Growing an environmentally conscious skincare company, with Rocky Mountain Soap Company’s CEO Karina Birch

July 25, 2019

Have you ever wondered what ingredients go into your skincare, why they’re used and, better yet, what shouldn’t be in your skincare? Maybe you’ve even begun to think about the waste these products produce, long after you’re done with them. Overwhelming isn’t it? Thank goodness Rocky Mountain Soap company is thinking about this for us and going beyond on their mission to reduce beauty industry waste. Karina Birch is CEO of Rocky Mountain Soap Co., and along with her husband Cam (COO), they’ve nurtured the company from its beginnings in 2000 as a small shop in Canmore, Alberta to now 14 retail stores and a 20,000 square foot workshop.

We chatted with Karina about how they’ve been able to reduce their waste, how they source sustainable ingredients for their soap, and her favourite DIY hair masks to try out at home! 

WEHL: Tell us a little about Rocky Mountain Soap and why you were inspired to buy the company. 

KB: I’ve loved experimenting with natural ingredients since I was a little girl. Whether it was mashed avocado on my face or an egg in my hair, I inherently believed that if it came from nature it was the best you could get. There are over 85,000 chemicals in use in our industry today, and some of these have been correlated to long-term health effects. My focus is on using high quality, natural ingredients because I believe these good ingredients are our best option for maintaining healthy skin and bodies.    

 WEHL: What is your philosophy on wellness?        

KB: Keeping your routine simple and using high quality, healthy ingredients. This is the same philosophy I apply to the food I eat. Would you rather put whole foods in your body or processed? Good-for-you, simple, natural ingredients are the key to wellness.

WEHL: All of your products are made by hand; why is that?  

KB: Not all of our products are still “made by hand” but we have real people behind every product we make. Due to the demand, we have begun to use new machinery and techniques to scale up our production but we still have people screwing on lids and hand pouring ingredients. 

WEHL: Why is reducing waste/sustainable packaging so important to you?  

KB: Right now in the beauty industry, there’s a huge gap between how long a product lasts and how long the packaging lasts. We believe products are only truly natural when the combination of ingredients, outer skin, and the environment in which they’re prepared and sold are all toxin-free.

Every day we are humbled by the power and beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Living with gratitude for our surroundings impacts every decision we make, especially when it comes to sustainability. Nature is all we need, but it is also our job to ensure nature is well taken care of, so it can continue to supply us with what we need. 

We have an admittedly intimidating goal of becoming a zero waste company, and each year we move closer to making this a reality, however, it’s no easy feat. We are constantly figuring out new ways to divert waste from landfills throughout the entire process. From how we build our workspaces and retail locations to how we produce, pack and ship our products. 

By taking simple actions like updating our soap recipes so there is no waste, using biodegradable packing peanuts, recyclable or compostable packaging and reusing shipping boxes and materials we move closer to this goal every year.

 WEHL: Rocky Mountain Soap has a commitment to reducing product/packaging waste as much as possible. You started this with your Lip Quench containers; tell us about those. 

KB: We are constantly looking for more sustainable packaging and after many trials and samples, we found these great biodegradable containers that we use for our lip quenches. 

  • RESPONSIBLE SOURCING: The paperboard used to make these paper pots is made from 85% recycled content. By using recycled content, we help to alleviate the pressure on our forests. 
  • SAFE FOR THE EARTH: The pots are created using only natural fibres that can go safely back to the earth. They are biodegradable and recyclable, and can also be composted, creating a unique circle of life that is completely waste free.
  • CLEAN PRODUCTION: The pots are made with layers of 100% paperboard, so no pollutants are added to the air, water or waste stream. The paper waste produced during production also gets recycled and can be used for new projects!
  • INK & COATING FREE: Our paper pots are free from any toxic ink or coating. The labels are applied by hand at our workshop in Canmore and can easily be removed prior to recycling or composting. The adhesives used to seal the edges are water-based (not solvent).
  • MADE LOCAL: The packages are made in North America. We always try to source our ingredients and packaging as close to home as possible!

WEHL: How do you go through the process of finding the right ingredients?  

