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.

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