Consider the afterlife of everything you buy- The zero-waste movement is one I really respect, but honestly, it has been a challenge for me in some ways. I have not been able to obtain a “trash jar” status or upcycle all my waste to divert it from a landfill. I occasionally use plant-based disposable diapers, well aware that they still have to go into a landfill. However, I do think about the manufacturing, shipping, distribution, use, and afterlife of everything I bring into my home. I find this stops many wasteful items from ever entering my house. I opt for biodegrade items I can compost, bulk shopping options, very little single-use plastic, and if I can’t get what I need in a sustainable format, maybe I don’t need it!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alesia Lau.
Alesia is the founder and master crafter of Sea Witch Botanicals. Starting her career as a certified aromatherapist and massage therapist, she quickly moved to a more plant-based format. It is her goal to help protect the lands and waters she loves by bringing awareness to environmental toxins and getting people to enjoy natural products more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have always had an interest in foraging for interesting herbs and crafting salves or sculptures. My first career was in massage therapy, but what I really latched onto in that field was aromatherapy. As it turns out, massage therapy isn’t for everyone, and it most certainly wasn’t for me.
As a kid, I was almost always sick. Nobody really knew what was wrong with me, but my sinuses seemed to always have some agitation. Was it allergies? Fortunately, I was able to take this sickness and really listen to my body to figure out what was going on. I gained a great sense of body awareness that seems to be missing in our culture.
When I moved out of the house and lived on my own, I was able to limit my exposure to everything (it helps when you’re a broke college graduate on your own for the first time). Very quickly, I found that any fake fragrances would give me an awful headache, so I took steps to avoid them.
I decided to end my career as a massage therapist and eventually took a job at a local soap supply store with some great people. I found that in soap and lotion crafting I could utilize all of my past education and hobbies in a way that benefited myself, and those I shared my goods with. However, there was this sickness I hadn’t felt in years. I looked around and realized that there were most bottles of synthetic fragrances than essential oils. “What’s even in these oils?” I thought to myself. So I did some research.
As it turns out, synthetic fragrances (often called “parfum” on ingredient listings) is like a slurry of chemicals which can not only cause allergic reactions (throughout your whole childhood), but also impact hormone development, and can be passed on through the body for up to 3 generations. Well, I looked around for sources of these fragrances. You can find them in candles, cleaners, and even clothing.
It was at this point that I realized I wanted to get more people interested in all-natural ingredients and products, there are a lot of unnecessary and harmful ingredients used in soap and cosmetic manufacturing, even on a crafter scale. I quit my job and started Sea Witch with 2,000 dollars in my savings account and a whole lot of ambition.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
This is for sure a job where interesting things happen every day, but I would have to say the largest lesson I have learned is the value of a happy team. Sea Witch started as myself and shortly after launching my mother-in-law came aboard to help me with sales.
Our first hire was a persistent farmers market co-vendor who, despite our assurance that we were not hiring, continued to inquire weekly. This employee turned out to be my right-hand lady and truly aligned with our values. Julie was our first hire as a market salesperson and quickly became our first and only full-time employee as our sustainability steward. She helped us to achieve our B Corp certification, 1% for the planet partnership, Certified Vegan, and Toward Zero Waste.
I have had years of management experience but had never encountered a situation where an employee loved their job and enjoyed working hard to achieve a shared vision. I learned that if you encourage, empower, and respect your employees they will not only be an invaluable team member, but they will become leaders in your work culture. Julie was our first employee but we have since grown to a team of ten, and we have the same expectations with every new hire. It makes for a wonderfully happy workplace.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I and many other business owners make in the beginning is to work for free, to not put any value on what they are doing. I am happy to say that 6 years later I am able to take a paycheck home, however for the first 5 years we were in business I worked 6–7 days a week, without compensation. Now don’t get me wrong, I am glad I did it — it allowed us to grow and bring on employees and really set ourselves up for success. However, when the time came when I really needed to be pulling in an income, it was very difficult to allow myself the luxury of having value. I found I had guilt every time I paid myself. It also makes it difficult for you to set boundaries on how many free and specially priced promotions and collaborations you will do. Lesson learned, my time is valuable and I should not feel guilty about that!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As I mentioned earlier my mother-in-law Cat was the first to join the Sea Witch team, she worked tirelessly and often without pay to get us at as many shows, and markets as we could manage. She has many years of experience managing and running a publishing company, she is a fountain of knowledge and really pushed us to succeed. Without Cat, we would probably just be another soap company on Etsy, instead of a growing team of ten happy employees who have their goods in over 500 retail locations.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
The initial mission was simple, to keep synthetic fragrance oils of cosmetic and home goods, and therefore out of the waterways. Synthetic fragrance oils, in my opinion, are the most insidious toxic ingredients, they are in everything from your soap to your stain remover. Fragrance oils are compiled of 100–1000’s of different industrial grade ingredients and are only tested and regulated by companies who manufacture them. The ingredients are not, and never have to be, listed on packaging as they are considered a trade secret. Not only are many of these chemical concoctions mild irritants provoking Asthma and headaches, but they may also contain parabens, phthalates, petroleum, and cancer-causing chemical compounds. Studies have found that the endocrine system damaging ingredients can stay in reproductive organs for up to 3 generations.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Switch to bar soap- This simple action will trigger a cascade effect in your life. The first all-natural switch I made to my daily routine was to switch from body wash in plastic bottles, to 100% natural bar soap. Once you do this you will quickly find more items to swap out for healthier, more sustainable and, believe it or not, better household items.
