- Sarah Priestap
Name: Kirsten Connor Town: Woodstock Job: Owner, Flourish Natural Body Care
For Kirsten Connor, 2011 was the best and worst of times. For years, the founder and owner of Flourish Natural Body Care, maker of organic shampoos, conditioners and other body- and hair-care products, had struggled to get her wares into stores. The Woodstock-based business had barely weathered the recession when a Whole Foods Market in Portland, Maine, agreed to take Connor's products. Finally, things were starting to happen.
Then, on August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene flooded central Vermont and washed away years' worth of Connor's work in 20 minutes. It took her and her husband, Darren McCullough, six months to rebuild their home and business. By the time Flourish was up and running again, Whole Foods wasn't interested. It had already filled its shelves with competitors' goods.
Connor's solution: Lather, rinse and repeat.
Though she founded her business on selling handmade soaps, Connor's focus since then has shifted to creating organic, small-batch hair and body goods. Most recently, those include "back-bar" products — lotions, wraps, conditioners, styling gels — used in professional salons and spas. Not bad for a woman who had to teach herself chemistry before she could master making shampoo.
"I just did a ton of reading and a ton of asking questions," recalls the Brooklyn-born mother of six. "Actually, the chemical companies are extremely helpful because they want to sell you product."
Today, Flourish produces about 60 different products that are sold in more than 50 stores in eight states, including many Vermont food co-ops. Much of Flourish's consumer appeal, Connor says, stems from its use of only organic or Ecocert-certified ingredients, the latter of which are held to some of the body-care industry's most rigorous standards.
Connor also sources as many of her ingredients locally as possible. In fact, by later this year, she expects to harvest all the herbs used in Flourish products from her own five-acre farm, which sits along Woodstock's Ottauquechee River.
"It's never flooded there before in the written history of Vermont," she says about her fertile patch of farmland. "So I'm going to take my chances."
Connor's recent success has come at a price. She often works seven days a week and has taken only one weekend day off in the past six weeks, she says. Most days, she picks up her kids from school, then returns for another few hours to creating new scents, formulating new products or packaging and labeling existing ones.
"It's a very, very full-time job," she admits. "But I love what I do, so that's OK."
SEVEN DAYS: What's your typical day? Put on your muck boots and rubber smock and cook up a batch of soap or shampoo?
KIRSTEN CONNOR: I don't make soap anymore. That's a bummer. When I moved into this space, part of my rental agreement was that I wouldn't make soap.
SD: Why not?
KC: I think the other tenants at the time didn't want it. They weren't crazy about the idea of the smell, which is crazy to me, but that's all right.
SD: What's been your most successful creation?
KC: I would have to say the shampoos and conditioners. The product we get the most comments about is the Patchouli Tangerine [Calming] Shampoo. We recently got an email from some guy who moved from Burlington to South Carolina, who made a whole list of his top Vermont products he can't get where he is. The Patchouli Tangerine Shampoo is on his list.
SD: How far-flung are your customers?
KC: We sell our products in a co-op in Alaska. With our spa line, we've been trying to reach local spas in New England, because our line is really tailored to reflect New England. So we don't make a coconut scent or do a tropical theme. We try to highlight local scents and local herbs. One of the fun ones we did in the fall was cocoa spice with Schisandra [magnolia vine], which grows locally. A lot of people make tea from it. It's a really great herb.
SD: Are there advantages to having your business in Vermont?
KC: Definitely the advantages are that there's so much local support for locally made products. People in Vermont just go crazy for locally made stuff. This is not something I could have tackled in New York state.
SD: What's the best part of your job?
KC: The formulating part, thinking up new products. I love making product. I don't love labeling, but I love cooking up the batches.
SD: Do you think any of your kids will join the business?
KC: My daughter Mallory, who just turned 21, actually has the most amazing sense of smell, so I can rely on her to do all sorts of product testing and smelling. She's very into it. All of her friends who come visit are into the sugar body polish. It's an exfoliant with organic sugar suspended in organic coconut oil. It takes all your dry, itchy skin off and leaves you moisturized. They're all addicted to it.