Herbal Grace Creations, a Maine-based, natural beauty/skin care company, is one of the many small, homegrown operations that I highlighted on my annual locally sourced holiday gift list. There are literally hundreds of these kinds of small vendors operating throughout the state. Whenever the list comes out, people ask me how folks are making an actual living by making and selling things on Etsy. I talked with Ashley Shay O’Neil and Lindsay Ryan Crawford, the sister team behind Herbal Grace Creations, to find out more about how they make it work.
What was your impetus for starting Herbal Grace Creations?
Ashley Shay O’Neil: I started researching and playing around with different herbs and oils back in February and made my first batch of salve in March. I fell head over heels in love with everything about the process and spent the next few months doing a lot of reading and a lot of ridiculous spending to build up a collection of ingredients I was curious about. I just wanted to play with them and see how each oil and each herb affected my daughter’s skin—she has eczema—and how different clays and essential oils affected my own skin. I was happy making a few things a couple nights a week and never really thought seriously about trying to make it into anything bigger than that, but one morning, Lindsay called me and said she wanted to join forces and it instantly clicked for both of us. We are almost complete opposites personality-wise, but it’s somehow a perfect balance. She’s very business-oriented and I’m not. At all. I love to create and my mind is all over the place all of the time with ideas.
Lindsay Ryan Crawford: For me, I really wanted to get back into business after taking a hiatus after having kids. My education and work experience are all in marketing, advertising, and public relations and I missed it. However, I never would have come on board, regardless of the sister relationship, if I really didn’t believe in these products and what they stand for. As the awareness of product ingredients grows, so does the desire to want a chemical-free solution. People are tired of only having one, not-so-great option out there.
How much of your time does it take to maintain the business?
LC: I came on board in August to handle the business side of things. To be honest, I never anticipated just how much this business was going to become our full-time baby. Every day is totally different; some days I’m on the computer all afternoon researching press contacts and updating Quickbooks while other days I’m making lip balms or shrink-wrapping jars in the kitchen right next to my sister. And most nights these days my husband and I head down to the basement when the kids are down to get shipments together. One of my friends, Hannah Blackburn—the owner of Seven Acre Toys in RI—said it the best: “Running a business is like having an anemic, colicky infant.” But, I wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s so fulfilling to see this business grow.
How do you get the word out about your products? What has the response been to your product thus far?
AO: Lindsay has 100% been the driving force behind getting the word out, so all of that credit goes to her. As for the response, it has been incredibly rewarding. Everyone seems to share an excitement for having effective organic alternatives and it just feels like more and more people are really starting question the ingredient lists of commercial products.
LC: Right now it’s a pretty even mix between Facebook, public relations outreach, and having a table at craft fairs. In a short amount of time, we have gained such loyal followers who love our products and have said goodbye to some of their favorite products—usually with chemicals—that came before us. New customers are so excited to come across our products. We saw this at the NYA holiday fair this past weekend. People are looking for naturally effective products that they can trust. They are ready for something different. There is certainly a transitional curve when switching over to natural. Textures are different and the strong perfumes are gone — not everyone is ready for it yet. Before this business, I was wearing the perfumes, using the chemical lotions, and putting on the aluminum-based deodorant without blinking an eye. But now with my awareness, and armed with products that are good for me, I will never look back. I think many of our customers feel the same way.
What are some of your other favorite Maine products?
AO: Well, I just bought a custom designed hat for my daughter from SweetStuff by lacylove81 that is absurdly adorable, so she comes to mind first. She is a crochet artist, it’s insane. There really are way too many insanely talented Maine artisans to even begin to wrap my head around that question! The Maine crafting community is so talented and so welcoming, and I’m truly and deeply impressed by every single one I’ve come across.
LC: There are so many talented Maine people out there. The list is endless. That has been one of the best parts of this business; diving head-first into this culture and uncovering talented artisans that I never would have known beforehand. A few off the top of my head: Tuck’s Toys of Maine, where we bought my son an amazing wooden moose pull-toy. Also Eco-Kids. And then I even have my friend, Shawna Ackley, who is making these incredible headbands, that is really starting to grow her business.
How do you find your products doing on Etsy?
AO: It’s been pretty mind-blowing. The fact that so many people from all over the country want to buy our products is crazy to me. There are hundreds of companies that make skincare products on Etsy, and so many of them look amazing, so it’s flattering beyond words to have someone choose us.
Are you involved in the Maine Etsy Team?
LC: I’m amazed at the exposure we’ve received from having our shop on Etsy. While about 60% of our orders come from Maine, I’d say about 30% come from California, and the rest comes from the states in between. We aren’t on the Maine Etsy Team yet, but we just sent in an application.