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14 May 2012

A Portrait of the Artist: Herban Crafts



When I learned Eco Karen was taking an indefinitely long leave from her post as editor of Green Living Ideas I knew something exciting was going on. What I didn't know at the time was that she had teamed with another prominent member of Team Eco Etsy, Mary Kearns, to start a remarkable new venture called Herban Crafts.

The Herban Crafts kits they came up with are designed to teach you how to make earth-friendly products yourselves! Each kit makes two sets of finished products, and there are several kits to choose from. The kits are perfect to give as gifts or as bridal shower favors. They also make a fun party activity!

I am a firm believer in the philosophy of teaching people how to make bread instead of baking it for them and in that sense the Herban Crafts idea to give knowledge to anyone interested is irresistible to my (daughter of a teacher and a teacher myself) mind.

But Mary and Karen don't stop with just sharing knowledge. Through Herban Crafts they will offer a job skills training program to unemployed women living in transitional housing who will help assemble the kits.

For the first batch of Herban Crafts kits Mary and Karen are relying on all our contributions on Indiegogo. The money they raise with our help will cover the initial production of kits for promotional purposes and their first wholesale orders. The kits from the inaugural batch will also serve as perks for their devoted Indiegogo contributors! With or without perks, I was one of the first people to donate to Herban Crafts because I believe in what they stand for. I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a look at their Indiegogo page and support the project but before that, learn more from the creators themselves!



I am so excited by the thought that I can make my own bath and body products (especially soap!) with the help of your kits. I am sure many other people will find your idea brilliant. How did you come up with it?
Mary: I have been making bath and body products for 13 years, having first learned the craft from an aromatherapy-kit-of-the-month-subscription I bought to share with my daughters. The kits, offered by an educational toy company, contained simple, natural ingredients.

Some of my earliest memories center around playing with guest soaps at my grandmother’s house – I loved the scents, colors, textures and the way they made bubbles in the sink! But I, and my daughters have very sensitive skin, so we have to be careful about fragrances, colors and other chemical additives. Learning how to make my own bath and body products was not only fun, but it gave me complete control over what goes into my soaps and such. I wanted to share this experience with others, and the idea of making kits was born!

And similarly, Karen feels that learning to make your own products is an incredibly empowering experience. She often shares tutorials with the readers of her blog, and gets great feedback from them. So, we saw earth-friendly craft kits as not only a fun idea, but also a great way to promote self-sufficiency while also promoting the health and wellbeing of people and the planet.

Photo: Herban Crafts

What do the kits include?
Karen: Herban Crafts kits are not frivolous or useless crafts that become junk after the thrill of making them is gone. The end product is practical, educational and earth-friendly since they are made with all natural ingredients. And you can make more with our refills if you decide to make more. The kits are designed to appeal to people who love to create, are interested in Do-It-Yourself (DIY), care about their health, wellness and the environment, and are more likely to buy products that benefit social causes than similar products that don’t. 


Mary: Our kits will include what you need to create enough finished products for yourself and to share with a friend. Our Make Your Own Lip Balm kits will include enough ingredients to make five .5 oz tins of balm. Each kit contains a recipe card, as well as description cards that include information on the properties of each ingredient in the kit. So, you are not only getting all the ingredients and packaging you need to make your own products, but you also have an opportunity to learn the beneficial and practical properties of each ingredient.


You will introduce the first set of kits on June 1st 2012, less than a month from now. How long did it take you to come up with the idea and plan for action?
Karen: We met a few years ago through Team Eco Etsy, where we have interacted on several small projects over time. We realized that we had a lot in common in terms of our backgrounds and interests. One day in December 2011, Mary spoke about her idea for a monthly DIY kit subscription business while I spoke about green handmade gift subscription idea. The next day, we both thought about becoming partners and called each other! And the rest is history.

