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Headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, Mary Kearns' business calls one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation home. But with easy access to the Shenandoah Mountains in the opposite direction, she's not that far from rural America as well. That's sort of the balance she sought to build into the name of her business.
"I wanted to get the idea across that herbs are an important part of my products, and to convey the idea that the ingredients come from the earth, as opposed to a chemistry lab," she says. "Since I am located in an urban area, I thought that “Herban Lifestyle” captured the idea of getting back to nature and the basics, even in the context of a non-rural environment."
We asked Mary to tell us more about her organic, natural, and Fair Trade ingredients, and about green news from Virginia that's inspiring her these days.
Green America: What does your business do, and what are your most popular products?
Mary Kearns: Inspired by my herbalism studies and work as a health research consultant, I cook up soaps and more from the yummiest, healthiest ingredients available, then wrap them in fun, earth-friendly packaging. It makes me happy when people smell my products and say, “I want to eat this” and I can confidently respond, “Technically, you can.” I make nostalgic men’s grooming products, intriguing fuzzy soaps, luscious skincare products, and delicious handmade soaps, in my Falls Church location.
At craft and trade shows, my most popular product is the fuzzy soaps. They are soaps made with organic oils that have been wrapped in organic wool (dyed by crafters in the northeast US), which creates a built-in washcloth. People love the look and feel of these unusual soaps. And since they are scented with organic essential oils, they are a fun sensory experience.
What makes your business "green?"
Ginger orange beer
Mary: From the ingredients, which are organic, Fair Trade, and/or ethically wildcrafted to the way I test my products (always cruelty-free and never tested on animals) to my recycled, recyclable, and/or biodegradable packaging, I try to run my company in a sustainable a manner.
Because I care about the health of people and the planet, my products never contain artificial preservatives, synthetics, artificial fragrances, artificial colors, petroleum-based ingredients, GMOs or any other ingredients that are suspected of being harmful.
All of my products are handcrafted in the DC area by me, my friends, and my family. And I source my ingredients from suppliers who ensure that their workers, and all those involved in the production of those ingredients, are treated fairly and humanely.
In addition to being a certified member of Green America and Leaping Bunny, I am also a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, and an Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partner. And I support my local green community through my involvement in the Sustainable Business Network of Washington, LiveGreen, and Think Local First.
What did you do before you started your own green business?
Organic solid lotion bar.
Mary: I have a BA in Fine Arts/Communications and a doctorate in Developmental Psychology, with a focus on Health Psychology. In addition to running Herban Lifestyle, I also work as a consultant in the scientific review of health promotion research. I have also studied herbalism. So, Herban Lifestyle is a way for me to combine my interest in health and wellness with my need for creativity.
While I enjoy working on the promotion of health and wellness from the perspective of education and promotion of information on healthy behaviors, I have found that it is much easier (and more fun) to spread the word about healthy living through bath and body products. I have had many opportunities to talk to people about the importance of what they put on their skin, and how this can affect their health. It’s also an opportunity to talk about self-care on all levels.
What's the most exciting news from the green economy you've seen lately?
Coconut lime soap.
Mary: I was thrilled to see that Virginia is the latest state to pass B-Corp legislation, which establishes companies’ duties to uphold profits as well as responsibility toward their community and the environment. They are among several states that have either passed or are in the process of establishing B-Corp legislation. I really like this concept since it is a way for companies to formalize and measure their commitment to sustainability.
What would you tell other green entrepreneurs just starting out; what was your biggest "oops" before you knew better?
Mary: I’d say my biggest “oops” was assuming that people understood what “green” means and could see the value in it. I came to realize that, while there are many people who do understand, it is important to emphasize the quality and other aspects of your product or service as first and foremost, then let people know that you are also green and sustainable (it’s like a wonderful bonus prize). If people who are not typical green consumers are drawn to your product because it looks great and works great, then this provides a great teachable moment.
What's the next green step you're working on right now?
Dolce di Limon lip balm.
Mary: One of my long-term goals is to evolve my business into a social enterprise. For the past couple of years, I have been speaking with various people, and reading up on organizations that have created jobs and job training for underserved women. I liked the concept of the Enterprising Kitchen, and was sad to see that it had gone out of business. I would like to create something like that, but in the form of a for-profit entity. As my idea develops, I hope to work with someone who has mad business-plan writing skills to lay it all out in a way that will be appealing to potential investors.
What green product (besides your own) could you not live without?
Mary: That’s a tough question; there are so many that I rely on every day! Lately, my favorite green product is my aesthetically pleasing kitchen compost pail. I recently broke the beautiful white ceramic one that a friend gave me, and replaced it with a larger stainless steel model that matches my appliances. When I was without one for a week, I realized how much I rely on it. It’s a super-easy way to collect kitchen scraps and herbal waste, plus the carbon filter keeps the flies and smells at bay.