This guest post comes from our contributor FP Naomi.
Nestled in the streets of Astoria lives a woman who creates magic. Her botanical concoctions will cast a spell over your skin in an instant. She blends, oils, hydrosols, herbs, shea butter – you name it – into all-natural healing elixirs for the skin. Walk up the stairs to her at-home studio, and immediately the aromatic notes hit you. Plants twist and wind everywhere, reference books sit on the shelves, and unique trinkets scatter the space. The woman herself is Dominique Caron, founder of Caru Skincare Co.. I sat down in her studio to learn more….
Tell me how it all started?
So I have really sensitive dry skin, and I break out easily. I’m also kind of a tomboy, and I’m just not somebody who wears a ton of makeup. For my old job, I even couldn’t wear makeup, I would get too sweaty and dirty. I sort of became obsessed with having good skin because if you can’t hide it…
It all happened in conjunction with me becoming more aware of eco-friendly products. I started eating organic, going to the farmer’s market, buying green cleaning products… but then up to a 100% of what you put on your skin gets absorbed and goes straight into your bloodstream. So a combination of being aware of that, and then trying to find a product that worked well with my skin, I just got really frustrated. I had started making my own soap, and then from there I started making my own products. And, I found that my products worked better than the things that I found on the shelf. I got really great reviews from friends and family members who tried my stuff, and I was like, “let me try selling it.”
Officially, I launched online in March 2013.
How did you go about learning the craft?
It was a little bit of just reading and you know, trial and error. But then I also took courses. I took some science courses and botany courses around the city. I also took a six month herbology program at the Herbal Bear School of Botanical Medicine upstate. It was a great course. It was taught by a chemical engineer, and her passion is herbalism. She was a great teacher because she had a very strong science background and then she also knew a lot about herbs – and she had this amazing garden we could work with. I’ve also been taking certified aromatherapy classes, learning how to work with essential oils for different purposes.
Tell me a little bit about your packaging, I know it’s really special.
When I decided I was going to sell the stuff, my big thing was, I’m not going to package the way that I hate how everyone else packages. I know it’s cheaper, but I hate when products are really packaged and I hate when products are packaged in a way that I can’t recycle. We’re lucky now in NYC where you can recycle almost all kind of PT plastics, but in most places they only recycle 1 & 2. So my solution was glass because, a) you’re not worried about anything leaching into the product, and b) it’s recyclable, it’s clean, and it’s reusable.
The adhesive labels for my bottles are made out of a stone paper that is 80% limestone dust. It is the equivalent byproduct for a quarry as to what sawdust is to a lumber yard. The paper is naturally white so there is no need for bleach, it’s water resistant, and the process uses less water, energy, and no trees. It’s just a greener product. It’s also recyclable in both paper and plastic streams.
For printing, I found a great printer who offsets his energy use with wind energy. He’ll use eco-friendly inks, and tries to be as eco-friendly as possible. The soap labels are imbedded with wildflower seeds. They, too, are printed with eco-friendly inks and are nontoxic. My concept was transforming trash into an asset that you can plant in your garden or at home in your windowsill – or make seed bombs out of…
Where does the name “Caru” come from?
Thinking of the name took forever. I had so many names I loved, and then I would look them up and somebody had already started a business with it. But the caru comes from the root of my last name, Caron. The root is actually Welsh, and it means “to love.” I felt it fit very much what I wanted my business to be. It is a business that is honest, that’s transparent, that is loving to its customers and to the planet. It sounds a little cheesy, but, you know.
Tell me about the process in which you develop new products and get inspiration?
Usually it’s a compilation of people asking me things. Once you tell people that you’re working with essential oils and skincare, they really open up. They’ll say, “Oh, I have eczema,” or, “I have really oily skin,” or this and that. I then know there’s a need for something and that people want it. That is how I get ideas for what kind of products to produce. As far as actual production process, a lot of it has to do with research, trial and error, and getting the ingredients. Then I make different batches and test them out on friends and family. Now when customers get back to me and tell me they love my products, it makes me feel very confident.
