This week, we're looking to Seattle to two favorite beauty brands doing things differently in the Pacific Northwest. First, a trip to the sunny studios of Herbivore Botanicals, where owners Julia Willis and Alex Kummerow share how running a do-it-yourself "science lab" is pretty much the best job ever. Next up is a visit to the Elysian Brewery, where we talk with Duffy's Brew owners Nicolette and Sean about the magical haircare benefits of their line's not-so-secret star ingredient. Photography by Robin Stein
A natural apothecary line operated by Julia Willis and Alex Kummerow, Herbivore Botanicals' ingredients run the gamut from Japanese Bamboo Charcoal to Brazilian gemstones. We talked with the couple about being accidental soap makers, drawing inspiration from scent, and their ideal Seattle day.
How do you describe Herbivore Botanicals?
Julia: Herbivore Botanicals is kind of my dream come true. Its all about bringing together my favorite things: creating amazing natural scents, spa-like experiences and pretty designs. I love my job.
Alex: I couldn’t be happier. I love how everything is still done in-house. It is so rewarding creating a product from the ground floor. The initial ideas, the formulations, packaging and design, seeing the label printed for the first time, combining design and product to make something that people know as Herbivore Botanicals… I love seeing people love our product.
How did this all start for you?
Julia: It really just came together out of nowhere, definitely not planned. In 2011, Alex, who is now my husband, and the other half of Herbivore Botanicals, bought me a soap-making kit for fun. Once I started, I became totally obsessed and knew that I had come upon something important. My friends and family were totally confused by why I was spending all my time doing this! I had never really made anything before and was definitely not a crafty person but once I started I knew it was what I needed to do. So, I pretty much followed my gut feeling
and started this business. Alex and I now create and design everything together. We are our own formulators and graphic designers.
What inspires your products?
Julia: For me, new product inspiration usually starts with a scent. Since all of the scents that we work with are plant based and natural I then look into the the properties of that plant, what it is traditionally used for from a therapeutic healing perspective. Then, I start blending and thinking about what other ingredients it would work well with, and what the purpose of the product will be. For example, we are working on a new body oil and our first full blown perfume right now, so I am very much in a world of scent experimentation. Visual images, color and words come next and we like to keep them simple and directly related to the scent of the product and the feeling that it evokes.
Tell us more about where you work.
Alex: We love our workspace. The building is a tri-level building from 1900 that was used to house the horses that pulled carriages for the Bon Marche back in the day. Sadly, no more horses live here, but it is a great building filled with a handful of artists and creative businesses.
Any new-to-you ingredients you've been experimenting with?
Julia: I order samples of new ingredients to test out weekly and am kind of the mad scientist / mixologist around here. My current favorite ingredient is probably Tourmaline gemstone powder. This powder is amazing. It is a pure gemstone powder from Brazil that naturally brightens and refines the skin. You can find it in two of our newest facial masks: Brighten and Activate. My other current favorite is Jasmine Sambac essential oil, it can be found in our Egyptian Jasmine Luminous Body Oil and most likely a few new products that will be coming out for Spring 2015.
Julia: I am from here, actually. I grew up in Snohomish, a small town outside
of Seattle. I tried moving away from Seattle a few years ago but missed it too much and came right back! I love Seattle: I think we want people thinking its all doom and gloom here so we can keep it all to ourselves.
Alex: I love the rain. Well, I loved the rain back when I moved to Seattle from a very arid climate. There is something about the Pacific Northwest that I have always found enchanting. It has an almost dreamlike, surreal vibe. The foggy mountains, the misty nights, the perfect summers...
What are some of your favorite things that are happening in the city right now?
Alex: I think maybe the best way to answer this question would be to describe
my perfect day off. Julia and I sleep in a bit. We wake up and walk to local coffee shop Vivace
for a espresso and delicious pastries. We walk a block or two over to Volunteer Park
and relax in the grass amongst other Capitol Hill patrons looking to escape the hustle. Next, brunch at our favorite vegetarian restaurant Cafe Flora
before heading to a trunk show at Glasswing at Melrose Market
. Maybe a little siesta before heading to one of our favorite bars Montana
for a Moscow Mule made with Rachel’s local ginger beer. Grab a bite at In the Bowl
vegan thai restaurant and set off to see our friend Garrett Vance’s band Night Cadet
at some venue on Capitol Hill. To cap it off, we would go to Pony to dance until closing to the tracks our employee/ favorite DJ kkost (Kyle Kostrzewa) would be spinning.
There is an old wives' tale that goes something like: put beer in your hair and the malt, barley and hops will make it shinier and healthier than ever before. Duffy's products puts a modern spin on it, using beer from Seattle's Elysian Brewery to make shampoo and conditioner.
Why Seattle? What was it that drew you to the city / what has kept you there?
Both of us were drawn to Seattle because of its music culture. The beauty here sucks you in too… every time we fly somewhere else it looks lackluster compared to the breathtaking views and lush green landscapes we’re used to. We’re also huge foodies and severe coffee addicts and there is no shortage of either here. As far as starting/running a business, we’ve grown to love how much Seattle fosters those with an entrepreneurial mindset. We began selling Duffy’s at local farmers’ markets in Ballard & Fremont…not many cities have those kinds of grass roots venues so readily available.
Can you share some of your favorite things that are happening in Seattle right now?
We just checked out the Georgetown Carnival
last weekend. So many cool things happening in that neighborhood right now! It reminds us of the way Ballard was before it exploded. We had some of the best Mexican food in the city at Fonda La Catrina
in Georgetown. It was amazing.
How do you describe Duffy's?
It gives people a unique alternative to spice up their grooming routine. We’ve revived this age-old wives tale into a fun and sexy product line that has a little more personality and lot more performance than your average shampoo/conditioner.
Tell me more about the Duffy's backstory: what exactly is the old wives' tale about beer and hair?
Back in the 60s and 70s women used to pour straight beer on their hair to add volume and shine. This works great as a short-term solution for dull, drab hair…but we wanted to expand on that. With Duffy’s, we amplify all the benefits beer has for hair while still maintaining that salon quality. We also process out the majority of the alcohol so that your good results don’t end in a dry, pungent mess days later.
We approached several big players in the Seattle brewing scene to gauge who would be interested in working with us. Elysian was enthusiastic from the get-go. They aren’t afraid to get involved in something unique and they’ve been nothing but supportive since day one. Plus their craft brews are complex and delicious!
What's your go-to brew (for drinking, not hair-washing)?
We’re in the R&D stage right now on a beer-based beard wash/conditioner as well as some hops infused styling products.