We have been following along with S/He Apothecary since creative Dawn De La Fuente first launched the small batch apothecary line which uses only natural + organic healing ingredients. Nestled in the Northern California Redwoods, we took a trip to see Dawn’s home sanctuary and studio where she hand crafts the gender neutral (hence S/he) formulations. Her laidback California aesthetic and recipes inspired by earth and ocean compliment the Coyuchi lifestyle. Read our Q+A below to learn how she’s built a sustainable brand from the raw materials found outside her doorstep including a womb massage oil recipe, perfect for menstrual cramps and sore muscles.
What made you decide to start s/he? What were you doing before?
After years of working as a marketing executive with various lifestyle brands, I felt as if I had learned and accomplished a lot in my career, but hadn’t dedicated adequate time to my own needs and fulfillment. I needed replenishment, and one way I knew to do that was through nature. So I turned to studying herbalism to deepen my own connection with nature, and from there other healing modalities that now influence the way I live and work.
S/he began as a creative outlet for my herbal practice and a desire to be independent from most store-bought goods and medicines that are laden with harmful ingredients. It was an exploration of sorts, taking inspiration from my surroundings, like the feelings evoked and healing received from walking through a redwood forest. I began crafting formulas that naturally ground, heal and enliven. Combine this with my desire to share with others and my brand building experience, and s/he was born.
Did you have an aha moment that led you to move towards a more sustainable way of life?
Living in Northern California. Growing up on the East Coast and spending most of my youth in cities like New York and Boston didn’t expose me to the importance of natural living. They were culturally rich and have greatly impacted who I am today, but it wasn’t until moving to Southern California in 2002 that I began to see what a healthy, balanced lifestyle looked like. And even then, it was still limited. Northern California is responsible for my personal awareness of the positive and negative effects of what we consume or are exposed to, and how our individual actions impact the environment and the future. This greater awareness and education is due to my current surroundings and living in the Bay Area.
How has sustainability and wellness influenced the choices you make in your business?
S/he is built on the pillars of nature, ritual and craft. Nature is the foundation and inspiration, and herbalism is what informs my process of selecting botanicals and raw materials for their medicinal benefits. Our products are crafted with intention and are comprised of organic, “wildcrafted[Office2] ,” locally sourced and sustainably harvested ingredients.
To me, ritual represents a daily practice and the time-honored traditions passed between generations, often adopted by and adapted into modern living. I believe personal ritual is more than routine and I view self-care as a means for sustainable wellness and preventative care. For self-care, I believe in slow care and honoring oneself with intentional moments or movements throughout the day, whether it be during bathing and grooming, morning tea, or the way one unwinds at day’s end. Self-care not only provides comfort and ease, but also a means to nurture and develop a deeper connection with oneself, the foundation for healing.
How do chemicals in bath and beauty products effect your well-being?
I have a sensitive nose so the parfum (fragrance) found in most products is the first to trigger allergies, headaches or skin irritation. Therefore, I try to stay away from anything that is synthetically fragranced, like most perfume, shampoo, cosmetics, soap and detergent. Last year I experienced a six-month bout with eczema below each eye, which was easily irritated by just about everything, but washing my face was the most difficult, even with supposed natural products, since they still had unidentified fragrances in their ingredients. I searched long and hard for a gentle, all natural and unscented cleanser that wouldn’t irritate my eyes and had to use a simple calendula oil infusion (no essential oils or strong herbs) to help treat the eczema topically while I treated it from the inside as well.
Having used high-quality all-natural bath and beauty products for the last several years, my skin feels more nourished throughout the day, and my skin tone is balanced with little to no uneven patches, which means I feel more comfortable than ever wearing less makeup. I use oils instead of lotion to moisturize after bathing (which means no alcohol or preservatives in my body-care products). This not only moisturizes my body, but the practice of massaging oil into the skin promotes circulation and helps to reduce stress.
How do you choose products for your home? What is your philosophy?
My philosophy for our home is simple, organic and multipurpose. When it comes to products for the home, whether they be cleaning or general supplies, I try to ensure anything store-bought is all natural, unscented, unbleached and biodegradable (worst case: recyclable). I prefer to make purchases from bulk sections of stores like Good Earth or Rainbow Grocery. Products like all-purpose cleaning sprays or window cleaners that are used daily I make myself. This not only ensures the ingredients aren’t harmful to my family, but it helps save on cost and packaging waste, and I can tailor the scent to my liking.
