Tuesday, November 18, 2014

10 Questions for: Briar Winters of Marble & Milkweed

Kicking off a new series (of sorts—we'll see how often I can pull it together!) on the blog with this post. One of my reasons for starting a blog was because I wanted somewhere to catalog things. An online diary, of sorts, from what's going on in my head and my life to the way my style is evolving, while also acting as a shopping wish list and place to share new products and companies—which brings us full circle back to today's post, on local organic & analog apothecary Marble & Milkweed.
I've been trying to simplify in life this year, from gutting my wardrobe (swapping college clothes for adult ones has started a never-ending donation pile in my apartment) to eating cleaner and healthier (more on that another time), which has most recently stretched to re-evaluating my beauty and skincare routine. While I'm an admitted product junkie who likes trying new brands, I'm actually pretty loyal to the majority of my beauty products and brands—just like you are, I'm sure! 

There's been a wealth of reports in recent years about the ingredients in beauty products that are unhealthy for your skin, and while some of the claims may be over-exaggerated, there's definitely no harm to putting natural products on your skin. Once I started this search, I stumbled across Marble & Milkweed, an apothecary studio based in TriBeCa that hand-makes disarmingly simple skincare products, using organic and fair-trade ingredients. Founder Briar Winters was kind enough to let me drop by her studio to shoot some photos and asker a few questions! Read on for ten questions with Briar,  from how she got started to her favorite ingredients and how to incorporate natural skincare into your current routine. You can check out her online shop here, and her products are also available on Etsy! Some products change seasonally based on ingredients that are good for the weather and readily available. I'm a huge fan of the Cardamom lip balm (get the tube instead of a tin), and just ordered a facial serum and cardamom butter this week.
What inspired you to start Marble & Milkweed?
After years of working in pastry kitchens here in New York City, I felt ready to begin exploring some of my favorite flavor and scent combinations from a new perspective. There’s a real kinship between the apothecary and the kitchen, and much of my work with Marble & Milkweed is informed by my culinary training, especially the intense focus on beautiful, pure raw materials.

Have you always been interested in natural and organic products? 
I grew up in rural Washington State, playing outside and having a small garden of my own there. These early experiences have absolutely inspired a continuing desire to live in harmony with nature. When I moved out on my own and began to make more of my own purchasing decisions, I began to educate myself about the provenance of the foods and products that I bought and used. I began to feel uncomfortable with many of the industrial ingredients used in my skincare and household products, so I began researching other options. Eventually, I started creating all of my own products from the highest quality food-grade ingredients.
When you first started making skincare products, did you follow recipes you’d already found or was there a lot of experimenting until you found things that worked?
I did so much research when I first began getting interested in crafting skincare, on everything from clays and botanical essences to cold-pressed oils, and I began experimenting from scratch. I’ve also found a lot of inspiration in ancient skincare traditions and rituals, including those of Ayurveda. I knew what I wanted my products to feel and smell like, and I began from there, allowing myself to be guided by the innate qualities of each ingredient.

What product would you recommend to start with to someone who’s just discovered your line and isn’t using a lot of natural or organic skincare products yet? 
I would begin with one of the serums. They showcase the incredible healing power of botanical oils in their purest form, and they absorb easily into the skin. A few drops after cleansing and before bed will completely change the way your skin feels in the morning. Coming of age, the conventional wisdom said that using oils was bad for oily skin, but now that I understand more about the different types of oils and the way our skin works, the balancing effect of a well-crafted facial oil seems inevitable. Cold-pressed oils are full of nutrients and help protect skin in such a deep way, while the scents of the botanical essences soothe the spirit. 
Marble & Milkweed represents more than just a desire to take care of your skin, you also promote environmental consciousness with reusable/recyclable packaging and minimal ingredients. Is this something you’ve always been passionate about, or have you grown more aware yourself year after year?
Both - it’s something that has long been a priority of mine, but I continue to educate myself about how I can do more. Washington State has had comprehensive municipal recycling programs for much longer than New York City, and so I grew up sorting things carefully, and developing an awareness of our impact on the earth. After learning about the irreversible environmental damage our overuse of plastic causes, I felt inspired to avoid it as much as possible. The deeper I get into my work, the more connected I feel to the natural world and that’s something that I hope to share with my customers through the conscious choices that I have the opportunity to make when it comes to philosophy, packaging and ingredients.
You’re running a small and successful company on your own. Tell me what a typical day looks like at the Marble & Milkweed studio.
I’m not a very early riser, probably thanks to many years of working dinner service hours in the pastry kitchen. My partner, Michael, still works nights in the kitchen, so I feel fortunate to have the freedom to dovetail my schedule with his to give us quiet mornings together. It takes me about 20 minutes to get to my studio in TriBeCa from our home on the Lower East Side. Each day at the studio is different, depending on what must be done. Some days are reserved just for packing and shipping orders, and quieter days are spent crafting products. I’m lucky to have a post office with late hours just nearby, and trips there are a nice way to stretch my legs during the day. I often work quite late into the evenings, and I try to always leave the studio as orderly as possible, so that the next day begins smoothly. Somewhere between all of that, of course, lies ordering and sourcing supplies, bookkeeping and administrative duties, and keeping up with my social media accounts. I love doing it all myself, it gives me the chance to create exactly the situation I want across every area of my work.

