Today, on this here April Fool’s Day, I’m pleased to feature Briar of Marble & Milkweed — enjoy!
1. Please describe your background. How did you come to make facial and body scrubs, teas, bath soaks, perfumes, and other items? What do you do when you are not creating these lovely products?
I grew up in Washington State, both on a small apple orchard and eventually in town. I’ve always loved to create, I played and wrote music, and I spent hours in the garden when I was young. I went off to college in New York City, and ended up leaving my program to enter cooking school. I studied Pastry Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, all the while becoming more aware of the importance of eating natural, locally grown foods. Living in my tiny tenement apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with the bathtub in the kitchen, I started making my own body care products using local honey, beeswax, and organic plant oils. I got tired of reading labyrinthine product labels, and paying way too much for things that were barely even natural. I’ve always been a huge tea-drinker as well, and realized that my culinary background of creating new dishes and putting flavors together lent itself wonderfully to blending my own teas. While I still work in the pastry kitchen these days, I love creating new products for Marble & Milkweed. These two areas of my life are very connected to each other. While I began creating my products, I also became enormously interested in whole-grain baking, and baking without refined sugar. My interest in this became a way for me to apply my values about healthful living to the things I love to do most.
2. What is your favorite spice and why?
I’m crazy about cardamom! I’d put it in everything if no one stopped me. I spent a lot of time working with Swedish people in the kitchen, and cardamom is very popular in Scandinavian baking. It’s such a versatile spice, it’s warm and invigorating and can be used in both sweet and savory cooking. I also love it for its aromatherapy benefits. It’s uplifting and comforting, and it just smells like home to me.
3. Describe your creative process. How do you usually get ideas for a new product, and what is your process for creating and testing that product?
My process is very free-form. I started out doing a lot of reading about Ayurveda in Maya Tiwari’s books. My dosha is predominately Vata, which is very susceptible to discomfort in the winter months, so I began to practice abhyanga (the art of self-massage) with sesame oil. Unrefined sesame oil comes highly recommended for Vata types, and so I began using it to formulate other products for myself as well, like balms and scrubs. I started incorporating coconut oil after being inspired by a sesame and coconut shortbread cookie – strange as that sounds! I love the way these two flavors and scents blend together, and coconut oil has traditionally been used in many cultures to keep skin healthy. Though I’m sure you’ve seen all the new products on the market now that feature this or that obscure ingredient, I’d much rather stick with simple ingredients that have been used generation after generation and have a time-tested record of nourishing skin. Simplicity is a big part of my philosophy. I played around for quite awhile to get the perfect texture for my basic balms and lip balms, and I gave them to friends and family as I went along. At first, I used a lot of essential oils, but I’ve since simplified that as well. I use them in some things, where they have a designated healing purpose, but I find that I love to smell the scent of the base oils come through in my products, because they smell so wonderful on the skin. I liken this to the way I bake with whole grain flours now instead of refined ones. For example, a cake based on barley flour has a subtle, nutty sweetness to it that one baked with refined white flour just doesn’t have. It’s about creating layers of flavor, and keeping things wholesome at the same time!
4. Not only did I enjoy your perfume serum, but I really love your organic chai tea — it’s delicious! Something tells me that you love spending time in the kitchen. Do you have any homemade skin care or cooking recipes to share?
I love blending chai! Tea is such a great canvas for spices, and chai is one of my favorite drinks, both hot and iced. I’d love to share my Rivington Street Chai recipe:
1 heaping teaspoon loose assam tea
6 cardamom pods + a dash of ground cardamom
a few crumbled bits of ceylon cinnamon (the soft, papery kind, available online from Mountain Rose Herbs, or in New York City at Kalustyan’s)
1 teaspoon shredded unsweetened dried coconut
1 teaspoon raw cacao nibs
1/2 teaspoon untoasted sesame seeds
optional: a pinch of saffron
Simmer 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of your favorite milk, add tea and spices, simmer for 5 minutes, strain, sweeten and enjoy! I often use raw honey in my chai, as it is regarded as a healing food in Ayurveda. Palm sugar is another traditional sweetener for chai, and agave works fine, too. This would also be divine with a splash of cream of coconut, or coconut milk. Makes 1 serving.
