Welcome to the Personality Spotlight, Donya! Your company, Dropwise Essentials, makes gorgeous all-natural aromatherapy products that truly please the senses. But before we get to your company, we'd love to know more about you. Please tell us about your upbringing and what makes you who you are.
I was born in Cairo, Egypt, which is where both my parents are from. Just after my first birthday my father took a job with the United Nations and we moved to New York City, where I lived for the first 27 years of my life.
Growing up in NYC in the 60s and 70s, I was exposed to a lot of cultural diversity and immersed myself in the unique character and flavor of the city. We traveled frequently -- every other summer we went back to Egypt to see family and visited several countries on the way there and back. By the time I was 21, I got to see most of Europe, Turkey, Tunisia, Greece, and the former Soviet Union!
I attended the United Nations International School (UNIS) from K through 12th grade. I did my undergraduate studies at Barnard College, Columbia University where I majored in English Lit and Art History. When I graduated in the early 1980s unemployment was running at 14%! It was difficult finding a real job that paid enough to allow me to continue living in the city, so out of frustration, I decided to go back to school.
The following year I entered a 2-year graduate program for a Masters in Public Administration at the Columbia University School of International & Public Affairs. One of the benefits of being in this program was having access to graduate courses at all the University’s different schools including Business School, Law School and the School of Architecture. During my last semester there, I took a class in Municipal Finance at the School of Law with former NYC Comptroller Harrison Goldin, who impressed me so much he sparked my interest in the Municipal Bond market (something I could never have foreseen!).
By the time I graduated I knew that was where I was headed with my career, and I took a position with AMBAC, a municipal bond insurance company where I learned all about the intricacies of credit markets and specialized in government-owned hospitals and non-profit healthcare systems.
My brief 2-year stint at AMBAC involved a lot of travel, meetings with investment bankers and hospital board members (in some rural areas this involved meeting with the county Judge or the Mayor and City Council members), reading and analyzing financial statements and marketing data, creating financial projections –all to ascertain whether they were equipped to improve their financial health and preserve their bonds’ creditworthiness. As a junior underwriter and credit analyst, I learned a lot about negotiating legal documents and loan agreements and I closed financial guarantees for over $45 million dollars in refinanced bond issues. Looking back at it now, I believe this early career experience gave me the foundation I needed to eventually go into business for myself.
But alas, my promising career in Wall Street finance came to an abrupt end when Black Monday (fall of 1987) turned the Street upside down resulting in massive layoffs and restructurings. That’s when I decided to follow my dream and move to Northern California.
Not unlike Madonna, I’ve re-invented myself a couple of times since: starting over first as a publicist, a music and film critic for a local lively arts publication, a production assistant for a locally produced nationally viewed community access cable TV show, and another corporate gig as a marketing communications associate for a private mortgage insurance company –all in my first 5 years living here!
In the early to mid-90s, I once again followed my dream and became a multimedia content producer, which quickly gave way to becoming a Web designer as the Internet exploded onto the scene, eclipsing the world of CD-ROMs. With a few years’ experience on my belt, I became an Internet trainer, teaching thousands of people how to understand the inner workings of web design and production and empowering them to build web pages or sites for their jobs, businesses, or personal pleasure.
As the chaos of the Dot.com era was churning and swirling around me I was already starting down a new path, plotting my next move, and at the turn of the new millennium, I created Dropwise Essentials!
What were your influences in going a more natural way? Were there any classes or books that you've enjoyed that you would recommend to our visitors?
Here’s my story ... I first learned about the toxic ingredients in many personal care products about ten years ago while I was dealing with some personal health challenges –mainly recurring bouts of eczema and fatigue. I tried, like most people, to find answers through traditional medicine. But after years of going to different dermatologists and primary care physicians I was frustrated and tired of the cookie-cutter approach they used to address my problems. The drugs they consistently prescribed (antihistamines and hydro-cortisone cream) simply didn’t work and the problems kept coming back.
None of the medical professionals whose help I sought were able to get to the bottom of what was causing my ailments. I even had one dermatologist who, unable to provide a treatable diagnosis, told me I needed to find activities to help me deal with my stress and suggested I take up rose gardening! Needless to say, at the time I thought he was a quack. But looking back at it now, his suggestion may have subconsciously led me to start down the path that has brought me to where I am today!
