This has been such a long time coming.
In older DTS videos I opened up the comments for a “ask me anything” video. And we shot it...3 or maybe 4 different times, and tried to upload it and every time we did we ran into problems. I gave up, pretty sure I'm cursed.
So without further adieu---- I submit the answers to your burning questions about Dreaming Tree Soapworks and how I work.
1. What got you started making products?
I'm allergic to a lot, I always have been. As a kid my grandmothers had to buy me special soaps, Mr Bubble was my nemesis (still is), if my clothes where washed in Tide or used fabric softener or dryer sheets I'd break out in hives and itch endlessly. When I was in my late teens it actually got worse and I developed psoriasis. Rx products and treatments didn't really help, commercial products, especially lotions and body washes made it even worse even though everything was fragrance and dye free.
One day walking home from work I went into the health food store and I bought a bar of Burt's Bees Green Goddess soap, figuring it cant be any worse than anything else and at least its environmentally friendly. I used it and it was the first time in my memory that I got out of the shower not red and itching miserably. The light bulb went off, maybe it wasn't the dyes and fragrance causing the problems but all of the other ingredients instead and my research journey began. I quickly learned that all “natural” products where uh—erm...not up to my expected standards and the best way to control the formulas, problematic ingredients and quality of said ingredients was to make them yourself. I've been researching, creating formulas, and making products for almost eighteenish years now—maybe longer.
2.What was the first product you made?
It should be no surprise to anyone but soap. Body wash was/is my nemesis that was the first product I had to replace entirely. Because I was new to the process it was a simple unscented, olive oil and cocoa butter recipe, which would years later, down the road be reworked into one of Dreaming Trees current soaps for super sensitive skin Pure of Heart.
3.What inspired you to make your own smelly goods/go into business?
I'd been making my products for myself, friends, gifts, patients and colleagues at work for several years to enthusiastic reviews. Since I was a kid I had always dreamed of having that little witchy smell good shop like Sally in Practical Magic. I left my job on 5th Avenue because of health reasons and the commute was just too much on me, my friend and former partner in Dreaming Tree had also been laid off and we were having a “girls day” to try and cheer ourselves up. We experimented with and made sugar scrub from one of my formulas and it was real good. We got talking saying...you know ...and we started to put down roots of what was to be Dreaming Tree Soapworks.
I focus on smell goods because my personal experience and research showed me that ingredients other than fragrance and color have a heavier weight in determining skin sensitivity. And even though sometimes necessary (there is always someone allergic to anything at any time), being relegated to a “fragrance free” isn't very inspiring. Smell after all, is the one of our five senses that are closest linked to memory and even imagination.
Fragrance and color get the “bad wrap” because they are the easiest ingredients to remove from a formula and sometimes due to commercial use concentration levels are indeed part of the problem but there's almost always more to it than just that. Cosmetic chemist don't like facing down removing or replacing skin feel ingredients, foaming agents, and preservatives. It impacts shipping, shelf stable times, and increases costs which most big companies discourage. I'm beholden to no one but myself and you guys so I can spend the time, research, and invest in my formulas/ingredients. I make everything myself so I can put in the work. I try to balance fun, interesting, imaginative, SAFE smelly goods with good for you formulas.
4.What is the inspiration behind the Dreaming Tree?
Spoiler Alert: It has nothing to do with Dave Mathews Band, and DTS existed before his wine.
I love sci-fi, fantasy, fairy tales, mythology and have been a life long theology and occult scholar and soap making is a lot like the concept of alchemy. I wanted something that would sorta unite all the things I love and interest me and still be broad enough to explore and bring in new things. The Dreaming Tree was perfect because in nearly every belief system and realm of fairy tale there is a tree of significance. It is sometimes the world tree, the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, tree of magic, tree of power and endless other iterations but its always there. I like to think of the Dreaming Tree as the tree that connects histories, worlds, beliefs and dreams.
Weird DTS coincidence: The tree part began as sorta a generic twisty tree stamp that I altered, six years ago I felt I wanted something less generic and set about painting a new Dreaming Tree. Not consciously modeled after any tree in particular just a magic tree in my imagination. Two years later when house hunting we found the real life manifestation of the painted Dreaming Tree. We bought the house, the real life dreaming tree is a MAGNIFICENT seventy year old magnolia and its in my front yard. Meant to be, whaddya think?
5.What is your favorite aspect of owning your own company, especially one of this kind?
Owning a business: Being creative, making things by myself.
Business of this kind: Me, my husband, my house and my workshop always smell good unless something has gone horribly wrong.
