Welcome, Baby! July 18 2015, 4 Comments
I'd like to introduce our new addition! Baby Lily was born on June 24th, weighing 6 lbs 9 oz and measuring 18.5 inches. (Yes, that would be the day after I went on maternity leave- excellent timing, little one!) She is a sweet and happy baby and we are completely smitten! Our days have been spent soaking up the baby snuggles, doing our best to function on little or no sleep, and marveling at how fast it's all going by.
I'll be reopening the shops in the second week of August. I have a fantastic assistant who has been working with me, and she'll be packing orders for a few weeks while I take a little more time with the baby. We won't be restocking any sold out products during that time, but business as usual will resume around the beginning of September. We did a lot of restocking right before I went on leave so most things should be be available.
Thanks for sticking around during this amazing/challenging/stressful/exciting time! I'm anxious to get back to the workshop and start putting together a fall collection for you guys… but first there are some baby cheeks that need kissing.
-Brooke (& Baby Lily!)
Firebird in the New York Times! March 27 2014, 19 Comments
When someone contacts you and asks if you'd like to be interviewed for the New York Times, you don't say no. I mean come on- it's the New York Times!
I was told it was a "trend piece" about "beauty products on Etsy" and the reporter seemed genuinely interested in this whole "underground" beauty culture that she never knew existed. Our interview was conducted over the phone while I was driving back from vacation in the Outer Banks last summer, and the signal kept cutting out as we drove through areas without reception, so the conversation was a little stilted and I came away from it feeling like there was a lot more I would have liked to have said.
The article came out today- you can read it here. While I'm certainly grateful for the exposure (and look at that huge picture of me! ack!) I am pretty disappointed with the content. I've been speaking to Rhonda from Erzulie Cosmetics, who was also featured, and she feels similarly conflicted.
It not that it was an unflattering portrayal of either of us- it wasn't. And I wouldn't expect any article to be all sunshine and roses- it's not an advertisement. But the second half of the article presents a very biased and one-sided perspective. In our interview, I addressed virtually all of the points the author brings up- yet my perspective on those issues is mostly absent. The impression it gives me is that she approached the article with a certain point of view (a different one than she led me to believe, for the record) and then chose quotes and information to support her perspective, ignoring anything that didn't. Which- this is a column, yes? It's more editorial? So she's free to do that, I suppose.
But it's disappointing. I feel like I can't share this article in good faith without attempting to address some of the the inaccuracies and misleading statements in it. So I'm going to do that here. I'm going to start at the bottom of the article and work my way back up, because that happens to be how I would rank the strength of my objections from least to greatest!
"The goods sold on Etsy can disappear overnight" (Noella Beauty)
I do not know Jackie from Noella Beauty and I have no idea why she appears to have closed her Etsy shop and shut down her business. People close their businesses for all sorts of reasons- I think it would be disrespectful to speculate. But we were interviewed for this article EIGHT months ago. The only other contact I received from the author was an email three days ago to fact check my sales numbers and let me know the article would be running today.
You've probably read some of the statistics reporting that more than half of small businesses fail in their first few years- some sources say as many as 8 out of 10. That one of the three businesses profiled for this article closed sometime in the last 8 months is not only unremarkable- it's statistically very likely. And it's hardly an "overnight disappearance." The author could have acknowledged this fact or omitted Noella Beauty from the article, or simply added a post script that the business had since closed- that she chose instead to salaciously imply that all of us could disappear at any time (as if that weren't true of ANY business, internet based OR brick and mortar) speaks to a bias that comes through in much of the article.
"Although problems are rare, they can arise" (Glittersniffer)
Or rather, they arose once. Three years ago. And never before. And not since.
We all cringe when Glittersniffer is brought up. It was an awful situation. Again, I don't know Lela, I've never spoken to her, I was made aware of the situation the same way everyone else was- through blog posts and social media. If you're not familiar you can probably do some googling and get the background on the story. Essentially, a mineral makeup seller was discovered to be using colorants in some of her eye shadows (neon soap dyes, I believe- don't quote me on that) that were not meant to be used in leave-on products or around the eyes. People had some skin reactions. There was a big scandal, with accusations and coverups and drama and witch hunting (certainly justified, but still. You know how the internet is.)
It was ugly. And it was disturbing both to buyers ("how can I trust that the products I'm buying are safe?") and sellers ("how are we ever going to get customers to trust us after this?")
What Glittersniffer did was HIGHLY irresponsible and dangerous. I don't believe (and if you know otherwise, please correct me) that any serious injuries or lawsuits came out of the scandal, and all parties involved are extremely lucky for that. It could have been a lot worse.