How does your home reflect your beliefs?
To me, a home is a reflection of the person or family that lives there. The home my partner and I have built is filled with memories and relics from our travels, handcrafted wares that feed family and friends, handwoven textiles from villages that have touched our hearts, and a menagerie of art pieces collected or commissioned over the years—all of which is rooted in natural living, the importance of ritual, and an appreciation for craft.
How does living in California influence your values?
California is naturally abundant, offering diverse landscapes, from lush forests and magical deserts to the most stunning coastlines and turquoise rivers. Experiencing life in California has exposed me to so much natural beauty that has only enhanced the way I live and my creativity, shaping who I am today. I have so much gratitude for my surroundings and believe the most important thing we can do is treat our land and natural resources with the utmost respect because they sustain life. We come from nature, are sustained by nature and ultimately return to nature.
What part of your home do you find to be the most restorative?
We live in the redwoods so I enjoy all parts of our home, but I find the bedroom to be most restorative. To sleep soundly in a room with no television or electronics and a view of the redwoods provides so much healing and necessary rest.
What are some new things we can expect to see from S/He?
Refinement and simplicity.
What keeps you inspired?
Travel and immersion in nature are my key sources for inspiration. A simple trip up the coast, weekend excursion to the desert, or journey to an exotic land invigorate all my senses. These are my must-haves in real life.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing for a consumer to look for when shopping?
Please, always look at the ingredients, as well as where and how your products are produced. Large corporations don’t necessarily mean quality or ethically produced goods, but not all big companies are bad either. It’s important to do your research and find brands that source and produce in ways that align with your personal values.
What are some helpful guidelines for someone transitioning to a more thoughtful lifestyle?
Transitioning to a more thoughtful and natural lifestyle sounds ideal, but can also be overwhelming because there’s room for improvement everywhere you look—and that’s ok. It’s important to start small. Make a list of the areas you want to improve upon—beauty products, nutrition, fitness, home goods, etcetera—so they aren’t left swirling in your mind. Choose one at a time, and learn about that topic. Blogs can give good ideas about easy and affordable things you can do on your own. Taking classes and workshops is also a great way to go deeper into a subject so that you can learn and engage with others who share the same interests. And be sure to have fun! If it’s not enjoyable, you’re unlikely to incorporate new practices into your life. In a short amount of time, you’ll notice that the transition takes place quite organically and often helps you to be more thoughtful in other areas of your life.
Womb Massage Oil
While we were visiting Dawn created us a Womb Massage Oil with wildcrafted ingredients. Use this warming, penetrating massage oil externally for menstrual cramps, sore muscles, stiff necks and improved circulation. Though this combination of herbs is favored by women, men can benefit from them too.
· Glass jar with tight-fitting lid (a large mason jar works great)
· 1 ½ cups dried or 2 ½–3 cups fresh*mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) leaves, flowers and stalks
· 1 cup fresh organic ginger root
· 1 quart organic plant oil, such as olive, sunflower, jojoba or almond
· Crockpot (if using the method in #5 below)
*It’s best to make this oil with mature summer or autumn Artemisia, ideally gathered when in flower.
1. Crumble and chop the mugwort leaves, flowers and stalks; grate the ginger.
2. Place the mugwort and ginger in a glass jar and cover them with the plant oil.
3. Stir the mixture with a sanitized stainless-steel spoon or an unused wooden chopstick.
4. If it’s summertime and the weather is warm: Place the jar in a paper bag and set it out in the warm sun for 2 weeks. Stir the mixture (or shake the jar) every day to prevent it from separating.
5. If the weather isn’t warm, or time is of the essence: Place the jar in a warm-water bath in a crockpot on the “Keep Warm” setting. (Do NOT use Low or High settings as they are too hot and will compromise the integrity of the oil and burn the herbs.) The temperature should be between 110 and 120 degrees. Keep the jar in the warm water bath for 5–7 days, adding water as needed to keep the level to the top of the crockpot.
6. Strain the oil through a muslin cloth and discard the spent herb in the compost.
7. Let the mixture sit for a couple of hours to let the sediment sink to the bottom.
8. Decant the oil into a glass bottle, leaving the sediment behind.
9. Add vitamin E to the herbal oil (1–3 ml per every 1 cup of oil) to help extend its shelf life.
10. Keep the bottled oil refrigerated. (I like to fill a 2-oz dropper bottle for regular use and store the remaining oil in the refrigerator.)