me apart, I have to say my branding and packaging really make my soaps stand out.  Customers repeatedly tell me how much they love the name of my company, my logo and how I package each soap.  Of course these things only take you so far, it's the soap itself that brings them back for more.  Some of my other products include scrubs, lotions, creams, body butters, and my all natural baby skincare products.

5. What course(s) did you take with Marla? Which were your favorite and how did they benefit you?

I took Marla's Bath and Body University.  Soaping aside, the classes opened my eyes to a new world of bath and body products...many of these products are made with the same ingredients I use to make my soaps.  It really made sense to offer more than just soap to my customers and now all of my products sell very well...particularly my whipped organic shea butters and sugar scrubs.

6. What is your favorite part of running a bath and body business?

So many things...I love using my business as a creative outlet...I love the pure and meditative process of soap making.  And finally I love making all my own decisions...it's so liberating!  I've seen so many cases of too many cooks spoiling the brew.  Now if I feel like something will work, I just go for it.  

7. What is your least favorite part?

Oh, the accounting, definitely.  It's a necessary evil, but once you get a system down, it's not so bad.

8. What are your biggest challenges as a small business owner?

Probably the juggling..we have three kids, 5, 8 and 10...and although I can make my soap at home, I also need to get out there and market my soap.  So that part is tricky.  But my family is so supportive...and my husband is my biggest cheerleader.  My plan is to ramp up the business slowly as our kids get older...eventually get a studio space with a storefront...but right now I'm savoring the time with our kids and grateful I've got this little business going on the side.

9. When you have free time how do you like to spend it? Hobbies, sports, travel, etc.?
Watercolor by Alyssa Wise Taylor
I spend most of my free time with my family. But I'm also a painter.  Since July of 2011, I've been a member artist at a cooperative gallery, Art on Main Gallery in Westford, Massachusetts.  I paint mostly with watercolor, occasionally pastels. Another challenge, finding time to paint!  I really want to do it all, and I don't want to give anything up.

10. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with other small business owners?

I wish I had something more original to say, but the truth is you need patience.  Don't get discouraged if things don't happen overnight. Just take the first step if you are passionate about something, then take the next one after that.  Second, connect with other small business owners...we all have so much in common, and we can learn so much from each other. 

Note from Marla: Thank you, Alyssa. I love your story, your products, and your branding. Three kids and time to do all of this - I'm impressed! And I know your grandmother is proud of you too.

If you've taken classes with us, email Marla to be featured on Student Spotlight.

29.1.12

Inspiration & Optimism: Beauty Products Rock New York International Gift Show


I had such an inspiring full-day of walking and shopping this year’s January New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) at the Javits Center in New York City. It was one of the busiest Sundays in the winter market that I have seen since the economy tanked in 2007. Not only was the traffic heavy, but order writing was brisk from observations and speaking with other entrepreneurs. This is great news. Confidence in spending shows up with retailers first, then retail sales should be brisk in stores this year. There were also very interesting new products (in personal care and throughout the show) as well as some new trends that I observed.

The first of two ExTracts aisles.
NYIGF typically features around 2,800 exhibiting companies and 35,000 attendees. Show representatives say that lines from more than 85 countries are represented. One section of the gift show, ExTracts, represents the personal care and beauty market. The lines that I am reviewing were found throughout NYIGF, including ExTracts.

Emerging Trends

  • The marriage between food and personal care continues (feeding your skin). Packaging trends for beauty leaning towards kitchen/food (honey, milk in glass containers), which makes sense as the shift to cosmetics/foods takes place. Also showing up in interesting fragrance descriptions. Example “Bordeaux, Fig, & Vetiver”.
  • Continued growth/interest in eco-friendly, sustainability and fair trade. Check out these recycled green wine bottles from Paddywax http://www.paddywax.com/Shop/Eco-Green
  • The sustainability and fair trade section of the NYIGF had a great “vibe” and traffic/order writing appeared to be brisk.
  • Inspirational labeling (see featured company are you? below)
  • Bohemian theme was very popular in general gift sector
  • Decorative/Interior Design labeling in personal care gift sector (damask, tapestry and colorful graphic designs)
  • Decorative Lines (http://micheldesignworks.com/)
  • Home fragrance explosion (More home fragrance lines than I’ve ever seen: approximately 125 total lines)
  • Bright colors: fuchsia, orange, bright pinks, purple, offset by black
  • Natural colors: green and amber bottles and jars/packaging
  • Increase in minimalistic labeling
  • World travel themes (maps and images of Paris, Rome, New York) and http://micheldesignworks.com/design-collections/paris.html and http://www.paddywax.com)
  • Floral fragrances return big-time for Spring 2012
  • Bees, honey and beeswax in personal care products
  • Personalization/Monograms/Letters in Soaps
  • Wax seals with stamps. http://www.ecoya.com.au/#/collection/metro and http://www.foundgoodsmarket.com
  • Black packaging (example: http://www.ecoya.com.au/#/collection/diffuser)
  • Small to large size companies partnering for long-term empowerment (charities and more)

