Welcome to our Personality Spotlight, Shirley! I'm so happy to have you join us with your gorgeous line of completely natural skincare products. Please tell us about yourself.
Thank you Sharon, I am delighted to be part of All Natural Beauty!
I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, where I still live. I’ve travelled extensively, and there are so many beautiful places, but this is where my heart is.
I’ve been a student of natural health and skin care for the past 30 years, back then I wouldn’t have imagined being the owner of Alki Organix, but then I wouldn’t have imagined many of the adventures of my life! I’ve followed a deliberate path, but I am often filled with gratitude and delight at what I’ve found. Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” I believe this is true, and I am always studying and learning.
I was a bit of a geek as a child, and spent more time in the library than anywhere else, I read through every section systematically. My favorite section was history, and when I was very young I thought I would be an archeologist. I come from a family of musicians and artists, and play a number of instruments and painted as well. In my teens I was studying classical guitar and initially thought I would study either history or music in college.
But, I was also incredibly shy and although I was always very good at academics I was determined to overcome this shyness, so I decided to study art in college because that was what demanded the most of me. Sure you are more or less alone while you create the art, but then you have to subject yourself to critique by your professors and classmates – in public! It’s a method of dealing with things I’ve become quite addicted to – face your fears, take on the hardest issues, it’s OK to be scared – but do it anyway.
I have a BA in Fine Art and my first career was with artist’s materials, through that I became fascinated about managing business. In my 30’s I also studied for and have a degree in business management as well. I held several managerial positions during the past 30 years mostly in the high tech business. Always being fascinated by understanding and solving big problems led me to studying for and becoming a Six Sigma Black Belt, this is a method of problem solving for business that stresses understanding the problem BEFORE deciding on a solution, then testing to verify you have it right. I think it’s a great way to approach any issue you want to handle, including skin care! The last 7 years of my career in the corporate world I held a number of Director positions that focused on fixing broken businesses. Confronting, understanding and fixing big problems, it’s what I love to do.
Who or what inspired you to go the natural way as well as start your own line of products?
I started down the path to a natural approach to health in my 20’s. At the time I was dealing with some chronic health issues and my Dr. prescribed antibiotics that worked only temporarily and made me feel quite ill while I was taking them. When I mentioned this to my surprise he wrote me yet another prescription for the same thing! I took a bold step, I didn’t fill it. While I think the medical profession is a noble profession and has helped many people, but I also now believe there is much we can do for ourselves rather than immediately seeking a prescription for everything.
A friend was very much into natural health so out of the desire to find something that really worked to resolve my issue I saw a naturopath. He took time to find out about my lifestyle, eating habits and stress levels. He prescribed some herbs and vitamins and then gave me advice on my lifestyle which included taking time to eat better foods and to drink more water; at that time I don’t think I drank much water at all! To my delight I not only healed, but I also felt great as I was healing! That is what started me down the path and I’ve never looked back!
I was so intrigued! I bought & read a library full of books, researched, experimented and started paying attention to what I did and how I felt. It was truly a turning point. My favorite go-to books are Phyllis A. Balch’s “Prescription for Natural Healing” and “Prescription for Herbal Healing” I’ve read these cover to cover, and bought every updated version over the years.
I applied what I learned to my life, and as a result I’ve been very healthy since my 30’s. My studies to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach expanded my knowledge, and included incredible lectures from Dr’s from Harvard, University of Arizona, & UC Berkley teaching the latest findings on diet and health. I love learning, and I love natural approaches to health, so this was an incredible year of study for me, and my studies continue!
My path to natural skin care also started in my late 20’s. My skin is extremely sensitive, in my youth I struggled with chronic rashes and dermatitis; it was embarrassing and extremely uncomfortable. I had numerous prescriptions for hydrocortisone over the years but the problem persisted. I wanted to understand the root of the problem and solve it! It was after seeing the naturopath that I started making the connection between my skin issues, the foods I was eating (or not eating!) and the products I was using. I started paying attention to my body, and I realized that my skin was reacting to products. When I stopped using them the dermatitis cleared, just as when I improved my diet my health improved!
You might think extremely sensitive skin is a problem, but actually I consider myself quite lucky considering what is in most skin care products. We know that eating whole healthy foods is good for our overall health; our skin is part of our body so why would it be different? Since there was nothing on the market that I could use for many years I didn’t use much of anything except fragrance free soaps, honey and natural oils.
But as I approached 50 I found that I really did need extra care for my skin (with age comes wisdom, and drier skin!) So, I solved my own problem. I researched heavily into skin care, how products are made, and what ingredients are used and why. When I learned more about what is actually in most commercial and even some handmade lotions and skin care products I was horrified, but also thankful for my sensitive skin!
With the downturn in the economy I came to a crossroads in my life where I needed to make a decision on what I wanted to do with my life. As I’ve said I love solving problems and the universe handed me a doozie! I was laid off from my successful professional career in the corporate world. During the past 3 decades I had always asked for and taken on the hardest business problems because I loved solving them. My strong belief is that we all win together or we don’t win at all, I proved over and over this approach worked.