5. What would you consider to be your signature product or scent and why?
I’m very attached to my perfume serum No. 1. I worked on it for a long time before I was completely satisfied. I wanted something that was very earthy and that had great chemistry with skin. I feel like commercial perfumes are too overpowering; they run you over, instead of enhancing your natural scent. Our perfume serum No. 1 is an entirely natural perfume, which means only natural plant oils and waxes and essential oils are used. I started working with jasmine wax, which is rather unorthodox to use in a perfume oil since it creates a creamy texture, somewhere between a liquid and a solid perfume. For me, much of the delight in wearing perfume is in the moment of application, and the serum-like consistency of this natural perfume is super sensual and very silky to apply, a little more intriguing than your ordinary perfume oil. Jasmine is my all-time favorite scent in perfume, so the blend is based around that, in conjunction with smoked lapsang souchong tea, vanilla (both of which I infuse into the base oils myself), and a bit of cardamom (of course!) and patchouli. I use organic sesame and coconut oils as the base in order to keep continuity with my line – everything should work toward nourishing the skin. These oils create a warm and grounding base for the perfume…
6. Can you describe the best feedback you’ve ever received, or describe an interaction that you had that made you feel good about your creations?
I always love hearing when someone has enjoyed using my products! I especially love hearing from people who share my skin-care philosophy – that simpler is most often better. People often say: this is exactly what I’ve been looking for! We’ve been tricked by commercial brands into thinking we need 6 different things just to take care of our face, and I’m thrilled when I talk to someone who also sees through that ruse. There are so many things in modern life that we think we need help doing, and we’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to our own intuition. Your great grandmother didn’t have to choose from 100 different face washes. She probably just used honey, or handmade soap. In fact, when I visited my grandmother several years ago, she took me aside after I’d washed my face before bed and told me that I should use honey on my face. That was a big part of the inspiration for my products. Also, convenience is an issue. People are looking for ease of use and application, which explains a lot of the “squeezy” plastic packaging out there. I package all of my products in metal tins or glass jars because, first and foremost, I care about minimizing my environmental impact. I also don’t want plastic chemicals leeching into my products, and I don’t want to support the production of more plastic items with my buying power. Using products that are packaged in this way, as well as those without preservatives (as mine are) takes a bit more mindfulness, like always using a clean, dry spoon when dipping into scrubs to avoid introducing moisture. I think this can actually be a valuable exercise, to remind you to slow down and take the time to care for your self with consciousness.
7. What plans do you have for your shop in 2011? What should we be looking out for?
My goal for 2011 is to rotate my collection more seasonally. The needs of the skin vary as the seasons change, so it makes sense to shift our skin care offerings to accommodate this. This spring I developed a Spring Tonic face serum that is a bit lighter than my Nourishing Serum. In the spring the natural moisture starts to come back into our skin after the drying winter, and we need something to moisturize a bit more delicately. I’ve based it on organic jojoba and sweet almond oils, which are known for their ability to quickly absorb into the skin, and added flower essences like chamomile and geranium for their balancing aromatheraputic benefits. The floral scent will really put you in the mood for spring! I’ll also be blending more seasonal wellness teas. Hydration from within is such an important part of any beauty routine, and herbal blends that support seasonal transitions promote a healthful glow. A cup of tea is also great for encouraging a moment of reflection during the day.
8. Do you have any favorite crafters or artisans that you would like to share with us?
My friend Gillian always inspires me with her craftiness! She is an aspiring Etsian and talks about having her own vintage shop there (she should!). She has a great eye for hidden gems and has started her own craft blog (cozyrustic.blogspot.com) with a friend. She’s getting married in June and sheer volume of handmade projects she’s taken on in preparation for that is awesome. Her invitations went out on vintage hankies! Adorable…
I’m so inspired by the Etsy community as a whole, as well. People are so supportive of each other’s efforts, and I’m always coming across beautifully made things. There are so many artisans making things from reused and recycled materials, and the creativity is astounding!
9. What advice would you give to budding artisans who are looking to present their wares to the public?
I think the main thing is to believe in what you make. If you are making something exquisite and useful, it will get noticed. Tell everyone you know what you’re doing – you never know when someone might have a great connection for you. Getting yourself out there is definitely a learning process, as I realize nearly every day. You don’t have to wait until you “know everything” or “the moment is just right” (it never will be…), just start small and see what happens. There is so much community support on Etsy, read as much as you can, and take breaks in order to stay inspired!
10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
I’d just like to thank you so much for featuring me on your blog, and for supporting small artisans!