- Drink more water- This one is the hardest, and actually the reason why I stopped being a massage therapist, I would work my hands to the bone and put all of my emotional energy into healing peoples bodies, and the simple truth was if they were properly hydrated, they would not only feel way better but many of their underlying health conditions would be improved. I was so defeated to see a client on a weekly basis suffering from muscle fatigue, tightness, headaches, and muscle cramping EG they would refuse to properly hydrate themselves. Water is essential, have some, I promise you will feel better.
- Read all ingredient labels, and avoid “fragrance and perfume”- I started reading food labels a lot in my early 20’s trying to solve some lifelong digestive issues I had. This morphed into reading all my labels, and not just reading them but researching every ingredient to see its purpose, quality, and safety level. It does take me a little longer to shop than your average person but I can not tell you how many health problems I have solved by avoiding things like fragrance oils, petroleum, parabens, and additives like sodium lauryl sulfate.
- Make your own cosmetics- I used to think I had sensitive skin, come to find out most makeup contains a bunch of crap that is horrible for your skin, and your organs. I made my own mineral makeup, it is very simple, affordable and best of all, I wear less makeup and look better than ever. I look back at high school photos and shudder, why did I feel I needed to paint my face with petroleum-based clown paint? Natural beauty is way more, well, beautiful!
- Consider the afterlife of everything you buy- The zero-waste movement is one I really respect, but honestly, it has been a challenge for me in some ways. I have not been able to obtain a “trash jar” status or upcycle all my waste to divert it from a landfill. I occasionally use plant-based disposable diapers, well aware that they still have to go into a landfill. However, I do think about the manufacturing, shipping, distribution, use, and afterlife of everything I bring into my home. I find this stops many wasteful items from ever entering my house. I opt for biodegrade items I can compost, bulk shopping options, very little single-use plastic, and if I can’t get what I need in a sustainable format, maybe I don’t need it!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Honestly, I would start a “your perfume stinks” movement. I think it’s really strange that you can saturate yourself in perfume and go out into public, but it’s considered rude if anyone asks you not to. In fact, in the past, I have had to quit jobs because of other co-workers’ love of fragrance and HR’s refusal to ban it from the workplace. Smoking has been banned in public places for good reason, I see fragrance oil as much air pollution as smoke and would love to see it disappear from our culture.
Many people like myself avoid movie theaters, restaurants, salons, and shopping centers due to the overpowering aroma of synthetic perfumes and colognes.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Only do free work if you truly expect nothing in return-in the beginning we would send out free “press kits” to anyone and everyone who would take us up on the offer. The idea was simple: we wanted reviews, good or bad, we just wanted to get our name out there. However many times people would enjoy our free goodies and that was the end of that, no review, no tag, no referrals. I still love giving stuff out for free, but I have learned if I want a review in return, say it, make part of the deal. It’s ok to ask for things.
- Being a woman, especially a youngish woman means that sometimes people will not take you seriously- This lesson has been the hardest when it comes to loans, large expenses, and even some business interactions I have found that people want to speak to my husband. We have all been there, you walk into the car dealership ready to buy a car and the sales associate only speaks to your husband or even son. I have learned to simply set the standard right out of the gate, I explain it’s my business and I am more than capable of handling any questions or tasks.
- Owning your own business is not easier than working for someone else, but is more rewarding- Every day I’m thankful to be my own boss, yes owning your own company means a lot more responsibility, a lot more to do and no time off. But I would not change it for the world, if I am going to work my bump off for someone (which is just the way I operate) it might as well be for myself, cultivating a successful and happy team in a healthy work environment.
- You don’t get time off- This is probably the hardest lesson learned, when I started off the appeal and reality was that I could work a flexible schedule, take a Wednesday off and go hiking when the trails were not full of weekend warriors. As we have grown, I now find I don’t get anytime off, this is a personal goal of mine to migrate some of my workload to employees, make time for self-care, and learn that it’s ok to let an email wait until Monday so I can spend time with my daughter on Sunday.
- A business is a child- this may sound a little dramatic but it really is not an overstatement. As your homegrown company grows you nurture it, encourage it and yes sometimes you disappoint it, just as with parenting. I am a super lucky mother, I have a wonderful daughter Ripley who is 2 and hopefully will be running Sea Witch in the future. I can’t imagine being one of those supermoms with multiple kids and companies to run, they are true goddesses and I bow to them! I find that running Sea Witch takes just as much time, attention, and love to nurture as raising Ripley.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Environmental changes are at the forefront of all my thoughts, from running Sea Witch to raising my daughter, to deciding what underwear to buy. All decisions are influenced by the environmental issues we are tackling today and in the near future, I am always thinking about how my actions will affect the earth I want to leave for my daughter, and future generations.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Instagram tends to be the most engaging and fun platform we use, I really enjoy the community of support we see on Instagram.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!
Thank you for such fun and interesting questions to answer! It was truly a pleasure 🙂