But with each passing year I was more and more uncomfortable and frustrated with what felt to me like tons of energy expended for little or no true purpose, and directions were often taken that did not benefit customers or employees! All that energy to create nothing good or lasting! I was unhappy, but felt trapped. As I see it the universe gave me the shove that I needed that year.
I almost went back to the corporate world but as I was contemplating a job offer I decided it was time to follow a new path. It was a tough, scary decision, but if nothing else that is something I gravitate towards. I decided to take a big risk and follow the path presented to me. Since I had been wanting to follow a path more connected to natural health for many years I followed my bliss – nothing is certain so why not do what you love? After all, I thought, I was 54 –“ if not now, when?” I completed a year long program of study to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and I opened my natural skin care business, Alki Organix, with the formulas I made for myself and loved.
Although some handcrafters will make products using a commercially purchased base I make all my products from raw materials. This was not the direction I wanted to take. Instead I wanted formulas that met my criteria for excellent, completely natural skin care, and they had to work for me personally.
I looked first at formulating with water because it seemed every product seemed to use it as the primary ingredient. The more I researched the more I realized water was only included to ‘bulk up’ the product, and that once water is introduced toxic preservatives must be included. For business reasons it’s very attractive because it is the cheapest ingredient, and when 80% or more of your product is water it makes for a big bottle of lotion at a nice profit for the manufacturer. But water creates life, including those forms we may not care for! I also believe it makes the products less effective, and there are many who agree with me. Water is absolutely critical for our health, and the health of our skin. Many of us do not drink enough– but it’s best for skin from the inside out!
For my formulas I looked first at straight natural cold & expeller pressed oils with strong traditional usage first, I loved them and had been using them for years, but they didn’t totally resolve my dry skin issues. I tried various oils that were suggested. Then I thought: I love honey; I love oil for skin – what if I could combine them?
The result of oils combined with honey & witch hazel and for really dry skin the addition of apple cider vinegar plus extra moisturizing natural oils made an incredible formula. The addition of beeswax helped protect skin and hold the moisture in. But, it was the honey that really made the difference and I use honey in every balm I make. I love honey for skin, it’s been used for thousands of years for a reason, it’s soothing and moisturizing. I wondered if different types of honey might have different effects, and they do, which shouldn’t be surprising, but it was to me.
When I discovered Manuka Honey I was making my own balms & facial products with fabulous results. My skin never had it so good! It was something I wanted to share! And as I have been talking to people over the past few years about natural skin care I am amazed at how many people are just like me!
Your company name is Alki Organix. Does it have a particular meaning, and why did you choose it?
I was born in Seattle and have lived in the Pacific Northwest all my life, in Seattle proper since the early 80’s. Alki (pronounced ăl’-kai) is the name of a beautiful beach and vibrant neighborhood in West Seattle. It is the birthplace of Seattle, full of artists and free spirits; it has been a special place for me. I moved to West Seattle also in the 80’s near this beach and have loved it. It’s a special place. My company represents a new path and a special place in my life, so it seemed only proper to me to name my company after this place that has been so special to me for so many years.
What standards have you set for your company and products? Also, which are your favorite products within the line and why?
The standards for my products are very high, I will only make products that I would personally use! I use only natural cold pressed or expeller pressed oils, primarily organic or wildcrafted, and I won’t add anything to a product that I wouldn’t want on my skin.
I also work to select every ingredient for its benefit to skin regardless of its function within the formula. My standards for my suppliers are just as high. I don’t go for the cheapest source; I buy only from reputable suppliers who share my standards for purity. For example I purchase my Manuka Honey directly from a beekeeper in New Zealand, and my essential oils from the most reputable manufacturers. I also have to admit, I am an impatient woman, I want ingredients that are totally natural and that also work quickly & effectively. If I don’t see the results on my own skin, I won’t offer them in my product line.
For my face I love my Manuka Honey Facial and Honey & Roses Facial. My Manuka Honey Facial & Honey & Roses Facials are also my best sellers, which I admit surprised me. It was something I was making for myself and will use it forever because of how incredible it is, but I almost didn’t put it in my line because it’s very different from other facial cleanser/moisturizers on the market and I didn’t think my customers would be receptive. I was wrong! These are hands down my best sellers. For hands my favorite products are my Sweet Honey Balms, because they work so effectively for dry hands, and during the time of year when my hands are extra dry: Gardening Hands Balm.
Gardening Hands was actually the formula that launched my business. My hands were getting so dry from the gardening, dishwashing, home remodel work we were doing that I started joking that I could sand wood with the back of them! Other Health Coaches were raving about coconut oil for skin – saying it was a miracle (yeah, OK…), so I tried straight coconut oil, it helped a bit. I added Avocado oil to the Coconut oil, and it helped a bit more – then the wheels in my head started turning.
I took everything I knew about natural ingredients for skin and went into research mania – what to use, how to do it, what’s good, what’s bad, what I wanted to avoid using and how to use natural ingredients for everything (like lecithin instead of an emulsifying wax because I knew it was wonderful for skin because it is an essential fatty acid, though a sticky nasty mess when applied straight, but I knew it was the emulsifying part of eggs for making things like mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce! Finding information on how to use it for lotions was incredibly hard, most said, sure it works but don’t bother! LOL. True, it’s not easy – there’s a trick to it – just like making a good hollandaise sauce, but it works and in my opinion it’s worth it.