But I think the fact that this was an isolated incident speaks volumes. If this was something that happened all the time- if handmade beauty product sellers regularly used unapproved ingredients and harmed people- you'd be hearing about it. The way the Glitternsiffer scandal grew from some rumblings and questions from customers on some message boards to a full-blown Internet Scandal that shut down the business is a great reminder that we do not live in an era where things like this can slip by unnoticed. The investigative powers of groups of people on the internet are quite a thing to behold. And their mob justice is swift and vicious.
The fact is, for many of us this is our livelihood. We take it seriously. One lawsuit from a customer could easily ruin any of us (not just our business, but our lives), not to mention the p.r. fallout that even a hint of wrongdoing would bring. The risk of making unsafe products is so very great, and the reward is… what, exactly? If there was anyone who didn't take those risks seriously before, surely this opened their eyes.
"The 'ick' factor"
Here's where the author's bias becomes clear. It's pretty telling that she chose only to include quotes from a dermatologist (who is obviously unfamiliar with handmade beauty products) and none of the responses and counterpoints that Rhonda and I made addressing those sort of concerns, or comments from experts on our side of the fence (a spokesperson from our trade organization, for example), or comments from customers who are actually buying these products.
"Some people are just grossed out by the concept of buying makeup that has been made at someone’s kitchen table." "You don’t know …how clean the person’s kitchen table is.”
Of course, as Rhonda from Erzulie Cosmetics and I both explained in our interviews, we don't work at our kitchen tables. Like virtually all of the soap and cosmetics sellers I know on Etsy, we have dedicated workspaces purely for manufacturing our products. We follow the FDA's Good Manufacturing Practices as much as we are able with the space and equipment we have. We keep up with regulations and labeling laws. We take cleanliness and the health of our customers extremely seriously. I come from a food service background and regularly apply my knowledge and experience with sanitation, avoiding cross contamination, keeping a clean workspace, proper storage of ingredients, and so on.
We are professionals and we conduct our businesses professionally. And the author was given plenty of information about that, which she chose to ignore in favor of this narrative about kitchen tables. (Because. The ick factor!)
"It’s like what your mother told you: don’t share makeup with your friends,” In a worst-case scenario, Dr. Baxt said, consumers could contract pink eye, a staph infection or contact dermatitis (effectively, a rash). “This could happen with regular makeup, too, but at least you know what is in it and how it was made,” she said."
Setting aside the fact that the dermatologist quoted seems confused about the difference between USED cosmetics (which could certainly give you pink eye or a staph infection, if the person who used them before you had either of those conditions) and handmade products (does she think we are scooping ingredients with our fingers and smearing them on our faces before we make them into lip balm?), the last part is the most telling to me.
You guys are Etsy shoppers, so I think you know where I'm going to go with this.
"[With commercial products] at least you know what is in it and how it was made"
Alright. Deep breath. Have you ever read a statement that so bluntly misses the entire point? I explained all this to the author (not that you'd guess it from the article!) when she asked me why I did what I did, so I will address myself instead to the dermatologist.
Ms. Baxt, let me introduce you to a little website called Etsy.com, and this cultural phenomena known as the handmade movement. We are living in a consumer culture that is heavily invested in the disconnection of makers and users, buyers and sellers. We shop at big box stores, where every item inside was assembled in distant factories overseas by countless pairs of hands attached to people we know nothing about, who know nothing about us. We buy our meat from the grocery store, in hermetically sealed packets of styrofoam and plastic, carved into little cutlets that bear no resemblance to the animal from whence they came. Where do things come from? They come from the store. Before that, they come the factory. Before that- who knows. Who cares?
I suppose I can't blame you for your squeamishness. We are so disconnected from the sources of things and how they are made that the idea of someone else's hands touching the products we buy can seem gross and wrong to people. Nevermind that every time you eat at a restaurant, multiple pairs of human hands have touched your food, and that yes, in the factory those commercial cosmetics have been handled too. You don't see those, so you can ignore them.
But you see, there are a lot of people out there who are dissatisfied with this system. People who are seeking a deeper level of connection to the things they buy and use, and with the people who make them. People who want to buy their meat from the farmer and not the megamart. People who want to buy something made by someone, not just manufactured somewhere.
