Green Bath and Body Cleans Up
Green—organic and natural— bath and body products are on a rapid growth curve. Here’s a look at the latest in the industry.
Kim Harmson sells only one line of soap in Kizuri, her shop in Spokane, Washington, but that one line was her top selling product last year. And the year before that. In fact, it’s been her top selling line for years, she says. Harmson’s shop sells fair trade products from around the world as well as products made in the United States, including her popular Mountain Madness Soap, handmade locally in Spokane, which she prominently features at the checkout counter.
“When I opened [my store], I just did a Google search for a local source and Jennifer’s company came up,” says Harmson. She met with Jennifer Morsell, who makes the handmade soap for Mountain Madness Soap, and was taken by her story and commitment to using local and organic ingredients. “I really appreciate how thoughtful she is in how she does things and that she uses organic ingredients in her soaps.”
Just as important, Harmson says, is that the soaps work very well. “Even my husband is addicted to her soaps,” she laughs. “He’ll call me from home when we’re running out.” It’s not unusual for shoppers to buy more than a dozen at a time, many of whom choose the soap because it’s a healthier alternative to other brands found in the mainstream marketplace laden with toxic chemicals.
Industry analysts predict the natural and organic personal care market will be valued at $19 billion by 2015. “It’s smart business to make safe cosmetics,” says Margie Kelly, media relations manager for Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition working to clean up the beauty aisle through public advocacy and market campaigns designed to eliminate dangerous chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive harm and other adverse health impacts from cosmetics and personal care products.
Trish Naudon-Thomas, co-founder and Chief Formulator of Vermont-based Good Body Products, attributes the increase in demand for green body care products to be largely the result of Internet social media spreading awareness of holistic, homeopathic and organic alternatives to unsafe products.
“More and more people are learning about the often-unsafe chemicals many of us are exposed to every day,” Naudon-Thomas says. “In addition, the increase of modern maladies has left people cautious and more aware of what they put in and on their bodies. People are starting to move away from the quick fix, ‘take a pill’ mentality to a more natural, ‘take more pure’ mindset.”
Good Body Products use the therapeutic qualities of herbs, essential oils and other natural ingredients to create 100 percent organic, healing body care products, adds Naudon-Thomas.
Rising interest in natural, organic and even artisanal foods has benefited the bath and body category. “As people learn what is best to consume and put inside of their bodies, they then begin to think about the outside as well,” notes Bill Glaab, co-founder of Hand in Hand, a luxury bath and body brand which sports a fun, feminine aesthetic to its packaging.
For each product sold, Hand in Hand saves 50 square feet of rainforest, and donates one bar of soap and provides one month of clean water to a child in Haiti to help reduce deadly water related illness.
Proceed with caution
Unlike in food, when it comes to personal care products, the term “organic” is not regulated by the U.S. government, according to Shannon McLinden, president and founder of FarmHouse Fresh of Frisco, Texas. FarmHouse Fresh creates natural and organic bath and body products designed with southern vintage flair, using using indigenous regional ingredients like desert cactus and Kentucky whiskey.
“You find a wide range of products calling themselves organic that simply are not,” McLinden says. “Some of them might have 90 percent natural ingredients and 1 percent of an organic extract. Whole Foods leads the way in applying food-based certification standards to personal care products carried there. [Customers] want to look for a certification seal on any product using organic on their labels. There are a number of certifying bodies and all ensure a consistent use of the term organic.”
Kelly goes one step further calling it a Wild West scenario. Companies are allowed to add whatever chemicals they want to use – even chemicals linked to cancer – in shampoos, lotions and makeup since most people don’t know that ingredients are not tested for safety before being added to cosmetics and personal care products. To add to the problem at the consumer level is that the term organic has meaning but phony labels abound, Kelly says.
“The USDA Organic label is the gold standard for Organic cosmetics,” notes Kelly. “Companies can claim their products are organic, but unless that USDA label in on the bottle, don’t trust it.” It’s not unusual, she notes, for companies to falsely label organic products. “For example, colleagues at the Center for Environmental Health found falsely labeled organic products that actually contained a cancer-causing chemical.”
One tool available to both retailers and consumers is the Environmental Working Groups’ Skin Deep database, says Jane Coaston, press secretary for the watchdog non-profit organization focused on environmental health and advocacy.
“Retailers and manufacturers are getting the message: consumers want safer products, and they want to know what’s in the products they and their family use every day,” she says. “The Skin Deep tool and the popularity of the database should be indicative to the industry that consumers want more transparency and better, safer, healthier products.”