Handcrafted Beauty Lines and New Product Introductions

Spotted this sign at NYIGF. It's the perfect reflection of the passion some of these small, handmade beauty company owners that I met today have for their businesses.


One of my favorite independent, handmade bath and body companies at the show was Lotus Love Beauty, a line based on “Accentuating Your Inner Beauty.”  Owner Jessica Gulati and her mom, two of the most passionate about their business and one of the friendliest business owners that I met at the show, are based in San Diego, California. Every dollar spent on their colorful bath and body line supports The Shanti Project, an initiative to bring positive change to the world.

Another interesting handcrafted line with an eco-friendly feel is Good Fortune (http://stores.goodfortunesoap.com/StoreFront.bok) . Company owner Jennifer Jack is a graphic designer  turned soapmaker. Based in Tennessee, she recently traveled to Haiti to teach soapmaking there. Her soaps are packaged with a fortune card (similar to a playing card). The company also has clever gift sets and also offers private labeling.

Julee Ireland (http://www.juleeireland.com) is a handmade, whimsical line based in Westlake Village, California. After being laid off from one of the largest home builders in the U.S., Julee launched a greeting card soap in her kitchen in 2009. An artist and designer, she created an array of greeting card soaps, soy candles, fragrances and bath and body products. Her patented greeting card soaps impressed me, and also apparently impressed some big-name retailers as well.

A completely different line, Cote Bastide (http://www.cotebastide.com), is the perfect reflection of a trend toward minimalism in personal care products packaging and design. Cote Bastide offers room sprays, shower gels, candles, sea salts packaged in a muslin bag and more. This European-inspired line was featured in the France Pavilion at NYIGF, one of several international pavilions.

Jessica Leale, president and founder of are you? (http://www.areyoudesigns.com) gave birth to a dream that she had for a business in 2008. Three years later, she launched her company with her first wholesale order. She debuted her company at NYIGF this month. Are you? is a line of inspirational and motivational products, including soy candles. For example, vanilla cinnamon pairs with “are you making a difference”; lemon basil pairs with “are you making memories?”; and vineyard fragrance pairs with “are you following your dreams?” Each of her candles has a soybean on top of the way to remind customers that it is made with pure soy wax. All scents are hand stamped on the letterpress label and each candle has a cotton paper hangtag attached by a 100% natural hemp cord. She offers hand stamped natural muslin gift bags. 

Greenleaf (http://greenleafgifts.com) unveiled two new fragrances at NYIGF, Island Sunset and Radiant Waters in its home fragrance collection. Greenleaf is owned by husband and wife team, Bob and Sylvia Caldwell. The company also introduced a new Sydney Aroma Décor Set, a clear glass aroma décor diffuser with a decorative top, diffuser oil, and stone and wick assembly. 

Candle company Votivo (http://www.votivo.com) introduced its newest fragrances Pink Mimosa and Breath of Lavender in its soy candles, reed diffusers, fragrance mist and travel tins. The company says Pink Mimosa is a complex blend of sweet strawberry and mandarin combined with white gardenia, wild honeysuckle and mimosa with base notes of vanilla rum, sandalwood and musk. Its Breath of Lavender combines lavender with amber, tonka and musk.

Another interesting small business is New Jersey-based B. Witching Bath Co (http://www.bwitchingbathco.com). Last summer, the company’s Organic Shaving Jelly was the winner in the NYIGF Natural/Organic Category. This particular product is made with 95% organic content, infused with organic aloe, cucumber, cranberry extracts, and kosher vegetable glycerin. Although I didn't find a new product announcement for this company, they are worth mentioning as they are picking up steam and loads of press.