It’s a good thing I was a curious child and learned how to cook everything from scratch even in grade school – I just wanted to know how everything was made and learn how to make it myself (even things like tomato soup)!
Please share your experience with being a business owner. What have you learned along the way?
Deciding to start your own business is not something to take on lightly, to succeed you need a clear idea of what service or product you want to produce, a clear vision of what you want to achieve, an eye for details and the ability to sell yourself. You also have to be very clear on who you are and what you stand for and what your true goal is so that you are not tempted to stray from the path you’ve set, but at the same time you need to be open to new ideas and methods that come your way that can lead you to your goal.
I’ve had people suggest I should seek venture capital, but that is something I simply won’t do, because I know all too well the compromises in quality that come with this. Running your own business is a journey, in self awareness as much as in the mechanics of running a business, and though I didn’t really expect to be doing this I am glad I did. It’s had its moments where I’ve felt overwhelmed with everything I’ve had to learn, but I would not change it. My goal is to provide the most natural, effective skin care possible, and I love it when I hear from my customers that they love my products!
You are now our 'Whole Living' writer at the ANB Mall. So far I'm loving your articles! Please tell me about what you believe 'Whole Living' is all about.
Whole Living is basically A Holistic Approach to Health and Beauty. Can the path to better health and beauty truly be as simple as eating whole foods and avoiding toxins in personal products? Can eating healthy foods be delicious and simple? I believe it can, and I have seen the results in my own life and in those around me.
The solutions we seek for health and beauty are both simple and complex. Simple, in that everything we need for health and beauty is available all around us in nature. Complex, in that there are synergies that we have only just begun to understand. I believe in the scientific method and also that science has given us a better understanding of the world as well as many wonderful things, but I am also a skeptic, especially when I am being marketed to!
There are so many myths about health and diet that persist and continue to be marketed to us even after they’ve been disproven (for example: low fat diets are good for health and weight management)! Desperation seeks a miracle answer and can be prone to false hope and easy ‘answers’ to problems. This is why I take a whole food approach to overall health and beauty rather than trying to isolate a single vitamin, mineral or enzyme. It’s better to eat right and avoid the problem!
I began my own journey to better health decades ago when dealing with persistent skin and health issues. Being insatiably curious about how things work and a natural problem solver I always look to find the root of a problem. In my quest for better health and beauty over the years I experienced the positive effect of healthy lifestyle in skin care, in diet and in spiritual ‘diet’ (learning to love and forgive myself) on my own wellbeing. But in this quest I’ve also spent a lot of time going down false paths, looking for that one isolated miracle ingredient!
The more I learned the more I began to understand that life is a complex synergy, and given how little we truly understand, a ‘whole’ approach was best. But even as I became more aware of what I should be doing I found myself struggling to fit a more whole and natural lifestyle in with my extremely busy modern life. But I was persistent and over time I found easier ways to do this.
Each of us is individual and there is no one right answer either for skin care or for diet, but there are basic fundamentals we have in common. I believe the answer is just as simple as understanding those basics, paying attention to what works for you, and then finding easy ways to bring those more healthy habits IN to crowd the unhealthy ones OUT. In the meantime – forgive yourself – you’re only human after all!
Whole Living is dedicated to sharing information, insights and tips for a healthier diet and lifestyle.
You've told me that you live in a very special part of the state of Washington. Please tell us more about it and how it inspires you to do what you do, as well as what you like to do for fun.
I’ve told you about Alki, the special place in Seattle – now I feel very privileged to live in yet another magical and special place; Skagit Valley in Washington state. Skagit Valley is a river delta that connects to the sea, located about 60 miles north of Seattle. We are surrounded by mountains, rich farmlands, and a vibrant marine economy.
My husband and I decided it was time to move from Seattle when I was no longer tied to a job in the city. We spent quite some time researching. We both loved and had a special connection to Seattle and wanted to continue to live somewhere near Seattle, and somewhere we loved. We were also moving not only our household but also my business and his. My husband builds guitars (mcelroyguitars.com) and I think for a creative person being in a special place is important, and inspiring.
We are surrounded by beauty. There are many wonderful organic farms nearby so we have access to incredibly fresh organic produce all spring and summer, and with the local salmon fisherman we also get some of the freshest salmon! In the spring the tulip fields bloom, the colors are incredible!
The Skagit Valley is also where huge flocks of Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans winter. There is also a huge raptor migration here and thru the spring there are large numbers of Bald Eagles. We are also surrounded by so many like-minded people. We are delighted with our choice.
My husband and I love to travel – or perhaps more correctly – we love to explore! We have a wonderful little RV that is also very efficient on fuel that we use mainly for travelling to Guitar Shows for his business, but once the show is over we like to take time to explore the natural beauty of our country. We’ve driven coast to coast, and travelled through nearly every state. We’ve seen some truly beautiful and amazing places. Our next trip will be to Memphis this coming summer, and I can’t wait!
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