KB: 

    • We only use ingredients that are found in nature and are good for you. 
      • By ‘found in nature’ we mean ingredients that have been harvested in their original form, or that can be extracted from plants or minerals.
    • We select our ingredients based on how we want our final product to smell, feel and most importantly benefit your skin, hair, and body.
      • Using plant-based ingredients means our products often look and smell like the raw ingredients we use. We see this as a sign of quality.
    • We source local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
    • We do not use natural ingredients that have a harmful effect on your body or the environment, i.e., mineral oil or talc.
    • We do not use ingredients that haven’t been tested on humans for long-term effects.
    • We avoid using natural ingredients that are produced or extracted from their source using environmentally harmful processes.
    • We only produce nature-identical ingredients in our lab if it benefits the environment and your skin.

Our Products are free of:

    • Artificial colours
    • Artificial fragrances
    • Phthalates
    • Sulfates and other synthetic detergents
    • Synthetic preservatives 
    • Parabens
    • Petrochemicals

WEHL: Do you source any of your ingredients from local/Canadian farms? If so, where?  

KB: Yes, our Canadian sourcing includes:

    • Flax oil and oatmeal sourced from Highwood Crossing Foods, Alberta
    • Carrots sourced from Leffers Farms, Alberta
    • Camelina oil sourced from Three Farmers, Saskatchewan
    • Calendula flowers sourced from Chickadee Farm Herbs, Alberta
    • Beeswax sourced from Paradis Honey, Alberta
    • Abyssinian oil, sourced from Kensington, Prince Edward Island
    • Balsam fir from the Boreal Forest in Northern Quebec
    • Pumpkin puree from Harvest Pack, Ontario
    • Sea Buckthorn Oil from Quebec
    • Hemp from Manitoba Harvest, Manitoba
    • And our water is sourced from right here in Canmore!

WEHL: Why is being a toxin-free company important?  

KB: Did you know that 85% of the more than 85,000 chemicals in use in today’s marketplace have not been tested for long-term human health impacts? Our philosophy is that if we’re not sure that something is safe over the long-haul, then why use it? Especially when there are amazing natural ingredients offered by our planet that can keep us clean, moisturized and smelling delightful.

 

WEHL: Do you have a list of ingredients that we should avoid in our beauty/skincare?  

KB: We like to call this our “red list”:

    • Lead
    • Mercury
    • Siloxanes
    • Coal Tar Dyes
    • Artificial Colourants
    • Sulfates
    • Phthalates
    • Parabens
    • Glycols
    • Triclosan
    • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)
    • BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
    • DEA (Diethanolamine Cocoamide Dea, Lauramide Dea)
    • MEA (Monoethanolamine)
    • TEA (Triethanolamine)
    • Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives (Ie. Dmdm Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidoazolidinyl Urea)
    • Genetically Modified Organisms
    • By-Products From Animals That Are Harmed Or Killed
    • Any Ingredient Tested On Animals
    • Irradiated Ingredients
    • Nanoparticles

WEHL: What are some of your favourite non-toxic/natural ingredients for beauty/skincare and why are they beneficial? 

KB: We like to call this our ‘green list’. Among some of the best natural ingredients out there, here is what we love using in our products: 