Fed up and frustrated (and still itchy and miserable), I decided right there and then to take control of my own health and stop relying on doctors and prescription meds to solve my problems. Knowledge is power and so I began my quest to learn as much as I could about alternative health practices to help me figure out what might be going on and find a better, more effective way to deal with and (hopefully) resolve it.
I started devouring books on herbs and aromatherapy, yoga and meditation, flower essences, and homeopathy. If it had anything to do with plants or the mind-body connection then I wanted to know about it. I also started attending seminars and workshops. Little by little I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
I’ve learned a whole lot since I started down this path to natural health and living. I learned about the differences between allopathic (western) medicine and naturopathic (holistic) medicine. The former starts with the basic premise that illness is the result of an unwanted invader that must be fought and killed, even if the process of doing so creates collateral damage to other body parts or systems. Holistic medicine, on the other hand, starts from the basic premise that the body already contains within it the blueprint and ability to heal itself if given the support it needs to do so. The more I thought about it and applied it to my own situation, the more it all made sense.
I have a fairly extensive library of books on aromatherapy, herbs and natural cosmetics but some of the books that influenced me early on were:
- Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. Kathi Keville & Mindy Green
- Aromatherapy Oils: A Complete Guide. Carol & David Schiller
- Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide to Healing with Essential Oils. Valerie Gennari Cooksley
- The Fragrant Mind: Aromatherapy for Mind, Mood, and Emotion. Valerie Ann Worwood
- Advanced Aromatherapy. Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt
- Life Helping Life: Unleash Your Mind/Body Potential with Essential Oils. Dr. Daniel Penoel
- Practical Art of Aromatherapy. Deborah Nixon
From 1999-2003 I attended the annual IAHA (International Association of Herbs & Aromatherapy) AromaHerb Show – a 3-day educational conference put on by the Schillers (David, Carol & Jeffrey) that was jam-packed with great information and resources. This conference was probably the biggest influence on getting me started –it’s where I learned a lot about not only aromatherapy but herbs and alternative healing modalities, sourcing quality ingredients, and product-making too. I met a lot of great people over the years at this event, all of who inspired me in some way.
Donna Maria Coles Johnson’s book Making Aromatherapy Creams & Lotions inspired me to try my hand at making lotions and encouraged me to join her Handmade Toiletries Network (now the Indie Beauty Network), which I still belong to today.
And in 2001 I had the privilege of attending a 2-day intensive training with Dr. Daniel Penoel in Provence. This was part of an amazing travel package put together by Jim Llewellyn & Robbi Zeck of Aroma Tours, where we got to visit farms and essential oil distilleries in Provence (the world capital for growing Lavender) and see the process first-hand. Robbi’s book The Blossoming Heart: Aromatherapy for Healing & Transformation has also been very helpful to me.
Please tell us about your company, Dropwise, and the products that you manufacture.
Technically, Dropwise Essentials was founded at the turn of the new millennium but we didn’t officially launch our product line until the summer of 2003. As I mentioned before, my interest in natural products developed in response to my frustration and dissatisfaction with the medical system’s inability to resolve my health issues at the time. I got excited about the idea of creating a personal care product line that would impart the tremendous health benefits of essential oils to millions of people (flower power to the people!) --helping them realize how plants can provide safe and effective relief for a variety of common ailments they might otherwise turn to needless and potentially harmful pharmaceuticals to solve.
My very first product was an aromatherapy blend I created to relieve the itching from my eczema. The blend consisted primarily of Lavender, Geranium, Clary Sage, and Roman Chamomile essential oils in a base of Jojoba oil. I applied the mixture liberally all over the affected areas of my body and repeated the application twice a day (or more often as needed). Within 3 days my seemingly intractable itching was totally under control! Something I was previously unable to accomplish (for almost 7 years!) with prescription strength hydrocortisone creams or calamine lotion.
This is the blend in my product line called Soothe and the Soothe Certified Organic Body Oil is the very same form that I used to treat my eczema.
