Meet the husband-and-wife co-founders of Plant Apothecary, Bjarke and Holly.
Holly McWhorter and Bjarke Ballisager, are a well rounded husband-and-wife team with backgrounds in architecture, journalism, and music. They started PLANT Apothecary back in 2012 when they saw an opportunity to promote healthy ingredients, environmental friendliness, and social responsibility. Starting with organic bodywashes, the line has since grown to include moisturizers, masks and more. We chatted with them to explore their current product line and what’s next for this dynamic conscious duo.
GP: Say I just stumbled blindly upon your company, how would you describe what it is you provide?
Holly: We’re an organic skincare and bath products company based in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. We also have multiple missions, environmental sustainability, social responsibility, [with] cool package design to whatever extent we can! We both [looks to Bjarke] have design and architecture backgrounds, that was a big part of where we came into this industry from.
GP: What was the local landscape of organic products when you entered the market?
Holly: At the time we started, about 5 years ago, there weren’t as many organic all-natural skincare products that were really straight forward with contemporary design focused on minimalism. It was either, we’re trying to sell you something luxury so you felt you were buying into the luxury life-style, or hippie centric, and either way, things were very status conscious, but we liked very straight forward products and packaging, so we created Plant Apothecary to fill the hole in the market.
GP: Can you talk to me about the responsibility aspects of your company?
Holly: Well, we use our product company to promote our other ideals, from environmentally sustainable ingredients and packaging to social responsibility. We do that by way of working with a workshop for disabled adults in Downtown Brooklyn called BKLYN UNLTD that provides work training for people with disabilities. They’re part of a non-profit organization that’s been serving the community in Brooklyn for over 100 years called Brooklyn Community Services. When we started out, they were doing all of our production but they’ve lost some funding and are shrinking. Their building was also bought by a developer, giving them less and less space, but it’s part of our mission to keep them employed.
At this point, we decided to take a look at their products. Holly’s husband and business partner Bjarke brought over a sampling of their skin and bath product line. I smelled the Super Soak, made with Eucalyptus and Lemongrass—it had a clean, light, and refreshing scent, sort of like a Spring or Summer day after it rains.
GP: How do you get them to smell so light and clean?
Holly: All of our products are made with essential oils only, so no synthetic fragrances. I do the formulations and I choose all the essential oils according to their classical proven aromatherapy benefits. I just try to combine them in new ways, it’s my way of putting a new twist on it. For instance, our CALM DOWN [body wash] uses organic ginger oil. Ginger is proven to help with anxiety.
GP: Is this something you were interested in before making your product line?
Holly: I’ve studied it along the way through family and friends, and over time began studying it in-depth. The way different essential oils work, the way different natural ingredients can be combined, just nerded out basically. But eventually, I built up a body of knowledge that we used for creating our products.
GP: What’s next?
Holly: We’re launching hair products toward the end of the summer, that’ll be interesting, it’s a whole new realm. We’re launching with two shampoos and two conditioners, one of the conditioners will be suitable for curly/coiled and textured hair because there’s a lack of really natural and organic that have a long shelf-life for natural hair. It’s something we’ve been trying to do for a long time, I’ve been working on the formulas for quite some time trying to make them work so hopefully they’ll make a bit of a splash. Our marketing approach for the line is that all are welcome. It’s for everybody, ethnicities, genders… I think a lot of brands aim for a presumed mainstream white audience or a particular ethic market, but we want to make something for everybody, which I think is a little unusual for the natural hair care industry.
Bjarke: The hair care product launch and doing some pop-up events are the two main things we are focused on this year. We’ve worked for a very long time on the hair care line, so it’s a big deal for us.
Holly: Oh and sign up for our newsletter [on the bottom of the page]! Also follow us on Instagram. The dream scenario would be for people to sign up for both, that way you can find out about what’s going on next.
GP: Is there anything you know now you wish someone had told you when you were a budding entrepreneur?
Bjarke: Ask questions. Be very aware that there’s so much to learn. Don’t hesitate to ask questions from business owners, entrepreneurs, innovators, or just anyone who’s more experienced than you. It doesn’t even have to directly relate to what you do, it can cross over. Someone experienced in another industry can have other ideas you can apply like getting connected in your community, hiring, et cetera. I think that’s the most important thing. I would also say SCORE. They’ve been really good for us, they give free business advice to entrepreneurs, I feel like we’ve been really lucky to get a great mentor there—who actually comes from the Radio Industry—he had great management experience and gave us great advice.
Holly: I’d say one of my bits of advice is plan ahead or at least have a structure in mind for if/when your business succeeds. Too many people start out saying, “Oh, I’ve got this idea and I’ll just bring it to market,” and they’re not really expecting it to work. So they’re not thinking about, ok what if we get this into five huge stores, and have to produce a whole lot of product, and market it, and oversee that production, and keep the office going, and ship things? Who’s going to do that? I think basically a lot might think it won’t get big enough to need help, it might.
You can find PLANT Apothecary’s products locally at Northside Pharmacy (559 Driggs Ave), or on their site. They’re also stocked in Manhattan at Lord & Taylor and CB2.
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