Do you really know more about what's in that lipstick you bought at Sephora than the soap you bought from me? Do you know more about how and where it was made? Who do you think cares more about you as a customer, your safety, the quality of your product- the assembly line worker at the cosmetics plant and the sales associate who takes your money at the store? Or the sole proprietor who designs, makes, packages and ships and corresponds with you directly, whose entire livelihood depends on your happiness as a customer and your willingness to return and purchase again and spread the word about my company?
These handmade products- you worry because you don't know who has touched them? Oh, but you do.
Here I am. These are my hands. This is my workspace. This is where your lip balm is made. You know exactly where my products have been and how they were made because I am right here to show you and tell you and answer your questions. Do you really think you know more about the products you buy at Sephora?
Rob Kalin, the founder of Etsy, once described the site's mission this way, and it still pretty much sums it all up for me:
"Etsy's marketplace is a community. At the heart of every transaction is a direct relationship between the maker and the buyer.
We, the members of this community, join together to earn a living from what we make and to support those who make things. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice: Buy Handmade. Cradled in our community, our intention is to support the independent artist and create viable alternatives to mass-produced objects in the world's marketplace.
With the Industrial Revolution we lost the connection between producer and consumer; we no longer know who makes our daily bread, our clothes or our furniture.
We are using the Web to reconnect: to once again allow the producer and the consumer to know each other; to swing the pendulum back to a time when we bought our bread from the baker, food from the grocer, and shoes from the cobbler.
Through the forging of friendships and with a commitment to hard work, our community and our cause will prosper."
To which I would add (with a few more borrowed words): if you have to ask why this is important you're not going to understand the answer anyway.
Introducing: The THROWBACK Collection February 19 2014, 0 Comments
Part two of the Firebird 5 year anniversary celebration is here! Introducing: The Throwback Collection.
As the 5 year milestone approached, I found myself doing a lot of thinking about the past and future of Firebird- where we came from, where we're going, how we got to where we are now, and how we are going to get to where we want to be. While going back over old notes and looking through old photos the idea of recreating some of my oldest scents popped into my head and I instantly knew I had to do it.
It was fun and kind of surreal to rediscover fragrances I created so long ago- most of which I haven't smelled in years. The visceral link between scent and memory is strong and inescapable. As I was making these soaps the house was filled with familiar smells that transported me back to a different time and place. Suddenly it's the summer of 2008. I am newly married and newly unemployed. I'm standing at the counter in the narrow galley kitchen in our tiny one-bedroom apartment, fragrance bottles lined up on the counter, blending and designing and experimenting. I have a plan to turn this soap thing into something real and every day I am more confident that I'm going to make it work. I can feel the breeze from the open window and hear the noise from the street below. For the briefest of moments it's as real to my senses as if it's actually happening right now.
Isn't scent amazing? Now on to the collection:
Black Pepper & Fig- sweet fig, black pepper, raspberry.
Before there was Moroccan Fig, there was Black Pepper & Fig. I ended up going in a floral direction with Moroccan Fig, but the original was fruitier, with the soapy clean and spicy kick of black pepper. (I think I like this one better!)
Bergamot Pear- juicy pear, citrusy bergamot.
This one also falls into the "soapy and clean" category. The sweetness of the pear is tempered by the bitterness of the bergamot. I think "crisp" would be the best word to describe it.
Agave- lime juice, bitter orange, cardamom
Oh hey, Agave. Where have you been hiding? I forgot how much I love this one. I may keep it around for the summer. It's fresh and citrusy but with a sweet and complex undercurrent . Something about this scent makes me think of drinking margaritas on a sunny patio somewhere, with a warm vanilla and cardamom scented breeze blowing by (maybe there's dessert on the table? I don't know- just go with it.)
Rosemary Mint- rosemary, mint, geranium
Quite possibly my favorite rosemary mint combo ever. I use those two notes a lot- they give a cool herbal quality to blends. But this one isn't as heavy on the mint- the rosemary and geranium dominate- so it's less cold and more green.
Russian Tea Cake- sugared walnut, vanilla, butter cookies
Russian Tea Cakes- those little ball-shaped cookies coated in powdered sugar- were a staple around Christmas time when I was growing up. This smells exactly like them and it makes me happy. I need to call my mom and get her recipe.
Applewood- cedar, oakmoss, red apple
This is not identical to the original Applewood- some of the components were discontinued. But this scent was so loved by it's fans, I had to attempt to recreate it. Heady woodsy and spice notes give a masculine, cologne-y sort of vibe, and then there's this fresh apple thing going on. It's not for everyone. But I suspect if it's for you, you know it.
