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Featuring: Ryanne Kennedy of Dogwood Blossom Gifts
As she quickly weighs the fuchsia base ingredients and then switches on her hand mixer, Ryanne remains intently focused on the task at hand. The mother of two young girls with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering shows me the complex steps involved in making the plant-based bath soap that she will pipe atop an aloha scented bath bomb cupcake sitting on the tray to her left. Her workspace presents with the sterility of a science lab and the scent of a Paris garden park. Dogwood Blossom Gifts is the successful brainchild of Ryanne Kennedy. She epitomizes a modern entrepreneur by combining her scientific expertise with her business savvy and incredible artistic gift for creating deliciously beautiful soaps and related products with renewable resources.
BT: CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR TRANSITION FROM NUCLEAR ENGINEER TO HAND MADE SOAP ARTISAN? WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE THIS ROUTE?
RK: I have always loved homemade soaps. It was a treat when I was a kid. As an adult, I picked up soapmaking as a creative outlet and hobby. It was something to satisfy the left side of my brain after the right side had done math all day. Our move to the DC area and becoming a stay-at-home mom opened a door for me to try my own thing. There are not a ton of opportunities related to core reactor physics out of a home office, and my passion (ok – my obsession) for my soap making was exponentially growing!
BT: WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU HAD A “BUSINESS” AND NOT JUST A “HOBBY”?
RK: It took me a year of experimenting with the idea and working through the implications with my family before I decided to commit to selling my work. I wanted to do everything legitimately regarding regulations, labeling, insurance, good manufacturing practices, etc. Once I started offering my soaps for sale, the business concept followed quickly because it was obvious that people enjoyed the products. I found the Loudoun Valley Homegrown Cooperative farmers markets shortly after moving to the DC area, and they were an incredibly supportive organization for a foundling business.
BT: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BAR OF SOAP FROM THE GROCERY STORE AND A BAR OF SOAP FROM DOGWOOD BLOSSOM GIFTS?
RK: A well-made homemade soap is miles away from what is mass-produced. There are simple differences in production like the concept that the natural glycerin is left in my soaps, as well as differences in the freshness of the ingredients and the finished products. I only use ingredients that are well understood and studied, and I don’t incorporate popular trends into my products unless there is good data behind them. My work is an intentional balance of luxury, practicality, and cost. I create original products that people use every day and add just that extra little something to bring joy to a routine.
I also believe that my customers are buying a service, not just a product. They have access to me as well as my work: my research, my understanding, and my abilities to create custom/unique skincare products. Products that you put on your skin are just as important as the products that you consume, and I have worked hard to establish a solid foundation of formulation chemistry for my field to make solid decisions about my ingredients and manufacturing techniques.
It’s also important to remember that buying from locally owned businesses is proven to be healthy for a community. When you support my work, you support not only me but my children, the Girls Scout troop that I taught how to make soap this week, and a neighborhood high school student who works with me. The impact of shopping small is incredible.
BT: YOU HAVE TWO YOUNG DAUGHTERS, HAVA (EIGHTYEARS- OLD) AND EMMIE (THREE-YEARS-OLD). DO YOU FIND THAT YOU HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ACHIEVE A LIFE WORK BALANCE THROUGH THIS BUSINESS MODEL?
RK: Yes, I think that I have. I don’t have a secret formula or set of rules to achieve balance. Instead, it’s just something that we work on each day. Sometimes I just have to set aside the soap shop for an afternoon or say “no” to a new wholesale client. Other times I have to ask for help with life at home in order to get something done with my work. My overarching goal is to grow the soap shop with intention. I am building a business that my girls can grow with, participate in, and enjoy with me.
BT: WHAT OTHER PRODUCTS HAVE YOU CREATED FOR DOGWOOD BLOSSOM GIFTS? DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SCENT?
RK: I have started to sell many things besides soap, and almost every new product is a direct request from a customer. Other products include bath bombs, bubble bath, lip balms, creams and lotions, shampoo, and scrubs. I have so many scents that I love! I think Blackberry and Magnolia is an all-time favorite combination, and one of my newest scents that I have been enjoying is a blend of peppermint, spearmint, and vanilla.
BT: DO YOU ONLY SELL YOUR GOODS AT LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS OR CAN WE FIND YOU ELSEWHERE?
RK: My products are available at farmers markets, arts and craft shows, and absolutely online! My website, www. dogwoodblossomgifts.com, has a few great discussions about ingredients, my calendar of events, and a full online shopping experience. I promise that a little bit of soapy art will make you smile!
By: Betsy Trainor
Photos by: Traci Medlock
Betsy Trainor resides in Loudoun County and is a mother of four. She is corporate counsel to a Northern Virginia business and enjoys running, reading, and freelance writing. You can read more about her daughter, Riley, and the inspirational story about her diabetes and her involvement in future research at www.poshseven.com/riley-trainor.html.