Cult Beauty: Etta and Billie
Alana Rivera is the woman behind Etta and Billie, the handcrafted skincare line we have to thank for this delicious Horchata soap. Alana was kind enough to let us know a little bit about her business, how she uses her essential oils, and the surprising scent mistakes she's made over the years.
Interview by Katie Gregory
How did you get your shop up and running?
I started soap making in 2006 while working an extremely soul-sucking job. I enjoyed the product making process so much that I decided to turn it into a business. But, it was a very gradual process. I went to get a certificate in Herbalism in 2008 and launched the business in 2009 on Etsy. Then I got my first wholesale account, more followed, and things grew steadily from there. I quit my day job in the Fall to follow my dream full-time.
What is your favorite product you sell?
My favorite product is body oil but soap is by far my favorite thing to make because I get to be really creative. The product that many customers keep coming back for are the scrubs, especially the Grapefruit Cardamom. People love the combination. (It's one of my personal favs, too.)
Body oils seem so amazing, but we're lost! How do you recommend we use yours?
Body oils can definitely seem a bit intimidating, but they are surprisingly versatile once you know what to do. I use my body oil like a lotion, as a hair treatment and in the bath. If applying like a body lotion, apply a few drops right after you get out of the bath or shower (you can even apply some as a face moisturizer in a pinch or if you have dry skin). I rub a drop through my hair when it's wet as a leave-in conditioner and sometimes use a tiny bit on dry hair to tame frizz. Adding a drop or two to your bath is a really wonderful way to add scent and moisture. I always take a small bottle with me when I travel because it's so multipurpose.
Did you ever mix up a scent you thought would be amazing that just… wasn't?
Yes, although most of them turned into scents other people love. When I first formulated the Cedarwood and Bitter Orange soaps, I was going for completely different scents. For the Bitter Orange, I had envisioned a really lovely citrus-sweet orange-blossom type scent (I was going to call it Orange Blossom). When I mixed up the scent, it just smelled intensely bitter, nothing like I had imagined. I was able to add some additional essential oils to get it closer to what I had wanted, but there is only so much adding you can do before it really starts to get worse! When I poured the soap, I just hoped for the best. After the curing process, I still didn't like it and wasn't sure if anyone else would either but it was so pretty that I had to take it to craft shows with me. So I re-named it Bitter Orange, and to my surprise, people actually really like it. It's a seasonal soap, so I only make it a few months out of the year but it has some die-hard fans that would love to be able to get it year round.
When you go about mixing up something like the Horchata scent, how long does it take you to get it right?
The Horchata took only two batches to become perfect. It was mostly just fine tuning the scent strength. It all depends on the how complicated the scents are, but I usually get it right within two batches or less. I don't do small test batches. I just get an idea, sketch out how I want the soap to look, think about the scent, sniff a few bottles of essential oil, come up with a scent recipe and go for it!
What are some of your favorite gifts to give for the holidays?
I love finding a unique item for each person on my list, whether it's jewelry, ceramics or a great printed t-shirt. Or giving something that I've made myself, like vanilla extract or rosemary salt.
Favorite gifts to receive?
I always enjoy getting items that are something I may have mentioned in passing to a friend or family member and then forgot all about it until it shows up. I love a surprise!
What's next for Etta + Billie?
Well, I've always got ideas for new products; developing new ideas is one of my favorite things to do. I'll likely be adding candles and liquid soap to my offerings next year. As far as scents go, I'm toying with a scent based on Dynamo Donuts', iconic Maple Bacon Apple donut or one of my other favorites, the Chocolate Rosemary Almond donut.
Where can we find you online?
Check out my website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.