It’s good to press hard in a race running toward the finish line, but one Coeur d’Alene woman wanted to get to that point with a little less perspiration.
A runner of marathons, Wendy Harris heard the same complaint from other female distance runners she found frustrating herself: Where to find an effective under-arm deodorant product. Harris, 48, soon set out to experiment with a basic blending of ingredients that might do better to limit sweat and odor.
After all, she’s long enjoyed blending natural products of oils, lotions, and butters for her own use. By August 2013, Harris landed on a solution that also led to a home-based business, Ohmygaia LLC, producing a line of natural deodorants and related products that she sells mostly on a wholesale basis.
“I’m a runner, and a bunch of us girls, we didn’t have a deodorant that worked,” Harris says. “We tried natural ones, and they didn’t work, so I thought I could make one that worked better. Three or four tries later, I knew I hit it. It was perfect. I gave it to all my running friends, and everyone started asking me for more, and word-of-mouth spread.”
Today, Harris also works as a convenience store manager along with being Ohmygaia’s sole owner and employee. She says the name for the business came from a friend’s suggestion, because “ohm” is a phrase said during yoga, and “gaia” has Greek origins meaning mother earth.
“I do a lot of yoga, and you say ohm as you’re doing yoga, so it’s kind of like a play on words,” says Harris, who also enters to run in regional races of various distances.
She adds, “Probably now, I’m pushing about 500 jars a month between my wholesale accounts and the website. My product is different. You apply it with your fingers. It’s butter based, so it melts on contact with the skin. It takes a little getting used to, but people come around pretty quickly when they realize how effective it is. The fact that it is aluminum- and paraben-free is a pretty big deal.”
However, Harris quickly adds that discussions about aluminum in deodorant are controversial, with differing opinions, though she’s found that many women still have concerns.
“It’s been loosely linked to breast cancer,” she says, adding that customers who email her describe a sense of feeling safer using a deodorant product without the ingredient. “It’s really important to them that the product doesn’t have aluminum.”
She says Ohmygaia deodorant products have all-natural ingredients, without additives, along with an essential oil or fragrance oil. The base includes coconut oil and shea butter, a fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree.
Ohmygaia supplies a dozen stores in Seattle and California, and customers in the Inland Northwest can purchase the products in Rocket Market, at 726 E. 43rd on Spokane’s South Hill, and at Mountain Madness Soap Co., at 310 Sherman in Coeur d’Alene. Harris also sells items online at www.ohmygaia.com.
“I have a lot of regular customers,” she says. “I’m in lifestyle boutiques, natural stores, clothing stores, a yoga studio. It’s interesting because it sits on the shelf in many different places.”
The deodorant is packaged in a two-ounce glass jar typically carrying a $10 retail price. Other recent products added to Ohmygaia include a beard oil as well as containers of naturally-scented perfume oil. Both the beard oil and perfume oil have a retail price of $18, Harris says.
“The beard oil conditions the skin and makes their beards softer and easier to manage,” she says. “My boss asked me if I could make it for him, and he loved it. My friends loved it, so I added it.”
The perfume oils are available in similar scents as the deodorants, and they are applied from a glass container with a rollerball top.
“The perfume oils I launched just before Christmas,” Harris says. “Customers love the scents, and they wanted to be able to layer them. They include the scents Egyptian musk, coconut, lavender, lilac, lemongrass. Customers put them on at the wrist and neck, the pulse points.”
However, the deodorants remain the core line and also are available in various scents, including honeysuckle, lilac, lavender, coconut, lemongrass, and cherry almond. Other scents cater more to men who can select from among sandalwood, leather, lumberjack, or unscented.
Harris has a background in retail, and she describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. After she moved to the Inland Northwest from Los Angeles 12 years ago, she owned and operated a downtown Coeur d’Alene women’s boutique, Poppy, that opened in 2006. While it stayed open five years, the shop eventually suffered economic pressures from the Great Recession, she says. It closed in 2011.
With the Ohmygaia business entering its fourth year, she has outlined plans for pushing the products into more retail stores. Harris says revenue has doubled the third year compared with the second year.
“I’m definitely trying to grow my wholesale business,” she says.
She also plans to continue working in the business around her “day job” at the convenience store but will consider hiring a part-time worker for Ohmygaia this year, “because there aren’t enough hours in one day.”
“If I have a 100-jar order, I don’t like to get behind,” she says. “I like to get it out right away. I really want to grow my wholesale business and get it out nationwide. The product packaging now is so pretty.”
The business customers buying Ohmygaia’s deodorants are predominately women.
“I’d say 80 percent women to 20 percent men. I’ve got great men’s scents in the deodorant. I have leather, that is really popular. Just getting men to convert away from a traditional stick or roll-on is the toughest part, but once they do, they don’t go back.”
She adds, “I love it. It’s definitely the most fun venture I’ve done. I buy ingredients bulk, and I’ve found better and better suppliers.”
While she often turns to natural products for herself and her home, that wasn’t the genesis per se for Ohmygaia. It just turned out that way.
“This was more of a, let’s see if I can make one,” Harris says. “I didn’t have access to chemicals. I only had access to natural ingredients, so it’s killing two birds with one stone there.”
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