Tell me a little bit about your creation process. What inspires you to make a new product? What’s the testing process look like?
The seasons and their corresponding raw materials are my main source of inspiration. The sensibilities and needs of our skin change throughout the year, so it makes sense to look toward the cycles of the natural world as muse.
What’s one of the trickiest things you’ve found about owning and running your own business? The most rewarding?
Balancing all of the different facets of something that often feels like its own being can be a challenge. It’s impossible to be very good at all of it, but it’s important to me to get good enough at the business side of things to support the creative side. And to know when to ask for help. It has been a wonderful learning experience. The most rewarding part is helping my clients discover the endless potential for beauty and harmony in the relationship between skin, spirit, and the natural world.

What are your favorite ingredients to work with? Do they change each season?

Some of my favorites in every season include rose, cardamom, sandalwood and chamomile, as well as so many others. As winter approaches, I begin to focus on the coniferous oils and essences, as well as the richest of the nourishing cold-pressed oils, which are perfect for protecting the skin as the weather becomes cold and dry. Focusing on the gifts of each season helps to give us a sense of place, and grounds us in the moment. 
What are your long-term plans for Marble & Milkweed?
Marble & Milkweed has evolved very organically from the beginning, and I intend to allow that to continue. More seasonal offerings are always on the way, as well as collaborations with a few carefully selected local farmers in sourcing raw materials. I’m also currently learning the ancient art of distillation in order to more deeply understand the process of creating hydrosols, with the hope of eventually distilling my own from locally sourced botanicals. 

Shop Marble & Milkweed online here and on Etsy here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Packing for London

And we're back!…This past week or so has turned into an unintentional hiatus. I've actually had a lot of content planned, but between work (the holiday season + we just celebrated our 15th Anniversary this week!) and travel, this little blog had to take a backseat. 

I spent just over four days in London this past week and made a point of trying to travel like an adult—which means a carry-on only (I picked up this new hard-sided Delsey for the occasion), and no overpacking. 
Surprisingly, I actually succeeded (for the most part...I might have checked my bag on the way back, but it was free!). Since I packed a lot of the littler things last-minute, not everything is documented via photo but I'll do my best to share my travel essentials and how I pack here. Temps in London this time of year hover around the mid-50's, but if you've been on the East Coast recently you know that it can actually feel pretty warm during the day, especially if you're walking all over town, with the evenings getting much cooler. I wanted to keep things casual and easy, so I started with my basics and decided to build out from there. 
I've got no problems re-wearing things several times in a row, particularly when it's cold and I just don't feel like getting properly dressed (I once wore the same sweater almost three straight days when I was home for Christmas…in my defense, it was about 5 degrees outside and too cold to take it off). I used to be a horrendous over-packer because I like to have options, but I've found it's easier for me to pack during the winter because I start with a core group of basics that I can mix-and-match for up to a week, and build out from if the trip is longer than that or there are any special occasions in the mix. I try to stick to a particular color palette, but can't resist getting a little color in here and there. This trip was all about neutrals—grays, blues, blacks, greens, navy and whites—to avoid making my friend late for work make getting dressed a cinch in the morning.
So, without further ado, here's how I pack for a winter trip, plus a few slight alterations for London!

Clothing
  • 1-2 cashmere sweaters
  • 1-2 cropped sweaters
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 pair dark/black skinny or straight-leg jeans
  • 1 pair blue skinny or straight-leg jeans
  • 1 pair of non-jean pants
  • 1 dress and/or 1 skirt
  • 1-2 t-shirts
  • 1 lighter jacket (if the weather will be above 50)
  • 1 neutral colored coat
  • 1-2 scarves
  • 1 bag/purse and 1 foldable tote
I never travel in colder months without a few cashmere sweaters (I'm partial to my ones from OTTE), which I wear at least three times a week—including as I type this—and sometimes to sleep in if it's a particularly chilly night. Cropped sweaters have become my latest go-to when I want to feel a little more put together, as they're easy to layer over a dress or blouse. I make sure to stash an oversize scarf with my easier-to-reach "personal" item, which doubles as a blanket or pillow on the plane as needed. Since most of this list is a no-brainer, it'd be a bit boring for me to run through every piece, but I do always make sure to have at least one skirt or dress with me, no matter how casual my trip might be. Make sure it's something that travels easily (i.e. nothing pouf-y or that you can't get the wrinkles out of quickly). It's one of those never-know situations! My purse for this trip was a bucket bag from Sole Society, which I've been carrying non-stop since I got back as well. Since I carried on with just a suitcase and my Lo & Sons bag, it tucked easily on top of my clothes so I could pull it out once I arrived in London. I also tuck a foldable tote in my bag just in case I need to carry a few extra things around, like getting my laptop to a cafĂ© or, in warmer locales, as a beach bag!

