Sisters Heather Dodge and Alison Hjembo took a leap six years ago and decided to launch an all-natural, organic skin care line from their Westminster farm. Their magic weapon? Emu oil.
Heather said her parents started raising emus, an ostrich-like bird, 17 years ago in Howard County. When the family farm was sold, the emu farm moved to Westminster.
The family sells emu meat, eggs, feathers, leather and now they use emu oil to make their skin care line called Kaylala. Kaylala is the Aboriginal word for emu.
The family has had as many as 46 emus at a time. Currently they are at an all time low with just four, a decision based on the amount of work it takes to care for and raise the birds.
When she became pregnant, Heather said she started paying more attention to what she was putting in and on her body. She said it was difficult to find skin care products that were all natural, organic, of a decent consistency and that smelled good.
"The basis of our company was to have products without questionable ingredients, chemicals, additives and fillers," Alison said.
The skin care line currently includes lotions, lip balm, facial cleanser, toner and moisturizer, baby products as well as straight up emu oil. The products range from $5.95 for a tin of lip balm to facial moisturizing cream for $28.95 and a rejuvinating face serum for $74.95. Find a complete list of products and pricing on the website.
The oil itself has been used for centuries by the Aborigines in Australia, Alison said, where it is also commonly prescribed by medical professionals for its optimal balance of Omega 3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids.
"Emu oil is transdermal; it actually goes into the third layer of skin," Heather said. "For us it was that much more important that it had to be natural because otherwise those chemicals are definitely getting in."
Allison added that emu oil returns the skin to a healthy balance. She said that emu oil will balance dry skin and oily skin. It will also help heal wounds without leaving scar tissue and can help treat third degree burns. Even problem skin like eczema can be treated with emu oil.
After exploring opportunities to have products manufactured, the sisters decided the only way they would be able to make the products they wanted was to do it themselves.
"Initially we met with a manufacturer who was going to do all the formulations for us," Heather said. "After three times of us telling him [a manufacturer] what we want and him bringing us something with a product in it we were specifically trying to avoid--mineral oil, artificial fragrance--we decided to try it ourselves."
"Through trial and error we came up with our own formulations," Heather said.
The products are created in the family kitchen, which they said was cleaner than the manufacturing labs they visited as they researched starting the company.
Not only are the products themselves all-natural and organic, the sisters have made a commitment to conduct their business in an eco-friendly way as well.
"It's important to us that our entire company is green, not just the products," Alison said.
Heather said most of their products are in glass or tin, which can be recycled. They also recycle packing materials.
"It's a closed system here. All of the droppings from the birds go to compost. Then the extra garden food goes to feed the birds," Alison said. "There's nothing going into the water shed; we're not polluting the chesapeake."
Heather said one of their biggest challenges is pricing their products. She said that one of their goals in starting the company was to have a price point that average people could afford.
"Making an organic natural product is crazy expensive," Heather said. "The [cost] difference between mineral oil and coconut oil is insane. And the difference between a glass bottle and plastic bottle is significant.
"We're trying to figure out where we fit in the market place," Heather said. "We want a product we would want to buy, that would fit into our budget."
Growing Kaylala is also a challenge, although the sisters say trying to figure out how to handle growth is a good problem to have.
"Having enough hands and brains to get it all done is a problem," Alison said. "We want to grow but keep our identity."
"While sometimes we dream of a big office building and factory, the idea that it is handcrafted in small batches is such a part of the product that we'll never stray from that," Heather said. "Local is so important to us."
Kaylala is available for purchase through the company website, at local farmer's markets and in some boutiques in California, Maryland and Washington.
The family will sell its wares at the Westminster Farmer's Market on Conway Avenue on Tuesday evenings.