Lavender Cocoa- lavender, vanilla, milk chocolate
Lavender and vanilla is a classic sleepy-time calming blend, and the milk chocolate adds an extra edible dimension. Smelling this makes me think lavender hot chocolate would be a REALLY good idea.
Shop the limited edition Throwback collection HERE
(and remember- 20% off these and all soaps- and lip balms- through midnight on Friday with code CELEBRATE5)
Firebird Turns 5 February 14 2014, 1 Comment
Firebird turns 5 years old today. It's hard to believe it's been 5 years since I listed my first bar of soap for sale. To be honest, it feels like a lifetime ago- but at the same time I find myself thinking "5 years? It can't have been that long!"
The catalyst for starting this business was sudden unemployment. I had been working at a job I had grown to hate (the latest in a series) and when I was fired unexpectedly, something inside me changed. I came home that day, walked directly into the kitchen and poured myself a shot of whiskey, and said out loud: "I will never work for someone else ever again." I didn't know exactly how I was going to do it. Firebird was something I'd been dreaming about, filling notebooks with sketches and ideas. But in that moment I was certain: "I will find a way to make it work. I'm not going back."
And I did, and I haven't. And I feel it every bit as strongly today as the day I first heard myself say those words out loud.
It's been an amazing journey so far and I can't wait to see what the future brings. Of course it wouldn't have happened without all of you. You buy my products, you use them and love them, and from the bottom of my heart: thank you so much. Because of you I get to spend my days creating and doing what I love, and I could not be more grateful. Thank you for sharing this with me.
On to the good stuff- all soaps and lip balms will be on sale for the next week. Use the code "CELEBRATE5" for 20% off from now until 12 EST 12/21. Mini soaps are not included, and the code is valid only at firebirdbathbody.com (not on Etsy.)
And I'm not done yet: I have two additional surprises for you coming next week. Check back Monday and Wednesday for details.
Once again: thank you, thank you, thank you!
What's New: Viking & Blood Cedar Bath Salts January 27 2014, 0 Comments
I've been wanting to revamp the bath salts line for awhile, so I thought I'd let the new year be an excuse for a few new scents.
Viking was an obvious choice, since the Vikings basically invented the custom of regular bathing and were the forbearers of the sauna/bathing culture that exists in Scandinavia to this day. Not to mention the fresh and wintery masculine scent is so seasonally appropriate (and you guys seem to love it as much as I do.)
The botanicals in this one are birch bark and iceland moss- for your authentic recreation of the Viking bathing experience (burly bearded fellow and cup of mead not included.)
Blood Cedar was my next selection- this one's been getting a lot of requests. If you like patchouli, this one is for you. Even if you don't, don't dismiss it without a try- the cedar adds a woodsy cleanness and the blood orange is bright and delightfully fresh.
Blood Cedar is blended with dried orange peel and Hawaiian red alea sea salt.
In order to make room, we're saying goodbye to Ginger Tea and Black Tea & Mint (just the salts- both scents will be sticking around in other products.) I've got a few more new ones in mind, but I'd like to hear from you- are there any Firebird fragrances you're dying to take a soak in? What are your favorite relaxing or refreshing scents for bathtime?
Fragrance Notes: Green Walnut September 30 2013, 3 Comments
I was walking in the woods with a friend the other day and we happened upon a large black walnut tree. She has been asking me to make her a walnut perfume, so we started talking about that again. It's not the scent of the walnuts themselves that she's looking for, but the fruit that contains them. The heavy tennis-ball sized green fruits that drop beneath the tree give off a startling spicy green citrus aroma with earthy undertones.
Apparently you can pick them from the trees before the walnut even has a chance to develop inside, quarter them, put them in jars with alcohol and spices, and age it for awhile to make a liqueur the Italians call Nocino (which is going on my long list of infusions to try the next time I have a gallon of vodka leftover from a party or something.) Unfortunately the juice from the fruit turns a deep mahogany brown and stains anything it touches, making an infusion for perfume purposes a little impractical.
But I did the next best thing and set about recreating the scent when I got back home, starting with verbena for the herbal lemony brightness, black pepper for spice, and cedar wood for the earthy base. It's kind of weird, but I like it: citrusy and dirty and fresh smelling at the same time. I'm interested to to see what my friend thinks!
A New Home September 02 2013, 0 Comments
Welcome to Firebird Bath & Body!
It's hard to believe we've been around for five years and are only just now getting a "real" website set up, but here it is at last. We won't be leaving Etsy any time soon, rest assured- so if you like to shop there you can continue to find all your favorite Firebird products. But having our own site gives us more creative control and lots of room to grow! Stay tuned for good things to come.