My second blend: Revitalize was created shortly after that. At the time I was teaching Internet classes that involved getting up at an ungodly hour (I’ve never been much of a morning person), commuting for 1.5 hours, standing on my feet and being “on” all day (8 hours), then rounding out my day with another 1-1.5 hour drive back. It was grueling at times and I needed something to help me get through it, so I added Revitalize to bath salts and soaked in a super hot bath with it for 15 minutes upon waking. The results were amazing –better than coffee (though I still had that in the morning too!). This potent combination of Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Pine, Juniper, Lemon, Grapefruit, Geranium and Cedarwood, totally changed my attitude and helped me maintain stable energy throughout the day. It became a “must” for me on those days that I was teaching.
Having thoroughly tried and tested these products on myself for several years, gave me the confidence to finally launch them, along with 3 other blends I created to round out the line: Divine – a pampering and indulgent blend featuring Lavender, Geranium, Ylang Ylang & Vanilla CO2 (true vanilla); Refresh –a cooling and stimulating blend of Peppermint, Spearmint, Lime, Cinnamon Bark & Patchouli; and Inspiration –a heart-warming and uplifting blend of Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Lemon, Ginger & Elemi. All five blends are available in our Nourishing Hand & Body Lotions, Gentle Cleansing Body Washes, Certified Organic Body Oils, and Aromatherapy Room & Body Mist Sprays. Inspiration, Revitalize and Soothe are also available as Aromatherapy Soy Candles.
As far as standards go, I am a total stickler for quality and purity. My motto from the start has been ‘if it’s not safe to put in your mouth then it’s not safe to put on your skin.’ That’s not to say that you should be able to eat all your personal care products, but it should be a guiding principle for formulating them. We use as many certified organic ingredients as possible and never use synthetic or petroleum-based ingredients. This ensures the integrity and safety of our products for every day use; makes a minimal footprint in terms of the energy and resources required to produce both the ingredients and the finished products; and maintains full biodegradability at the end of their lifecycle.
If you look up our products in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database you’ll find they have very low safety concern ratings (anywhere from 0 to 3 out of 10) and products that have ratings of 2 or 3 are rated that way due to their essential oil content, which raises a flag based on the way they’ve set up their rating system. However we use GRAS guidelines and follow established essential oil safety guidelines when formulating.
As for choosing scents, that’s such a personal thing. I created all the blends as “unisex” blends so they could be used, interchangeably by both women and men. I tried to provide a variety of blends to address different moods, needs, and preferences. We have stimulating blends (citrus, mint, and evergreen) and calming/grounding blends (floral). If anyone is interested in learning more they can look at the Product Guide section of our web site (www.dropwise.com/products/) where the personal care blends are described in detail.
Your company's name, Dropwise, has to do with the fact that you must be careful when blending essential oils for aromatherapy products. I'd love to know how you come up with your blends. What is the process you go through, and do you have certain rituals that you do when creating your blends?
This is an interesting and sort of difficult question to answer. After giving it some thought, I guess the best answer I can give is ‘The nose knows best.’ From the time I started doing this, it was clear that I had a knack for blending so I just trust my nose.
Having done this for many years now, and having read a lot about the various properties of EOs, I have strong intuition about what kinds of oils work well together –both synergistically and in terms of their odor profiles.
An artist friend of mine recently introduced me to some of her friends as “an artist of scent.” I guess I never thought about it all that much before but I thought it was an accurate description!
Unlike a lot of artists, I don’t have a specific ritual or process I use. Sometimes ideas just come to me out of the blue. That’s when I go to my personal collection of essential oils and open two or three bottles of oils I’m thinking of combining and hold them both up to my nose at the same time. I smell them in unison and note what my initial reaction to the combination is. Sometimes it works, other times not. A lot of times it strikes me as a good starting point but I know it needs some other oil or oils to complete the idea and I follow a similar pattern to identify other oils to add to the blend.
When it comes to formulating new products, I start by looking at what’s missing in my line and then I spend some time (sometimes months) mulling over various ideas before creating a prototype. For example, a couple of years ago I felt like the collection of blends we have was great but it was missing something –-an earthy sensuous blend-- so I got to work on creating a new blend by pulling all the different “earthy” and “sensuous” oils I had in my collection and visually arranging them in groupings of 3 or 4 that I felt would work together.
