Makers for Makers: Curious Nature Apothecary
We are so excited to be featuring the first maker in our Makers for Makers series. As mentioned in our initial post to kick off our new makers tribe, a maker's journey should include supporting and loving other makers as they navigate their own paths. It's not about competition. It’s about working together as a community to show the world that intentional making is where one will find the most powerful products, goods, and services—whatever people are pouring their hearts and loving hands into.
Gina and Jill of Curious Nature Apothecary are an amazing example of people who are using their skills to create unique products all while supporting—and even partnering with—other makers along the way to help get their business off the ground. Now that is community. We had the pleasure of meeting the two of them in our London stomping grounds. While both of them are New Englanders, Gina is living in England for a little and Jill decided to hop on a plane to visit. After a day of exploring the city, they met with us in a nearby pub and I immediately felt like I was in the presence of warm souls. As we chatted away it was clear why they decided to team up on this creative entrepreneurial journey. They beautifully balance each other and together make an excellent team that has brought Curious Nature Apothecary to where it is today. We are ecstatic to be sharing their story and hope you enjoy learning about these makers.
Tell us about Curious Nature Apothecary
Hi, we are Jill Sarmento and Gina Browning, and our business is Curious Nature Apothecary, LLC, where we make plant based goods for bath and body and natural perfumes. We combine our curiosity about and love for nature to develop products that are simple without being boring, effective without being harsh, and elegantly, naturally aromatic. Our aim is to create clean (synthetic free) body care that encourages people to slow down a bit and that helps to transform dull routines into rejuvenating rituals—we want to help people feel comfortable in their own skin and at home in the world.
What made you realize you needed to bring this dream to reality?
Temporary insanity!? Can we say that? Honestly once we started to bounce the idea around it just took on momentum and a life of its own. It's sort of a strange phenomenon but it really was like the apothecary had this energy to it—one little thing kept leading to the next little thing and it sort of pulled us along for the ride, so there wasn't as much of a conscious decision about forming the business as you might suppose.
Jill: I will say for me, though, one of the things that took away some of the fear associated with another business venture was having my best friend on board and knowing that she had all these strengths to balance out my deficiencies. I have the wholistic health / aromatherapy background and she's the business and accounting expert. The things that are scary to me come easily to her so I think that helped us both move past fear and uncertainty into action.
What are the core beliefs, values, & overall mission that drives your company?
Most of our approach leads back to the ideas of connection and mindfulness.
One of the quotes that inspired us early on is from the naturalist John Muir "When one tugs on a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." We think about our place within the world, what we can get from nature, what we can help give back as responsible stewards of the environment, how we can form more meaningful connections to our community. We obviously can't always be out in nature, but that connection in particular is so import, we truly try to bring some of nature into our homes and daily lives with the things we make.
We also like to encourage mindfulness in all areas of life, living to the fullest and slowing down when needed. Our sort of mantra for our brand evolved from this idea, it's "live free, stay grounded" and I suppose that's the closest thing we have to a mission—to inspire people to be active participants in their own lives and to take time to nurture themselves. It can be such a challenge to balance a busy life and to make time for both grand adventures and lazy days and we think the occasional bath helps bring things back into perspective.
What was your biggest obstacle when starting out?
We're still struggling with overcoming the biggest obstacle we've faced—the logistics of running a business partnership when the partners are living on different continents!
Jill: I tried not to panic when I found out Gina had to move to England for a year for her husband's job, but it freaked me out. I think things are actually going quite well and we're already halfway to her coming home (thank goodness) but we've struggled with organizational things—task management, holding ourselves accountable with deadlines. We hope to move to a more structured business model next year.
Gina: It's definitely been challenging being away from the studio and Jill this year. We usually bounce ideas off each other while in the studio, where we can see and smell each step of the process. It's been difficult being removed from that experience. Everything goes a little more smoothly when we schedule phone or coffee meetings with a definite agenda. When we first started, I'd say that our biggest obstacle was that we wanted to make everything. We had so many ideas, we had to reign ourselves in and focus on a collection that made sense together.
Did/Do you have any mentors? Or makers you admired that have inspired you?
We have certainly had a lot of help along the way from friends and colleagues. Our friend Abby Backlund is an esthetician and spa / boutique owner. She gave us a lot of encouragement and our first wholesale account at her business, Facing Thayer. She's been really indispensable with helping us promote our products and with helping us navigate the retail side of things.
When we were just starting out, we took a fantastic class from a local natural perfumer, Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. The wisdom she shared about natural perfumery and about business in general was just phenomenal. We got to meet some other makers in that class, as well, and we love seeing what they're up to on Instagram. We loved meeting Priya (@priyameanslovebodycare on IG) who is always doing something creative and wonderful.
There are loads of other makers and creative types doing inspiring things, whether it's in our field or some other craft. Just a few Instagram accounts we always watch: @wildhartpaperco (the designer of our logo and labels—we love her!), @plantfolk, @anniehowepapercuts, @brownpigeon, @asapoth, @lightruststudio (obviously), @littlebittecocktails, @amelie_and_richard, @aluminousspark.....we could go on all day!
What does your typical day as a maker look like?
This really varies for both of us, and each day is different.
Gina: Since I have small children at home, my work is broken into hours when they're at school, weekends, or after bedtime. I have been focusing on developing the wholesale side of the business and researching new techniques, all things that can be accomplished away from the studio. Jill has been so amazing, taking over making and developing products, and generally keeping us moving in the right direction. I'm also taking advantage of some great aromatherapy resources in the UK, taking workshops and meeting other makers from that corner of the world.
Jill: I still maintain another business as a massage therapist, so I juggle that with the apothecary. On the days I have dedicated just for Curious Nature I usually spend the first part of the day making and packing orders and the rest on other tasks like taking photos, making labels, checking inventory, and if I'm lucky I get a little time in for new product development. Every day, I make sure to spend some time interacting on social media, which has led to some really wonderful connections. I'm also always thinking, planning, reading and researching things related to the business and how we can make it better. The website is a continual work in progress, too. Honestly, the making part is the smallest bit these days—it seems like we always have something that needs to be done. And it's lucky I love it as I never really take a day completely and totally off.
What do you love most about being a maker?
Jill: Working with beautiful natural ingredients and plant essences to create something lovely just never gets old, so that's my first love when it comes to making. I'm also really excited, though, about things that never really occurred to me when we started the business—things like getting to know other creatives and that sense of being part of a cool creative community. Being part of something like #makersformakers is so rewarding, it goes beyond regular business accomplishment to a deeper level of satisfaction and good feelings...its a special and wonderful thing!
Gina: I love the sensory experience of creating a product from amazing raw, botanical ingredients. Even when the outcome isn't something that makes it into the product line, the process is invigorating, yet still relaxing. Stepping outside the studio to collaborate on building the business has also been something I didn't anticipate would be so fun.
What advice do you have for makers just starting out?
We have to preface all this by saying we are still learning as we go! For those interested in starting a body care or cosmetics business like ours, we'd recommend that you research and understand the laws and requirements related to your products very early on as they can really affect your business. This obviously varies depending on where you're located, but in the US you'll want to look at things like the FDA requirements and the fair product labeling act.
For anyone, we'd recommend starting with a solid plan, but being prepared to adjust it as you go. Building a strong support system is priceless, and it's smart to know your strengths and to know when to hire out for things you don't excel at. Accept that you may invest more money than you make, for a while. Laugh at, but learn from, your mistakes. Like if you make a batch of sparking bath salts that explode out of their containers, that's funny, as long as no one gets hurt.
Oh, yeah, and take deep breaths and long baths whenever possible!