Do you ever modify based on customers’ feedback?
Yes. I am planning on changing some of my products. Maybe changing the scents or the recipes. I love when people give me feedback good or bad because it helps make my product better.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
I love helichrysum. It’s also known as immortelle or everlasting. It can help with scar tissue, anti-aging, even fungal infections. It’s such a powerful healing herb that I love working with it. I also love rose. I feel like rose is kind of cheesy, “everyone loves rose”, or whatever. Some people think it’s old lady. But the thing is, if you smell fresh rose it’s just so relaxing. It smells amazing. There’s something about it that is intoxicating. I also love cedar. I’m a huge fan of the florals and I’m a huge fan of the woods. It smells very masculine while still being feminine enough. That woodsy earthy scent, I just love. It’s also great for the skin.
Obviously it takes a lot of courage to pursue a passion project and start your own business. What advice would you give to people either thinking about starting or who have set out on one?
Let’s say we’re talking about selling a product or service specifically. One thing is, it’s really hard to tell without experience selling your product whether you’re really going to be able to make a living at it. Not everybody can do this, but I definitely recommend doing it part-time for a year or more to know how people react to it. Is there a demand for it? How much can you expect to sell? It’s good to have a passion in something, but you have to know if there is a demand for it before you really spend your life savings or quit your job. At the same time, if you can do it part-time, just do it. Just try. If you wait 10 years and you never try, you’ll never know.
Tell me what a day in the life is like for you.
I wake up in the morning – I love the mornings – so I always make coffee and my breakfast, and read a little. The rest of the mornings are usually spent answering emails, sale inquiries and customer service kind of stuff. Then the rest of the day is sort of mixed between – depending on what is needed that week – either making a product, packaging a product, mailing out orders, or doing accounting work. It really changes day by day as to what the main bulk of work is.
You live in Astoria, I hear it’s a really cool area. What do you love about it and what are some of your favorite spots?
I love the food in this neighborhood. Queens is the most ethnically diverse place in the world. If not number one, I’m sure it’s top five. So the food here is amazing. I also love that it’s a family neighborhood. It’s clean, it’s quiet, it’s convenient. My favorite Thai place in the area is called Arharn Thai. You wouldn’t think this would be good, but their Thai Wonton soup…we are obsessed with it. Anything you order there is just really good. There is also a bar down the street called Sunswick. They have something like 50 beers on tap. I also really like Sansford’s Diner. They are open 24 hours, and have a $16 prix fix brunch. It’s good American style food. You get the meal, coffee, and two cocktails for $16.
When you’re working, what is usually playing on the speakers?
It’s always changing. I play a lot of podcasts like This American Life or Radiolab. I just discovered Stuff You Should Know, it’s a bit more geeky science-y, but it’s really good. I love Planet Money, and I also really love All Songs Considered. Otherwise – music – my tastes really vary. I’ve been loving The XX’s new album…Alt-J…and I always go back to the Amelie soundtrack.
If you weren’t doing skincare, what would you be doing?
I would probably be making my own movies. Documentaries specifically. That was my passion forever. I went to film school, and before I started doing this I was a lighting technician working on movies and TV shows.
In that case, what are some of your favorite movies?
I have a lot of movies I love, but lately I just love TV. I feel like TV is reaching a new level that movies just aren’t able to reach. Now TV shows, you know ,Game of Thrones, or Madmen – my new favorite is American Horror Story – they can actually spend money exploring the story and they have the time. So I’m really excited about where TV is going. There is still tons of crap out there, but I feel like the really good stories are being told through TV now.
A big thank you to Dominique for letting us into your studio & workspace. What a beautiful person, what wonderful products, and what an inspiring life.
Check out Naomi’s blog Numie Abbot.