The end result of that experiment was a new blend called Enchant, which combines Lemongrass, Lemon, and Tangerine (citrus top notes) with Ylang (exotic floral middle note), Vetiver and Patchouli (deep woody bass notes). It’s currently only available in our Soy Candle but will eventually be incorporated into the other body care products as well. I also look at ways to incorporate more herbs products –mainly trying different forms of herbal infusions (tinctures, infusions in oil, water, and more recently infusions in witch hazel).
Without giving away any secrets, what are your future plans for your company?
Well we just launched our unscented hand and body lotion called Simply Naked, and we’re looking at creating more personal care and natural remedy products. Look for a deodorant product in the first half of 2010 and eventually we will add some hair care products as well, but those are harder to make in an all-natural form so it may be awhile yet.
It’s always been my intention to expand into some form of educational publishing so we plan to add information products (eBooks, tele-classes, audios) on various aspects of health and wellness. I’d like to help people create a toolbox of alternative healing modalities and lifestyle guidelines that empowers them to take care themselves instead of depending on doctors, or harsh and potentially dangerous OTC and Rx meds to address their various issues and ailments.
We would also like to supply the hospitality and travel industries in some way but I can’t tell you any more about that right now.
Ultimately we want to deepen the sustainability of our business in every sense, from sourcing ingredients to manufacturing, to everyday business practices. The goal is to reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible without compromising the quality of finished products and to be in a position to influence others (suppliers, customers, investors and other stakeholders) to do the same.
What advice do you have for those that would like to start their own all-natural beauty businesses?
Be clear on your business model (i.e. how your business will make money) and your target market (who you will sell to) before you start. There are a lot of opportunities in the market for natural products and especially aromatherapy products, but you can’t be successful in business if you want to be all things to all people. Find the niche or niches that your products serve best and build your business model and marketing strategies around that and test, test, test.
We’re still finding our niche after all these years! We’re trying to reach people who are concerned about their health and well being in an increasingly stressful, polluted, and toxic world, as well as those who prefer to make conscious choices in the marketplace by purchasing products from and supporting businesses that care about their customers, their employees, their communities, and the environment.
But our market also includes anyone who suffers from stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, moodiness, or emotional repression, and is looking for a natural alternative to Over the Counter or prescription drugs to address these issues. That includes mothers with young children, cancer patients and survivors and anyone with a business or practice that caters to them.
I’ve learned the hard way that when you run your own business, to maintain your sanity you have to plan ahead, be strategic and focused in your marketing and delegate as much as possible, otherwise you’ll be running in 10 different directions all the time --being reactive rather than proactive. This is easier said than done but it’s SOOO important!
What do you do for fun when you are not working?
When I’m not working I love taking walks on the beach or hiking in the mountains. Going to see live music and connecting with friends at these events is a really important part of my life. When I was younger I would go out to see live music several nights a week, these days it’s more like once or twice a month if I can fit it in! I also enjoy playing music with friends (I play the guitar and percussion), going to the movies (because there’s nothing like seeing a film on the big screen!), fine dining, wine tasting, travel, trying new things (especially healthy foods and natural products!), and I love playing with my cat (and cats in general) ?. I stay motivated by attending conferences and workshops and always learning new and better ways of doing and being.
If you could imagine your perfect pampering session, what would it be?
Another challenging question! I think it would start with 1.5- 2 hour deep tissue and lymph draining massage in a quiet serene environment, with soothing nature sounds and music and soft lighting, followed by a soak in a hot tub or mud bath.
Clean fresh smells --essential oils of eucalyptus and juniper berry (one of my favorites) and some citrus (grapefruit, orange, lime) and geranium (another favorite). No synthetic scents please!
Then a facial and herbal body wrap, followed by a dip in a waterfall or outdoor wading pool with some kind of fountain (I’ve always had an affinity for and fascination with moving water –streams, rivers, waterfalls, fountains).
A light healthy meal served on a veranda with beautiful scenic views, followed by a light hike or walk along a trail in the surrounding area and some restorative yoga or stretching followed by a long nap! ?
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