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A natural path to success

Three businesses establish themselves and grow by being kind to Mother Nature

In a David and Goliath story, three small businesses that provide natural beauty and wellness products have grown to compete with big name brands by maintaining an organic growth strategy.

In 1992, Jean-Pierre LeBlanc turned treating personal illness into a business venture after he developed a selection of plant-derived essential oils to combat the pain and fatigue he was living with after a car accident.

Saje Natural Wellness, a natural bath and body product company, grew from LeBlanc’s research into herbal remedies and his background in chemistry. When his health began to improve more using unique natural blends of aromatherapy compared to the cocktail of prescription drugs he’d been taking, LeBlanc wanted to share his natural solutions with others.

“Twenty years ago the concept of wellness didn’t exist,” said LeBlanc, Saje co-founder. “You were either healthy or sick. If we can make people feel better just on a personal level, then we feel like we can make the world a better place.”

LeBlanc teamed with wife and Saje co-founder Kate Ross-LeBlanc to produce and sell handmade soap, which expanded to body butters, bath salts and skin care lines. The products contain zero petrochemicals, preservatives, artificial colours, synthetics or animal by-products.

“We built Saje on two pillars: our commitment to 100% natural ingredients to help our own health and share that gift with people,” said Ross-LeBlanc. “The second pillar is our commitment to customer service.”

Sustainability is the cornerstone of Saje, including how materials are harvested. “Well-crafted is a method where they pick bark, leaves and roots in a gentle method that makes sure the plant is not harmed,” said LeBlanc. “Tree products are harvested in snippets that let the trees live.”

Since 1991, Saje expanded from its first store at the Lonsdale Quay to a head office with nine retail locations in B.C. and is launching a new location on Robson Street.

Another small-business success story is All Things Jill, which provides natural and organic personal body-care products. Just like the LeBlancs’ company, Jill Hawker’s business grew from something she was passionate about, natural skin care.

In 2004, Hawker had been working in Toronto’s financial district. One Christmas, her company invited employees to bring products to sell. “I brought [handmade] food, ornaments and soap to the event. The soap took off right away. I call it the ‘hobby that went wild.’” said Hawker, who founded All Things Jill in 2005.

From day 1, providing all-natural health products has been the foundation of every product that All Things Jill sells.

“Our society is laden with toxicity in food, packaging and vehicle emissions. So many products are chemical-based,” she said. “When I started the company it was to bring products to people that are healthy.”

Hawker also has an eye for filling niche markets. Her Peas in a Pod line features products as safe for new mothers as their babies.

“The skin is our largest organ; it absorbs everything,” she said. “We make sure every product is super clean and contains no chemicals, no preservatives and no colourants.”

Today, All Things Jill can be found throughout B.C. and dozens of stores across Canada. Two new stores are opening, and there are negotiations with Whole Foods.

Rocky Mountain Soap Company is another natural bath and body-care success story that started as a 300-square-foot shop by founders Karina Birch and Cam Baty in Canmore, Alberta. The store appealed to nature-loving locals who were health-conscious and grew from there.

Birch and Baty focused on providing handmade soap, body butter and aromatherapy products that can offer relief to customers with issues like dry and itchy skin. “People often try our products or receive them as gifts and like them so much they buy them for family members,” said Abby Knorr, marketing director for Rocky Mountain.

“Our customers are looking for healthy choices in the bath and body products they use, but they’re also looking for peace of mind in the choices that they make. Sustainability should be important in every business; for us it’s just the right thing to do,” said Jules Tough, CEO of Rocky Mountain Soap.

The product line expanded to meet growing demand. Today, Rocky Mountain Soap has eight stores, including three in Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria and a 7,000-square-foot workshop.

By maintaining a focus on all natural ingredients and following their passions, these three beauty and wellness players have achieved success in local and global markets. •