This is Alicia of Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe, a shop that features all-natural soaps, lip balms, lotion bars made with lanolin. Lanolin is one of the most effective natural moisturizers out there, and as a customer, I can attest that her products are amazing- her lip balms are easily my favourite on the planet. Alicia is our featured Indie Business Interview this month!
Why did you decide to start your own shop?
Starting Sweet Sheep was something of a whim. As someone with an environmental background, I’m interested in using natural and environmentally sustainable body care products. Then one year at Stitches East I bought a lotion bar (that contained mostly just shea butter) and was super impressed with the idea (so moisturizing! so portable!), but didn’t love the texture or intensity of fragrance. I started researching and realized that most recipes were fairly simple, consisting of 1 part wax, 1 part butter, and 1 part oil. I tried that combination and then fell down the rabbit hole of natural soap and lotion-making ingredients. I sent out samples and surveyed volunteers through my blog, tweaking the recipe until I ended up with a great combination of several different oils and butters, including lanolin from sheep’s wool! I figured knitters would love these bars and since my knitting pattern designing efforts weren’t progressing as I had hoped, I opened an Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe instead.
Is this business your full-time gig, or do you have another job as well?
This is not my full-time gig. I work as a biologist for an environmental consulting firm that specializes in oil spill risk assessments. I analyze data, research model inputs, and help determine what the ecological impacts of spills and other energy development activities might be. I fit Sweet Sheep stuff in usually late at night and on weekends because I really like having a creative project to focus on outside of my job.
What is the most difficult part of running your own business?
Honestly, I think the hardest part is just getting started. There’s a learning curve with setting up and running the shop, figuring out packaging and shipping, and pricing and product development. The scariest part (for someone who isn’t depending on the income to live, mind you) is just thinking “Oh my, I hope somebody likes this stuff as much as I do!” Getting the word out isn’t always easy, either, but partnerships with blogs like this are a great way to do it.
What is the piece of advice you wish you could give yourself when you were just starting out?
I would tell myself to quit worrying so much! Turns out, people do love this stuff, and I really did know enough to get started. J Sweet Sheep is just over a year old so I still consider myself to be fairly new at this, but I’ve gotten more confident in my decision-making as the year has progressed. I’m learning to trust my instincts and that helps reduce stress.
How did you overcome the inevitable setbacks (large or small) that come with the territory of having your own small business?
I was lucky enough to know a local indie fiber dyer (June Pryce Fiber Arts) with more experience whom I could ask some of my stickier tax-related questions when I was getting started. She’s been a great help in clueing me in to local festivals and was kind enough to bring a box of my lotion bars up to the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show last year when I couldn’t attend myself. Asking questions of people who know better has been my main strategy when I feel stuck, I love how generous most crafters are with their knowledge. I’m also lucky enough to have a husband who supports my crazy ideas. He’s an expert tin-stickerer and ingredient-measurer and is a ton of help at markets. His enthusiasm doesn’t hurt, either, especially on days when I start to doubt myself.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of turning their hobby into a business?
My advice would be to do a good bit of research and have a solid idea of what you want to make/sell and why it’s special enough for other people to buy. I think whatever you’re selling has to stand out in some way in order to be viable. Depending on your business, it might be important to over-estimate your startup costs and know that you might not actually make a profit right away. There are a lot of good resources for running a handmade business, the book Etsy-preneurship was particularly helpful for developing good bookkeeping strategies. And please, for the love of all things handmade, learn to price your products appropriately! There are a ton of Etsy articles on the ‘art of pricing’ and while it’s not as simple as it seems, it’s important because so many crafters don’t price sustainably and instead flood the market with undervalued products that hurt everyone in the long run.
What is the most satisfying part of Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe?
I love so many parts of it, but customer feedback is probably my favorite. There is nothing better than hearing from someone who just so totally loves the thing you made. I read every Etsy review (they’re really helpful!) and the ones where you can tell that the recipient is really psyched completely brighten my day. I also enjoy vending at markets. When I can help people pick out the perfect scent or watch them get excited sniffing each one (“Oh, Lemon Cake! Peaches & Cream! OMG I LOVE THIS!”) it’s a lot of fun. And I really like that I’m making something that’s better for your skin than the petrochemical-laden junk sold in plastic containers at drug stores. (Read No More Dirty Looks if you want a peek into the scary side of cosmetic chemicals.) I also feel like I’m doing my small bit for the planet, one re-usable tin and recyclable package at a time!
How important is goal setting to you? What sort of goals can you share with us about Sweet Sheep in the coming 6-12 months?
Over-arching goals are important for me. Especially since I work full-time, if I have too many discrete Sweet Sheep goals I get anxious about what I’m able to get done with my limited time. One goal is to develop new wholesale accounts with local shops. Earlier in the year I had put out a survey asking what kinds of products besides lotion bars and lip balms people would like to see, so another of my goals has been to add a few more products to my lineup. I’ve added handmade soaps already, and next on my list is a whipped body butter that I’m still in the process of developing. I’m always open to suggestions of things people would like to see, so please get in touch if you have a request!
***Alicia has is also generously offering free International shipping (and domestic too!) until August 7th when using the coupon code SHIPBLISS on all order with a minimum subtotal of $10 (USD). Go forth and shop! I know I will be. ***