    • Canadian Abyssinian Oil is an excellent moisturizer – is light and non-greasy ensuring it works effectively as a sealing oil. It’s also great for hair as the high omega-9 (erucic acid) content helps to add luster to hair, boost shine and protect the hair from split ends.
    • Aloe Vera helps support the moisture balance of the skin and has soothing properties. Not only is it excellent for hydration, but it’s also known to have healing properties for sunburned skin.
    • Arnica Oil promotes your body’s healing process by regulating circulation in the connective tissue, dispersing trapped fluids. Arnica temporarily relieves pain and swelling associated with bumps, bruises, sprains and general muscular discomfort. In skin care, it reduces puffiness, inflammation and redness.
    • Avocado Oil is jam-packed with proteins, antioxidants and sterolin. It is a superhero for the skin as it heals sun-damage, fades the appearance of age-spots, and packs a moisturizing punch. Avocado Oil deserves a place in everyone’s skin care routine.
    • Our Beeswax is sourced here in Alberta by a supplier who does not use bleach or pesticides and who obtains the wax in a humane manner. Beeswax draws moisture to the skin and also provides a protective layer against the elements that is still breathable.
    • Calendula is renowned for its anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. It helps to keep wounds clean and clear of pus and regulates circulation to the skin, supporting healthy skin regeneration as it reduces pain.
    • Cocoa Butter is an effective skin softener and protectant that helps with consistency and texture of a product; it also provides superior moisturizing qualities while diminishing the signs of aging as well as stretch marks.
    • Coconut Oil is rich in emollient fat and, when pressed, yields a white, sweetly-scented, super moisturizing oil which is solid at room temperature but easily melts on the skin, helping to bind and emulsify natural formulations. It protects skin from the elements by forming a thin film, which is not absorbed. Coconut Oil is useful as an after sun skin oil and is also revitalizing to dry, damaged hair. Saponified Coconut Oil has good cleansing properties and is known for its mildness.
    • Comfrey Oil contains a high amount of allantoin, a substance that reduces inflammation and promotes the growth of new skin. It is excellent for addressing rashes and skin irritations, bug bites and shallow wounds, but it’s also great for soreness and muscle aches and pains.
    • Jojoba is similar to the oils that we produce naturally in our bodies and is therefore easily absorbed and moisturizing. It can aid in soothing problematic skin as it’s non-greasy, naturally antiseptic and antibacterial. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce swelling and redness that accompany skin abrasions and irritations.
    • Olive Oil contains naturally occurring squalene, a component of the hydrolipid mantle. It has antimicrobial, anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory properties and provides a creaminess to the lather of our soap base.
    • Rosehip Oil is high in vitamins C and A and has a strengthening effect on capillaries and connective tissue. Rose extracts are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and have been used to soothe and heal irritated chapped skin. It’s rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids which maintain healthy skin and repair tissue damage.
    • An excellent emollient and emulsifier, Shea Butter protects against skin dryness and accelerates healing of superficial wounds and irritations. It has a slight photo-protective action and is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and Vitamin E; it is naturally a very stable substance.
    • A byproduct of soap making, Glycerin is an emollient (skin softener) and humectant. It is soothing and can be used on even the most sensitive skin.
    • Natural Vitamin E, derived from a variety of plant oils, has anti-oxidizing effects and helps support the stability of other ingredients in a product. We use Vitamin E as a natural preservative system.

WEHL:  You have a very interesting ingredient in your shower gel; what is humic acid, why did you choose to use it and what benefits does it offer? 

KB: The inspiration came from Black Soap, whose traditional African recipe is made with Shea Butter, olive oil and the ash from roasting shea nut husks, tree bark and other plant matter. 

Our product development team had been working on a Rocky version of Black Soap for a while.  Through artful formulation, we wanted to leverage the ingredient benefits of the traditional recipe.  We focused on what made this recipe so great for the skin: humic acid, which can also come from composting plant matter! Humic acid is very nourishing and helps to refine skin through exfoliation.  A dark colored powder that is hydrated in water, made from the precipitate of compost. Ours is Canadian and 100% plant-based. We chose to put the Humic acid in both the Shower Gel and the Black Soap paste, and it’s what gives these products their signature caramel color. 

Humic Acid facts:

      • Non-GMO
      • Sometimes used as a dietary supplement
      • Antioxidant rich
      • Anti-inflammatory
      • Exfoliates by helping to slough off the outer layer of skin

 WEHL: Do you have a DIY face/hair mask that you’d like to share using only natural ingredients?  

KB: We have recipes that use just a few simple ingredients from your kitchen such as avocado, olive oil, honey and eggs. Here are our favourite DIY hair masks that you can try. 

WEHL: What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?  

KB: I am a creative person by nature. Every day I am creating. Everything from products, to new ingredients, strategy, brand or people systems. I love the flexibility to spend time with our kids on travel adventures or activities in the mountains.

WEHL: Do you have any advice for an entrepreneur who’s interested in building an environmentally conscious business?  

KB: There are no easy answers to sustainability. Do your research to know that you are indeed making an impact. It’s not black and white.

Connect with Karina and Rocky Mountian Soap Co.:

We invite you to join our social platform for wellness at Wehl.com!

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