Rebecca Sinclair-Smith has been an acquaintance of mine for a few years. When I started toying with the idea of this blog about a year ago, a friend of ours mentions, “Oh, you should talk to Becky. She and her sister are making soaps and hand creams!” What?! I thought she was a graphic designer? Very confused yet equally curious, I picked up some of their marshmallow face cream at the Healthtree, on boulevard Saint-Jean. Light and moisturizing, and just a touch of sweetness to appeal to the senses. Great stuff!
It took several months of busy schedule comparisons, but finally I was able to go out and see the Smith sisters at their father’s farm in Saint-Polycarpe, where they now have their shop. Julia and Becky greet me as I drive up. We walk in to their stunning renovated farm house, wood beams and flooring, lots of windows and sunlight, a feeling of earth and nature from within and without.
We settle in by a large bay window with warm cups of tea, and Julia tells me how she, also in graphic and fashion design made such a big leap into making skin care products.
She was working for a firm in the city, lots of stress, and the usual “metro – boulot – dodo” routine. Not seeing herself doing that for the rest of her life, she quit her job and came back out to the country to help her father who was running a recruiting business from home. After about six months, she was feeling the stress once again – a call perhaps to something different? – but didn’t know how to tell her father. She felt she had painted herself into a corner and didn’t know how to get out. Her father did, after all, build this incredible sun room which we were sitting in, just for her to work from. Oops.
At the start of winter 2008, Julia decides to take a walk under the first falling snow. She lets her mind wander and her footsteps lead, thinking of the things she likes to do: sewing, making things with her hands, creating… Looking around her she starts thinking of nature, and how it would be nice to make things with the elements of nature. New buzz words had recently come into her vocabulary, like phthalates, parabens and sulfates. Is it possible to make hand cream with only natural ingredients? Aha! Back in the house, she Googles recipes for lotions, drives over to the Jean Coutu and finds all she needs in their apothecary section. She pulls out a food processor and whips out her first hand lotion with a discreet orange blossom scent. “It was like what you’d find out of a pump bottle” she reminisces.
That weekend there was a family gathering and everyone tried it to rave reviews. So here she was with an idea, family support, and as “luck” would have it, lots of time on her hands. We are at the end of 2008, the time of the economic downturn, and there was very little recruiting going on.
Even though Becky loved the product, she still was hesitant. She equated “home-made” to messy and complicated. But Julia explained to her how her products would be stabilized[i] and could be packaged and ready to sell. Becky was just about to begin a year off on maternity leave, so decided to join her sister in the venture. They started researching about emulsifiers, almond oil, shea butter, beeswax, rosewater and aloe vera. As Julia remembers, “It was the best year of my life, researching and sitting with blenders and mixers out at the farm.”
They spent a year developing their products and at Christmas of 2009, they were ready for their launch: a lip balm, goat’s milk soap, hair and body oil, hand cream and body lotion. The hand cream took the longest to perfect, tweaking the formula until they had it just right in order to protect hands in Canada’s harsh winters. Their goal has been to make natural and organic products, no chemicals or additives, that meet and even surpass the quality of the more well-known commercial brands. In my opinion and of many customers, they have succeeded. In 2010 they began their e-commerce, and now sell half at stores and half online.
Since then it’s been a steady growing period. They have received glowing articles in La Chatelaine, the Montreal Gazette, The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. Their products are in health food stores in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, since a majority of customers in these stores are also looking for chemical free skin and hair care.
Julia is now working full-time at the business, handling product development, production and packaging and shipping. Becky handles the website, social media and all graphic content, on a part-time basis (for now). They both share in doing PR and sales.
It’s with a mix of childlike delight, amazement and pride that they tell me of some of the feedback they have received from customers. “One woman sent us a letter she had written on the plane to tell us thank you for our great products!” It’s true, who does that? Only someone who really is excited about the quality of what they have just received. Another woman said that the products had changed her life, ridding her of her lifelong eczema which made it often difficult for her to leave the house. Yet another woman said that the goat’s milk soap has helped her rosacea – she’s reordered three times.
There are no scientific studies to back up these claims, only the heartfelt gratitude from their customers. Julia and Becky aren’t even sure themselves why their creams and soaps are so healing, but assume a lot has to deal with what’s not in them: all the chemicals, perfumes and petroleum-based ingredients found in most commercially-made skin care products.
They now have nine products for sale: the five mentioned above, plus a tinted lip balm, the marshmallow face cream, beer soap, and orange blossom facial toner. My favorites so far? The tinted lip balm (I always wondered how to get that slightly berry yet natural color to your lips, and this is tinted with alkanet root extract), and the Vitamin Rich Hand Cream (a lovely scent of lavender and mint – put it on, rub your hands together then take a big whiff… you’re immediately transported into a spa and all you muscles relax – I swear!…)
To find a store near you where products are sold, go to their website, www.smithfarmsproducts.com, click on “Retail Locations”.
You can also order online on their website. If you sign up for their free newsletter, you’ll get a coupon for 15% off your first purchase!
AND, they are now available on Amazon.ca!
Disclosure: Although I did purchase my first product of theirs (the Marshmallow Face cream), I did receive other products to try out for free.
[i] They use – Biosecur, made in Montreal, which is a preservative made from citrus extract and is organic certified by Ecocert.