Local business owner Ali Kalemkeris of Bowerbird & Company has been making and selling eco-friendly bath and body products at the Lithia Artisans Market since 2007. Inspired by nature, particularly birds, her eco-conscious business gives a portion of sales to non-profits that work to conserve land and bird habitat. This year her products will be featured in the coveted gift bags at the 33rd Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards held in New York City on October 1st. What I can tell you from experience is that her soaps work really well, they smell great, and they feel like a treat for the body.
How long have you been making soap?
Ali… About 8 years altogether. The first two years I spent researching, experimenting, and trying to invent a signature bar of soap I could be proud of. All Bowerbird & Company products are formulated from scratch, using only the best organic and wildcrafted ingredients. Currently, I make 20 different handmade soaps, 5 flavors of lip balm, and a very popular bath tea.
Why did you decide to become a soap maker?
Ali… At a very young age, my parents saw me setting up make-believe stores right in the living room, selling various things I had gathered from around the house. I would write up an invoice and talk to them about the products I had for sale. I would always package their purchases in a bag and write down their contact information. One time my dad visited my make-believe library and after I checked his books out I asked him for his phone number to “update my records” and he said “444-4444” in a funny voice and we started laughing uncontrollably and it got down right silly. I think I had to close the library after he left. So, really my parents were my first customers and my brother always had to play along, too. I think it was clear that I would eventually end up running my own business.
Later, after I graduated from UCSB, I started working at my father’s company. I was struggling with severe eczema and psoriasis and developing a strong chemical sensitivity to various commercially made products. I even had a reaction to our laundry detergent. I couldn’t find a natural bar of soap that alleviated my symptoms and I felt motivated to search out other natural bath and body products that could help heal and repair my skin. So, I took classes from three different local soap makers and decided I loved the idea of having my own line of products and making my own soap. In the end, I found the best medicine for my condition—my own line of eco-essentials for bath & body!
You call your business “Bowerbird & Company”. What is the significance of the name?
Ali… When I was developing a business plan and theme for the collection, I felt drawn to birds. I had been going on a ton of Audubon excursions and field trips at the time and felt very inspired. I started to find these quotes and obscure stories about birds everywhere. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had already chosen the theme of birds, subconsciously. Shortly thereafter, the bowerbird caught my interest for its art-making instinct, which perfectly dovetailed with my past work in assemblage and found object art.
Why is it important for people to purchase your handcrafted soap?
Ali… I really feel my bath & body products are a gift to the consumer. Beyond the quality ingredients I use, is the fact that I put life into each of my products, which is rare in this time when products are mass-produced in inharmonious settings. I don’t make products if I’m feeling down or having a bad day. That way, I only breathe positive energy into each bar of soap, lip balm, etc. I’m using organic, wildharvested, and wildcrafted ingredients. My products are free of harmful parabens & phthlates and there is no animal testing done. The soaps are vegan and customers have said that my soap stays firm, has a great lather, & lasts a long time. I’ve also eliminated the use of palm oil and palm kernel oil found in most handmade and commercially made soaps. Their production is a major contributor to rainforest destruction & habitat loss for a variety of species across the globe.
Your products are excellent and they smell so great. How did you come up with the combination of scents you use?
Ali… All of my products are unique in that they are scented with 100% natural essential oils. Essential oils are made from steam distilling flowers, plants, & other botanicals directly and then collecting their oils. Our skin is the largest breathing organ on our bodies and we should really only be using bath & body products that are free of harmful perfumes and synthetically produced fragrances.
How do you source your raw materials?
Ali… Almost all of my supplies come from businesses in the Pacific Northwest. A majority of them are based in Oregon. I get my lavender from an organic grower right here in Ashland.
Explain how Bowerbird & Company is an ecologically sustainable company?
Ali… For every 1000 bars of soap crafted, I produce less than 3 lbs. of trash. I try to recycle most of my supplies, such as my signature egg-shaped mold trays that the soaps cure in. All of my products are fully biodegradable and I don’t use any plastics in my packaging. I am always looking for ways to reduce waste and minimize my footprint.
Your products were chosen to be featured in the gift baskets at this year’s Emmy Awards. Congratulations. How did that come about and how does that make you feel about your business?
Ali… I’m still not sure how they heard about my products. It’s very humbling and it was a great surprise! I received word from them and was excited about the opportunity and exposure this could bring for my business. I suppose it’s possible that one of my products was passed along to their staff by someone who thought it would be a good match for their awards show.
What do you most appreciate about being part of the Lithia Artisans Market?
Ali… I have certainly been surprised by the vast array of visitors along the creek. Locals who count on me being at my booth every Saturday are able to stock up on their favorite products while out running other errands. They also bring family & friends to listen to the live music and chat with the local artists. Travelers are coming here from all over the world, and my products are now used throughout the United States and internationally in Japan, New Zealand, throughout Europe, South Africa, Canada, and even as remote a place as Mongolia! Just to name a few!
WHERE TO FIND HER:
Ali & her signature Bowerbird & Company products can be found at the Growers & Crafters Market in Medford on Thursdays 8:30am-1:30pm and at the Lithia Artisans Market on Saturdays in Ashland from 10am-6pm. Check her website www.bowerbirdandco.com to see what holiday shows she’ll be attending this winter.