“Engage your kids in nature.” With Penny Bauder & Julie Longyear

We believe that buying skincare should be a clear and honest process where customers can be confident that they are receiving the right products for their unique skin needs, thoroughly healthy ingredients, supporting ethical business practices, and getting a great value they can make into an essential and ongoing part of their daily lives. Engaging […]

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We believe that buying skincare should be a clear and honest process where customers can be confident that they are receiving the right products for their unique skin needs, thoroughly healthy ingredients, supporting ethical business practices, and getting a great value they can make into an essential and ongoing part of their daily lives. Engaging with our version of “beauty” should make people feel great in a wholesome way and builds a delightfully trusting relationship that always brings them back for more.

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Longyear, herbal chemist, formulator and founder of Blissoma.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I come from a very plant-obsessed family. My grandparents and parents were all big gardeners and just loved spending time in the garden. I exhibited a similar affinity when I went vegetarian in my teens, and was always interested in using plants for healing as well. During my late 20s I was experiencing a bad rush of acne and was frustrated after trying a lot of lotions and treatments and getting poor results. It was oily and dry at the same time, plus the steady cystic breakouts. I even tried going to the dermatologist, but the concentrated benzoyl peroxide wash they gave me burned my skin pretty badly and I only used it maybe 3 times before giving up. I had already been playing with essential oils and other plant based ingredients to make aromatherapy recipes and so I figured I’d try my hand at making emulsions and products to try to help my skin since nothing from the store was helping. As I was ordering ingredients from different suppliers I noticed what a huge difference there was in quality between the oils and herbs from organic food suppliers versus oils that were sold by cosmetic ingredient distributors. The organic food based ones had beautiful colors and aromas and were incredibly vibrant. The ones from cosmetic suppliers were all so bleached out, odorless, and similar that other than the label on the bottle I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between them. That’s when I realized that the ingredients going into most cosmetic products are a pale shadow of the original plant from which they came. That really sparked my desire to help connect people more directly with the authentic experience of different plants from around the world. Quality ingredients and cultivation matter and the difference people see in their skin are a strong testament to how our unrefined, gently handled ingredients really work.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

The Blissoma mission is to offer healthy, sustainable personal care products that are intelligently designed, deeply supportive to the human body, and that help our clients address and improve complex skin challenges in a holistic way.

We believe that buying skincare should be a clear and honest process where customers can be confident that they are receiving the right products for their unique skin needs, thoroughly healthy ingredients, supporting ethical business practices, and getting a great value they can make into an essential and ongoing part of their daily lives. Engaging with our version of “beauty” should make people feel great in a wholesome way and builds a delightfully trusting relationship that always brings them back for more.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

In 2019 our solar panels went live on our roof, and those are dramatically reducing our energy use. We have a nice, big flat roof that gets plenty of sun and we’re able to generate about 80% of our electricity ourselves. It took about 2 years of work to get the loan for those and finish getting them installed but I breathe a lot easier knowing we are doing what we can to reduce carbon.

We are also working on sourcing more of our herbs hyper-local, and a farm just a couple hours away from us in Illinois is starting to grow herbs for us. We always look for organic or regenerative farmed ingredients to ensure that the land is being treated well. Our store fixtures are mostly heirloom furniture pieces that we’ve fixed up and our office furniture and file cabinets are all reused items. A lot of our business is conducted online which helps us save paper, but when we do print like for brochures, cards, signs, and booklets it’s all on recycled, FSC certified paper. We just try to make the most sustainable decision we can afford to make in any given circumstance, as our goal is not just to heal people but also to heal the earth.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

I would just say that creative reuse has been one of the biggest ways we’ve been able to get what we have needed over the years. If I’m able to use a slightly beat up old file cabinet instead of going and buying a new one that’s that much less money I had to spend, and the former owners of my current building were able to just leave items like that here for us. Our industrial shelving in our production area came nearly free from the stock room of a Nordstrom’s that was getting rid of a bunch of it. A friend that worked there called me one day just frantic and told me to come pick up as much as I could. I paid $25 for probably several thousand dollars worth of shelving that has served us for over a decade now.
In addition our clients love our sustainability initiatives, and they are happy to support us as a result. While the primary reason they buy our products is because they love how they feel and work on their skin they also love that their purchase is doing good in other ways too. We make sure to share what we are doing, and they are always passionate and happy to hear about it. It increases their loyalty to us and adds meaning to their experience of shopping with us.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