Shoes
  • 1-2 pairs of sneakers
  • 1 pair flat boots
  • 1 pair heels/heeled boots
I prefer to travel in sneakers if I can get away with it, especially for longer trips, which has meant recent investments into sleeker styles, like my Vince slip-ons and Reebok Skyscapes (a.k.a. the most comfortable shoes I own!). Anyone who's stopped by this space in the past year or so knows I'm constantly wearing my Loeffler Randall booties, but they don't always fit the bill for those never-know dressier situations, so a pair of heels or heeled boots is a must. Come mid-winter, I adjust this list a bit to include a pair of tall, flat boots and, if I'm in Iowa, snow boots (ugh). 
Tech, Entertainment & Necessities
I use my Lo & Sons bag—I have the O.G., and have been traveling with it pretty exclusively for over a year now—to carry all my electronics, chargers, books, papers and snacks. I usually tuck my liquids baggie on top so it's easy to get to when going through security. This trip was all about downsizing, hence the neutral wardrobe (and why there aren't outfit pics from this trip—they would have been pretty boring!). My usual wallet is stuffed with credit cards, cash, receipts, punch cards, business cards, you name it; for London I wanted something sleeker and easier to keep track of. This passport case has card slots and a zipper pouch inside, and once I arrived and didn't need to carry my passport, I transferred the basics over to a slim card case. To keep my purse as light as possible once I arrived, I opted to take my Olympus E-Pen 7 Lite camera instead of my dSLR...I was a little apprehensive at first, but since the Olympus is maybe half the weight of my Nikon, my shoulders were thankful, and I still got some amazing photos! I also travel with a Leica film camera most trips, but I'll get into those preferences another time. An external Mophie charger is a must, especially in other countries—I made sure it was fully charged before I left NYC and made it through the entire next day before I needed to actually plug anything in. 

Makeup/Beauty
  • face wash
  • moisturizer
  • sunscreen
  • hand cream
  • hand sanitizer
  • toothbrush & toothpaste
  • shampoo & conditioner
  • body wash
  • coconut oil
  • razor
  • perfume (roller ball or travel size)
  • nail file
  • bb cream
  • mascara
  • black eyeliner (pencil or gel pot)
  • cream blush
  • a few lipstick colors/glosses
Last on the list—and the last thing I pack—makeup and beauty products! I tend to pack these up as I get ready on the day of my flight, which helps me make sure I'm getting all my essentials and means I don't have  go digging through my suitcase to find my toothbrush before I leave. This list varies a lot depending on where I'm traveling; for example, I keep a set of basics (shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, a toothbrush, etc) at home so I don't have to travel with much, and I'll often forgo liquid basics if I'm not checking a bag and I know they're easy to find once I arrive. A few things I always travel with, though, are perfume (I actually bought a new one when I arrived in London this time, more on that later!), bb cream, mascara, lipsticks from Nars & Bite Beauty, and coconut oil, which I use in place of moisturizer and usually put into a 3oz bottle as opposed to scooping/pouring out of the jar. 
Once everything is rolled up and packed where it belongs, I do a little evaluation, and—this is where the cheating comes in—see what I can add on. Usually this is because I was considering another item already but told myself it wouldn't be necessary; if it fits the aforementioned palette I've got going for the trip and is different enough to justify bringing, I'll add it. If it's another pair of dark skinny jeans, or plaid scarf? Nope, gotta stay. And I quite literally have to say that to myself, sometimes out loud, or else I'll try to justify stashing a bunch of things last minute that I will not need on a short trip from home. 
traveling with: Delsey Carry-on Suitcase c/o Zappos || Lo & Sons OG bag in Sky Blue

Now—what do you pack when traveling? Anything I missed on my list that you consider essentials? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Layered

Every fall/winter season, I seem to pick one styling technique and subconsciously stick with with for several months. Two years ago, it was tights under dresses and skirts, last year it was dark wash jeans with chunky sweaters, and this year I'm all about sweaters over dresses.  
I snagged this pretty printed Madewell dress on sale about a month ago, but the temps had already dropped too much to wear it alone. I didn't want to give up on it completely for the season (because there's something that feels so great about wearing new clothes for the first time, too) so I scoured through my current sweater collection until I came across this cropped black one, last seen here. The fitted knit fit perfectly over the looser, flowing silhouette of the dress, and I've since repeated it with another Madewell dress (I guess I shop in pairs!) and a similar, hi-lo sweater.
That's all I've got for today…still a little time to kill before work, and I haven't packed a thing for London! I head out tomorrow night, so stay tuned for some across-the-pond coverage in the coming weeks, and make sure to follow me on instagram for (somewhat) real time updates!