Brooklyn was well represented at the NYIGF. Two independent soap companies, Soapwalla and Metropolis Soap, both exhibited at Extracts. Soapwalla, whose tagline is “Feed Your Skin”, was founded in 2009 by Rachel Winard. Her line includes a top-selling deodorant cream, body oils, face serum, bath soaking salts, body washes, lip balms and soap. Winard’s company won Summer 2011 NYIGF’s “Best New Products Award.” Check out her line at http://www.soapwallakitchen.com.

I stopped and chatted with Megan Finkelstein, founder of Metropolis Soap Company (http://www.MetropolisSoap.com). She launched her company in 2009 and introduced her new exfoliating body scrubs at the show. She raises the bar (no pun intended) on ingredients, as she uses 100% vegan, no synthetics or sulfates, and only sources from fair-trade companies. Her skin care line ranges from soaps, herbal spa soaks, lip creams and whipped shea. 

Another company, Anjolie Ayurveda (http://www.anjolienyc.com) introduced a line of aromatherapy body butters. The product is wrapped in jewel toned, handmade paper. The butters are available in Sandalwood Saffron, Neroli Lemon, Lavender, and Neem Tulsi. The company is owned by mother/daughter team of Cary and Meryl Gabeler from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.

Powerhouse company K. Hall Designs launched a new line called Barr Co. (http://www.khalldesigns.com/products/barr-co/), a one-scent, new line that utilizes reusable glass, tinware and bags. There are 11 products in the line: Muslin Bag of Sea Salts, Eau de Parfum, Three-Piece Soap Gift Set, Hand Salve, Oatmeal Saddle Soap, Candle Travel Tin, Candle in Glass, Hand Soap, Lotion, Bubble Elixir, and Bath Salt Soak.

Worker B is a company reflective of the popularity of beeswax and honey in personal care products. Last year this company won Best of Show in Extracts for its Worker B Rescue Putty, a balm made with olive oil, beeswax and raw honey sourced from local beekeepers (http://www.worker-b.com). They support the work of local beekeepers, and uses bee products (raw honey, beeswax and propolis) from chemical and anti-biotic free hives. All other ingredients are certified organic and their packaging materials are recyclable.

Marula Oil


One area of opportunity I often suggest is building a brand around a single ingredient. First there was shea butter. Then argan oil. Now there is Marula Oil, a company by The Leakey Collection (http://www.marula.com). Designed by Dr. Ashton Kaidi and Katy Leakey , 100% natural marula oil is made from fruit collected off the ground by hand. The oil is cold-pressed from the kernels and touted as being 16% more powerful than argan oil. They claim that the benefits of marula oil is that it is fast absorbing and high in omega-9 acid at 60-70% concentrations.

The couple lives among the Massai in the Kenyan bush. They wanted to help their neighbors and provide work opportunities without changing their culture. As members of the Fair Trade Federation, they pay fair wages to the artisans, and donate proceeds to over 1,400 Massai women and their families.
Another company with minimalistic packaging is elizabethW  (http://www.elizabethw.com), based in San Francisco, CA. This company introduced a Shea Butter Body Cream featuring shea butter, ginseng, comfrey, ivy, and cucumber as ingredients. The product’s container can be reused or recycled, and the packaging can be recycled. Packaging material is sourced from sustainably managed forests. All packaging is letter pressed in-house with vintage Heidelberg letterpresses. 

Australian-based Apple & Bee (http://www.appleandbeeusa.com/skincare/bath-salts-rejuvenation-blend) introduced its Rejuvenation Bath Salts which contain 100% Australian organic ingredients: sea salt, Epsom Salt (magnesium sulphate), certified organic Australian white clay, certified organic wild geranium grandiflorum (jasmine absolute), essential oil, Mentha Piperita, Limonum (lemon) peel essential oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (lemon grass oil).  The salts are made from 100% organic and natural ingredients, these salts dissolve in water, leaving no waste. They are certified by the internationally recognized organization Climate Friendly. The packaging is 100% organic biodegradable cotton with non-toxic dyes. This company offsets its carbon emissions by buying energy back from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. It has established the Bee Foundation to raise money and awareness for the Colony Collapse Disorder, and to research causes for the decline of honey bees around the world.

Show Wrapup

These were the personal care product introductions I found at Extracts and throughout the New York International Gift Show. Just as day one of the show was buzzing with buyers and orders, I expect the remainder to continue to be brisk. Keep an eye on these companies as well as these trends, which I expect to play out an even bigger role throughout the year.
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