Kelly is a fan of the Skin Deep database and a new app called Think Dirty both of which, she says, unveil many of the secrets that are hidden in cosmetics and personal care products. “Just like consumers, buyers and retailers should check the ingredients of the products they are considering to stock to be sure they are safe and don’t contain dangerous chemicals,” she notes. “It would also be helpful if retailers would require manufacturers to provide the full list of ingredients for all their products.”
Many manufacturers are bypassing buying ingredients to incorporate into their products and choosing to grow their own, allowing them to not only know exactly what goes into their personal care products, but to share that information and story with their retail customers, too.
Patricia Walker, owner of Board and Batten based in Florida, was inspired by the naturally balanced environment of her family farm that she created its signature “Farm To Skin” trademark. The trademark tells her customers that there is careful thought, quality earth-derived ingredients and pride in every product, she says.
“All of our ingredients are researched and hand selected to directly benefit our customer’s skin,” Walker says. “The plant oils we select are cold-pressed and rich in skin loving antioxidants.
“We grow our Seabreeze Bamboo right on our farm, turn it into charcoal and use it in our products to detoxify the skin,” she adds, admitting that bamboo charcoal isn’t something most people have ever seen or heard as an ingredient for personal care products.
“Bamboo charcoal’s porous structure allows our Bamboo Skin Tonic to draw out impurities during shaving,” she says. “It is also used in our Organic Lavender Dry Dog Shampoo for powerful odor absorption.”
Walker also includes honey, collected from her citrus grove, in some of her products. Honey, she says, naturally contains Vitamins B and C to keep skin hydrated, fresh, and elastic. “Its ability to absorb and retain moisture makes it ideal for skincare,” she explains.
Power in packaging
Realizing that her retailers wouldn’t be able to keep employees educated about all their store items, Board and Batten products come with a trademark descriptive tag, which explains the benefits, how to use, and important information regarding their ingredients.
Anna Yagodzinski, owner of LA-based Boulevard 34 – Gift Shop & Creative Space, finds packaging very important when selling this category in her retail store. “It sets the tone for the type of product it is as well as who is going to buy it,” she says.
Another popular way to introduce the ingredients and products to customers while educating them is through in-store workshops. Yagodzinski’s shop is roughly 800 square feet. She uses about 600 square feet for selling and the remaining space for hosting workshops and classes.
Emilie Sennebogen Bryant, owner/formulator of Georgia-based Mama Bath & Body, has found great success in hosting workshops that she’s had to move her shop to a larger space.
“Our classes have been immeasurably helpful in teaching people about natural products,” says Sennebogen Bryant. “A lot of times, customers who are just shopping are already over-stimulated by what they’re seeing and smelling, so details can get lost while trying to jam more information into their experience. But students are captive audiences who really want to learn what we’re teaching. We provide our students with in-depth information about natural ingredients and their synthetic counterparts and as a result, we’re sending better educated consumers and makers back out into the world.”
“Education has everything to do with improving sales in this category, especially at the consumer level,” Sennebogen Bryant says. “We offer all kinds of marketing materials from postcards and flyers to e-mail newsletters and point of sale signage.” Even though there is point of sale material, she’s learned that the best and most effective way to educate customers is to talk to them about our products and ultimately to have them try the products.
“For customers who really don’t have any experience with natural products, we’ll start with a comparison – like how most commercial soaps have synthetic sudsing chemicals that ultimately dry out and irritate your skin, whereas our natural soap uses vegetable oils that create a lather naturally,” Sennebogen Bryant explains. “And then we’ll give them a piece to try in our test sink, which really helps them feel the difference. We also talk a lot about the plant-derived essential oils that we use and how and why they’re different from fragrance oils.”
Yagodzinski and Harmson both agree that offering their customers the option of testing the product has been key to sales. Once they like the item, the customer will return for more.
“I always offer a testing bottle,” says Yagodzinski. “Lotion is the easiest to try out and if they like the lotion they will usually add on other products in the line that they aren’t able to test.”
To make it easier for her retail customers, Rupal Bhinda, president of EBB & FLOW NYC, manufacturer of luxury home and bath fragrances, works hard to keep their labeling clean and simple so customers know exactly what’s in the product and their best use. “We also make a point of notifying the customer of any ingredients that might cause allergies and which soaps are animal-free,” she adds.
Baby as impetus?
Both manufacturers and retailers agree that while a baby might be the reason many customers start to think about what’s in their personal care products, many don’t differentiate their product lines between adults and babies.
FarmHouse Fresh’s McLinden believes women tend to apply the same choices for themselves to their babies or children.
“The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics believes that all products should be safe, however babies and young children are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals because they are still developing,” notes Kelly. “Pound for pound, toxic chemicals have a much larger impact on babies and children than they do on adults.”
Eco-friendly bath and body products are enjoying increased interest in the marketplace because of consumer demand. Rather than focusing on quantity of lines, focus on quality to keep customers returning for more.