P.S.—to whomever shouted "I love your blog!" out a car window while I was shooting these, if you actually do, thanks! If you just though I was Blair Eadie since it was the West Village and I have long blonde hair, I'm equally flattered.
525 America Sweater  c/o Zappos || Madewell Printed Shirtdress || Sole Society Boots (similar)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Photo Diary: Brooklyn

I'm going to gloss over the fact it's now November and it smelled like Winter in the air when I left my apartment yesterday and kick it back to last weekend, when I spent the most wonderful, beautiful, sunny fall day in Brooklyn, hitting up places both new and favorites of mine.
I started my morning off with a work event in TriBeCa, originally planning to keep my day pretty low-key but before long the sun was shining and it was beautiful outside. I wanted nothing more than to soak up the sunshine, so I found a friend willing to spend a day roaming in Brooklyn. Since she had a longer trek down than I did, I spent a little time meandering through some new-to-me streets in TriBeCa...how pretty were those trees?
Post train ride: soaking in the colorful streets....and winding up in a new boutique. I usually take the G when I'm in Fort Greene, but since I came in from downtown I got off at a new stop that took me past some freaking adorable restaurants, lots of fall-themed decor and right to the stoop of French Garment Cleaners, an impeccably cool boutique that stocks some of my favorites like Isabel Marant, Rachel Comey, Sea and Christian Wijnants, along with luxe, niche beauty products and perfumes. I fell head-over-heels for a blue velvet jacket, but I'm trying to be good with my bank account before I head to London! They stock both mens and womens, so I highly recommend a trip in next time you're in the neighborhood, no matter who you're with.  
Next stop: the flea! I didn't make it nearly as many times as I wanted to this summer, and the one in Fort Greene is a little easier to navigate most days than Williamsburg. I don't always buy something (this time I walked away with a little sterling silver and rough crystal ring), but it's a great place to go to source inspiration. We're currently in the process of decorating the second living room in my apartment, so I've been on the hunt for unique furniture, mirrors, artwork etc...and my #1 decorating goal is to get our gallery wall up (after three years, oops) before the end of the year, making frames a top priority when I'm scavenging! It's also fun to see some of the artisans, there's always tons of great/fun jewelry but a personal favorite of mine is SKT Ceramics (you may remember seeing some of their mugs on my instagram feed here and here, I currently own both cups and the mug!).
The sun was incredibly bright and I'd eaten nothing but a bagel, so post-flea we set our sights on brunch al fresco. A quick Yelp search led us to Ici, the cutest restaurant tucked on the ground floor of a brownstone and exactly what we were looking for. Garden/patio out back? Check. Good drinks? Double Check. Quiet, relaxed atmosphere? Yes and yes. The brew was La Colombe and served in giant cups (see the first picture!) and the food was unbelievably good. I'm almost hesitant to speak so highly of it for fear it'll become widely discovered and be too packed to get a table next time I go! 
There were still a few hours of daylight left, so (if you're still with me here), we took a stroll to one of my absolute favorite neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Boerum Hill. I first discovered this little gem of a neighborhood last year when my mom was visiting; I really wanted to stock up on gardening supplies and plants for the summer, so we took the subway down to go to GRDN, a well stocked little shop of gardening supplies, plants and home decor off Atlantic Avenue. My mom is as much a wandering explorer as I am, so we strolled up Atlantic into a variety of boutiques, antique shops, bakeries and home goods stores. I loved it so much I took the train back the following weekend, and make a point to pop in some of my favorites (Meg, Collier West and Horseman Antiques to name a few) anytime I'm in the area. 
One last little note—all the photos here were taken with my new Olympus e-pen7 lite, possibly one of the most amazing little cameras I've owned to date. I'm still working out a lot of the features since I'm used to shooting on a full dSLR, but I've been very impressed by the quality, and my favorite feature is the wifi hookup...I can send photos straight to my phone via their app and upload to social media right then (some recent photos #shotwithmypen are here, here and here). It's been especially helpful in lower light situations where my phone camera can't get all the details, and lastly, it weighs about a third of what my Nikon does, so I'm considering traveling with only the Olympus for my trip this week! While the camera was a gift from the Olympus team, this is not a sponsored post—all photos and opinions are my own, I'm just really enjoying the new camera :)