Mary: Since I started Herban Lifestyle in September 2008, I had a strong desire to add a social mission component to it. From the beginning, I have donated a portion of my gross revenue to charity, but I wanted to do more than that. I have a background in art and psychology, so I wanted to create an empower program that would some how integrate crafting into the process. In November 2011, it finally hit me that a job skills training program that involved the production of crafting kits would be a great way to bring these things together. A couple of weeks later, I spoke to Karen, and she had been thinking about a monthly kit idea, too. Six months later, here we are!

Photo: Kanelstrand

Tell us more about the sustainability of Herban Crafts.
Mary: We take sustainability very seriously and we made sure that we use materials that we would let our own children use. We went beyond just using recyclable materials. The ingredients in our kits are ethically sourced, cruelty free, and most are USDA certified organic or Certified Fair Trade. Our packaging materials are ALL recyclable, compostable, reusable, and biodegradable.

The kit comes in a sturdy box made from 100% post consumer cardboard printed with soy ink. I specifically chose the box because of its reusability and recyclability. However, all the handled boxes out there come with plastic handles, so Karen came up with the brilliant and aesthetically pleasing idea of using compostable jute rope to make handles, so we are going to return the plastic handles and use the handcrafted jute rope handles instead.

In addition to the boxes, all of our printing is done using soy and vegetable ink. The only plastic in our packaging material is the tiny essential oil bottle cap that customers can return to us for recycling.

And we are sustainable in the day-to-day operations of running Herban Crafts: we ship only via the US Postal Service, which holds “Cradle to Cradle” Certification at the Silver level for human and environmental health; we reuse, recycle, and compost everything we can, from paper, ink cartridges, and shipping materials to herbal waste; and we source our ingredients and packaging to make sure not only that they have minimal impact on the environment, but that the people who produced them were paid fairly.

With Herban Crafts you are making a very important social point by involving unemployed women in the production. Do you think your products will be a "women only" affair?
Mary: I think it’s likely that our products will appeal to women more than men, and our immediate plans are to work with unemployed women. However, I would never advocate excluding men from any effort to lift up women – we’re all in this together! The reason we are focusing on women for the job skills training program is that statistics show that people living in transitional housing are more likely to be unemployed female heads of household with young children. So, by helping women, we are also helping children.

In the long-term, we would like to expand this program to work with other groups, including teens – both girls and boys would be welcome to join us if they are interested.

Although crafting seems to disproportionately appeal to females, I believe it can be a wonderful activity for men, too. There is a highly successful program started by crafter Lynn Zwerling called Knitting Behind Bars, which she runs at an all-male prison in Howard County, MD. Even hardened criminals open up when they are making stuff by hand.

Photo: Herban Crafts
You are using IndieGoGo to raise money for the production of your first kits. What has been the response so far? Are you getting the support you expected?
Karen: Crowdfunding, like IndieGoGo, has shown to be a very effective tool for raising money for small businesses. We’ve researched different ones and liked IndieGoGo and StartSomeGood for our purpose. We believe crowdfunding makes people get involved in not only helping startups, but it also allows them to support companies’ missions when they contribute. So far, we’ve had slow and steady contributions and we appreciate every dollar we receive. We also appreciate the outpouring of support in terms of people who want to help spread the word, or get involved in other non-monetary ways.

We appreciate your featuring us and hope your readers will learn about our products, our mission and our campaign on IndieGoGo.

When our IndieGoGo campaign ends on May 27th, we will launch a campaign on StartSomeGood, which specializes in organizations that have a social mission, like Herban Crafts.

How do you plan to expand your business? Will you introduce more DIY kits or you plan to stick to health and beauty?
Karen: As Mary pointed out earlier, our goal is to add additional earth-friendly craft to our product line in the future. We plan to sell to retailers like boutique gift stores, museum shops, nature stores, and even mom’s groups who are interested in home parties. We will receive feedback from those outlets to determine what people want, but we also have several ideas for products beyond health and beauty.

Make sure you follow Herban Crafts everywhere, there is much to be learned from these extraordinary ladies!

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