16 May 2011

A Portrait of The Artist: Belle Terre



Today, in A Portrait of The Artist meet Julia and Wayne - a North Carolina eco-minded family using natural organic products to create lovely handcrafted soaps, lip balms and related products. They contribute to a better and cleaner world not only by using minimal and recycled packaging, but also by donating 5% of their sales to charity. And I believe that because of their sincere commitment to sustainability their brand Belle Terre is steadily gaining popularity.
Julia and Wayne


We are loving your natural hygiene products! How did you come up with the idea of handcrafting soaps, lip balms, lotions, etc.? 
We started making soaps because Julia has really sensitive skin and we thought it would be something fun for us to do together. It turns out that it isn't too hard and we really enjoyed the process. We gave away a good bit of our first batch and got positive feedback from friends and family. At the time we were both finishing grad school and were interested in starting a business. It seemed like a great fit.

Which of the products you sell is the most time consuming? Can you take us through the steps of the creative process? 
Ironically, none of the products we make are particularly challenging. Soap is probably the most time-consuming product. Basically, you mix lye and water and then heat your oils. These get very hot and have to cool to the same temperature before mixing. The cooling process takes a lot of time, especially in the summer. Once cooled, they are mixed together until trace is formed, you add any additional ingredients (ex: shea butter, essential oils, clays), then pour into pre-lined molds.

In total, it takes about two hours, start to finish, to make a batch of 38 bars of soap. This is before you cut, cure, and label them. We have just built some additional soap molds so we will be able to start doing multiple batches at once. This will cut down on the time requirements a bit. 
Sweet orange all natural handcrafted soap
We noticed that you are in transition to a lifestyle in which you grow your own food and use the energy you collect. What are the challenges of the sustainable lifestyle?
I think the biggest adjustment is time. If you are eating from the grocery store, you just swing by on the way home and pick something up that you can throw in the microwave and have ready in 10 minutes.

When you are growing your own food you have to think about what you will want to have available to eat months in advance. You have to care for the soil, plan crop plantings and crop rotations, coordinate harvesting and preserving efforts and much more. Even if it is as simple as going out and clipping some lettuce to make a salad, a lot more thought and effort goes into the process than picking up a frozen dinner.

Being eco minded and having an eco friendly family business requires a lot of resources. What does it take to keep your products pure and natural? 
More than anything, it takes commitment to a concept and principles that some people just don't get. The flip side of this is that there are quite a few who totally understand what you are doing and why you are doing it and wish that more companies were doing the same. When you meet these folks, you make a real connection and know that you not only have a long term customer but that you also have someone who is believes in you and what you are doing. Knowing that you have this kind of support really helps get you through tough times.
Avocado lavender natural lotion

When did you first feel the need to be eco-friendly, is this a result of your upbringing or it is a conscious effort and a deliberate choice? 
This is something that has evolved over time. There was no epiphany, we have just come to understand that we are healthier and the environment around us is more enjoyable if we are a bit more thoughtful about the decisions we make. We feel like we have a long way to go but we are making progress.

You donate 5% of your sales to charity, what is the feedback you get from your customers? 
This is a great question. It really depends on where we are. At some markets and festivals people smile and say "that's nice". Recently, in Asheville, we were telling a customer about what we do with charities, packaging, ingredients, carbon credits, etc and he was like "Dude, you are totally blowing my mind!". It just depends on the customer and the market.

Ironically, we have had other businesses suggest we should reconsider the donation. It was a shop owner and we weren't doing particularly well in that location. The owner suggested if we didn't donate the 5% it would be easier to make more money. We had to explain that if we couldn't be the kind of company that gave back then we didn't want to be in business. He just shook his head and walked away. Some don't get it, but most do and are supportive.
How do you promote your works and how much time do you spend on etsy? 
Currently we promote through the use of facebook, twitter, newsletters, blogs (ours and third party like this one), our website, etsy renewals & treasury teams. This takes at least a couple of hours per day on average and this is on top of order fulfillment, markets, festivals and production. Social media and technology can provide a great means for free marketing, but require a pretty significant time investment.

Which is your current favorite item by another etsy seller? 
We are crazy about a new shop called Frick and Frack Scraps. We have bought a couple of their pieces to use for displays in shops and at markets. Love, love, love them!

Follow Julia and Wayne from Belle Terre:
Etsy store: http://belleterre.etsy.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/belleterrenc
Blog: http://belleterre.wordpress.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/belleterre
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/belleterr

You can check out other editions of A Portrait of The Artist here.