THUNDER BAY - Karen Kerk’s business idea came at home, after the birth of her son in 2004. Being a cautious new parent, she read the ingredient labels on baby products and was disappointed to find that even ones touted as “natural” contained many ingredients that sounded suspiciously unnatural. Better products have become available now, she says, but back then, she couldn’t find any, so she decided to make her own.
Her first product was the baby balm, a multipurpose balm for diaper rash, eczema, dry skin, and anything that needs little extra care. Realizing there’s no reason she couldn’t use the baby balm herself, she started selling it as healing balm for adults as well.
All of her products are unpretentious and conscientious. “I focus on keeping it simple, I didn’t want to package fancy water and sell it to people. A lot of products out there are mostly water with a few things added.” Responding to customer demand, she added deodorant to her lineup. She also branched out into makeup a couple of years ago, offering organic mascara and organic cc cream.
“In Canada, there are no organic standards for skincare products,” she explains. She uses organic food products and local or Canadian products whenever possible. Many of her skincare products, including the deodorant, are so safe and natural that you can eat them - you wouldn’t enjoy the taste, but the ingredients are food grade.
Kerk produces all the products in her “manufacturing facility” (a.k.a. her kitchen.) After years of doing it all herself, she developed carpal tunnel syndrome and gets help with some products such as soap that require more elbow grease. However, the business is still essentially a “one woman show,” she says.
Soon after she started the company in 2006, she got a booth at the Thunder Bay Country Market in 2007. It took a long time to build up her brand, but she felt embraced and supported by the local community. “There were a few retailers that wanted to carry my products and now I’ve been working with some of them for ten years.”
“It took a while to get started. I probably should have quit the first five years because it wasn’t profitable, but then it turned a corner and it’s been awesome.” Although a demanding job, the business also allowed her to stay home with her two sons while they were young. “And I’m Dutch and I’m stubborn,” she smiles.
“Also, I sensed that this would work. Right now, this (natural skincare) is mainstream, but fifteen years ago it wasn’t. Organic food was a big deal then, and I thought, next, people are going to pay attention to what they put on their bodies.”
Now that her two sons are older, she has gone back to a full-time job (she works at Eco Superior as Food Strategy Coordinator). She no longer has a booth at the market, but her products are still at the Market Store. You can also find her products at several retail locations in town, such as the newly opened Ritual Skin Co. on Court st. Regulars can save a bit of money by bringing back containers for refill, or you could even bring your own little jar.
“I want to streamline the business and make more time to spend on education,” Kerk says of the future. “Sharing what I know with people, because there’s a lot of misinformation out there.” She has previously done workshops on how to make your own skincare products and hopes to do more in the future as well.