I’m going to be simple and just say that parents should really get kids out and engaged with nature in whatever ways they can. Whether that’s hiking and camping trips or helping with neighborhood cleanup, or visiting wild animal sanctuaries to get to see the non-human creatures that we share space with, it’s all-important. When I was in elementary school my girl-scout troop spent an afternoon cleaning up cigarette butts and trash from the side of the road and that left a deep impression on me. I was just horrified that people would toss their trash all over, and was determined never to do that. On the positive side my parents took us canoeing and camping frequently, and the trips spent floating down a wild river created a sense of peace and admiration for the natural world. I think it’s hard to want to protect something you don’t understand, so making sure to have those experiences where there is direct interaction with wild places and creatures is incredibly important. We have to remember we are not here alone, and that non-human creatures have value and a right to be here in a clean environment.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. It’s going to take longer than you think to make a profit.

2. Focus on serving the needs of others, not just making things you want to make.

3. People are going to shock you at times with how horrible and how wonderful they can be.

4. Get really good at keeping strong boundaries, you’ll need them for your emotional health.

5. Sustainability includes your own needs.

I was a little naive when I started and I didn’t have any experience managing other people or dealing with all the aspects of a business. I was a creative person who liked making things and wanted to sell those things. Everything else had to be learned along the way, and managing people has honestly been one of the hardest parts for me. I have had a tendency to self-sacrifice a lot and I have had to stop doing that because it literally gave me a chronic illness. I think a lot of eco-entrepreneurs tend to be idealistic and invested in doing good in the world and often we leave ourselves out of the healing efforts. We give and give and then collapse. Once I realized that my business is not actually truly sustainable unless it includes and serves my own needs things started to shift in a better direction for me. Obviously the beginning of a business is often hard, but I now have a lot better sense about how far to push myself and how to navigate relationships with the people that work with my business whether employees or clients or suppliers.

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?

My dad was really the first person to take my business really seriously, and honestly if he hadn’t helped with some of the crucial structural parts of starting a business I might not have been able to do it all. I came from an art background and so “business” has been a new set of skills for me to gain over the years. He had a masters in business, so he added a lot of the skills I lacked. He helped handle establishing the initial trademarks and market research, and also created cost projection spreadsheets and taught me the math to estimate costs and how I should price things to make the levels of income we’d need. I just recently showed my cost calculation spreadsheets to my bookkeeper and she was blown away and said most accountants probably wouldn’t even have known how to do that. My dad eventually parted ways with the business but he still jumps in to help with repairs and advice, and even helped with some major parts of the initial renovation of our current manufacturing space. Because of his support I was able to take this project from being something I just sold at craft events to a serious, global brand. I’m extremely lucky that he believed in me.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want more people to pick up heritage skills like sewing, growing food, canning, etc. I anticipate that being truly more self sufficient in these ways is going to become more important, and it also builds a deep appreciation for what we do have when we see how much work it takes to create our basics. We are very used to having goods and food that is made and grown half a planet away, and most people have no concept of what it is actually like to harvest a carrot or sew a shirt. If they did they would not be so fast to discard things. We can have rich lives with dramatically less consumption than we currently engage in, and that’s going to be necessary in the future as the planet strains to support our consumption. It’s also just rewarding to know that you have the skills to provide for your basic human needs.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover” — Henri Poincare

I think one of our challenges as humans is to balance these two aspects of ourselves, the logical aspect and the aspect that has a deep knowing and sensing that comes from within. Both have value, and only with both can we find the best path for ourselves. Creativity comes from our intuition, and many of the hardest decisions that we will make are also rooted in this deeper place. Data by itself is meaningless without our sense of knowing to interpret and apply it. Science has enjoyed a lot of prominence and high regard in our culture but the value of intuition is regaining ground as well. I know that the best decisions I have made have come from trusting my inner knowing. Sometimes you can’t say why you know something, or where that next great idea actually came from but it came all the same.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?


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