6.Is Dreaming Tree a collective effort with family and friends?
While my family and friends are supportive of what I do, nope, this is primarily a one woman show.
I research, formulate,buying, test, produce all products, make all art, design all labels, package all products,take all the product photography, made/maintain the website, pack and ship all orders, legal and regulatory stuff, do as much social media as I can handle (which yes is lacking we'll get to that). From time to time I pay/barter help to come in and wrap and label product and my husband will help with the website if something is wrong I can't figure out and newsletters. This year I'm looking into finding a part time assistant to handle some of the tasks can be delegated like wrap and pack and social media/outreach which I'm not really suited for and struggle with.
7.How do you balance Dreaming Tree with your other responsibilities and ya know, life?
I wish I could tell you the fairytale social media and life coaches try to sell you about this amazing mystical work/life balance. I can't because it doesn't exist, not if you are in business for yourself. When DTS hits production cycles and the busy season the house, laundry, fun, fall to chaos for the sake of DTS.
After so many years its hitting the wear and tear on my already compromised body, pretty hard. So the past year I've tried to set some hard boundaries between DTS time and all other things. I do not work weekends or what are “mornings/days” for you guys are “nights” for me, or holidays anymore. I try to limit my social media for my mental health (long story but necessary thing to do), and listen to my body. If it hurts (soap and body care making in scale is hard core physical yo) or I'm tired or hungry I HAVE to stop. Those things... there are no more compromises on.
On a practical level, aka keeping it all straight, I rely incredibly on my Samsung Galaxy Note phone and Google calendar. I write every little thought, idea, task, due date etc down then add it to my google calendar. I make lots and lots of prioritized lists and a white board for important reminders. If it is not written down it doesn't exist nor never will happen. I'm also working on simplifying the catalog and ditching the “collection” release system to make things more efficient and less stressful and overwhelming.
8.What is your favorite product to make and why?
My favorite products to make probably won't surprise anyone. I love making soap, the entire process, when alone, is just magic. The results are so satisfying. My other favorite product to make is candles. I am and always have been a candleholic and there is just so many candles out there that just aren't good. I'm always trying to make them be the best they can be and still be affordable. I'm especially in love with the new Story-time candles. I personally love burning the larger size and I'm so happy to be able to integrate more of my traditional art into Dreaming Tree and I'm trying to find ways to integrate more without the cost of an entire brand refresh. Maybe not this year, but it is very likely there will come a time where the Dreaming Tree will just become a wax and soap company.
9.What product is your least favorite to make?
Lotion hands down. Because lotion is a water based product it requires and extreme amount of care and stringent adherence to a more extreme sanitation policy to avoid bacteria and mold feeding contamination. After the formula was developed I had to challenge test it to prove the efficacy of the preservative system I use and since I'm dedicated to a higher standard, I retest every batch. It's expensive, time consuming, and more than a little stressful. There is plenty of sellers that don't do this or feel it necessary, but I've seen too many reports of bad batches to feel comfortable selling a product that isn't. There's also the option that other sellers use of just scenting an pre-made unscented base...but that undermines one of the things Dreaming Tree stands for-- being hand made. Scenting a pre-made base is not hand made.
10. Another two parter.... What inspires your scents? How do you come up with them?
What inspires my scents?
All things that I love. Tolkien, comic books, shows I like, fantasy, mythology, Disney, magic, fairy tales, folklore, books, seasons, nature. It's me calling the shots so I don't have a lot of personal restrictions really just the one; I don't do dupes.
How do you come up with scents?
If you don't already think I'm a weirdo, this is where you're going to think I'm a weirdo This is also kinda hard to explain, so it's gonna get strange. The best way to explain it is as a scent synesthesia. Synesthesia is is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. My brain associates smells with visual stimuli even things/pictures I imagine in my head. So I take a name or concept of whatever the scent is going to be called or themed and then look at lots and lots of visual stimuli that my brain associates with that theme and let the smell come to me, making a list of them. I then take the list to my scent library in the workshop and start blending and mixing until the scent I've created matches the scent I smelled when I had the visual representation of the theme. It's why sometimes in the DTS Facebook group I ask questions like “what does XYZ visual thing smell like to you?”
There ya have it! I want to thank everyone who posted and emailed questions. I'm sorry this took so long but I really wanted to make sure I acknowledged you.
Blogging is a thing I'm bringing back, since videos have turned into a nightmare for me (YouTube sucks). What would you like me to talk about, what would you like to see? Let me know in the comments!
I hope maybe you found the read a little relaxing (yey no ads!) and even interesting.
Have a magical day!