An Elegant Obsession: Betula’s Botanica
by Rachael Chamberlain
Okay, I admit it, I have an addiction to homemade soaps. I just can’t resist the beautiful bars full of ingredients that I can pronounce, along with the wide array of scent and color combinations. Walking through the market on a beautiful Saturday morning while the breeze is blowing in just the right direction, take a deep breath and let the fragrance delight your nasal passages! This aroma drifts over from Betula’s Botanica and saturates the air within several feet of the tent.
The creative force behind Betula’s Botanica is Monica Dech. Monica was born in Winnipeg, Canada but became a US citizen at the age of 21. She has two daughters, Emily and Hannah, plus two cats, three dogs, and two bunnies, all of which are very spoiled!
I wanted to find out more about Monica and Betula’s Botanica and she happily answered all of my questions:
Tell me a little about yourself . . .
“I grew up in Berks County and took some college courses in accounting, economics and banking but the education that I value most came when I attended Longwood Gardens and took their 4 year professional horticulture program. I believe that the science as well as art in developing a beautiful garden and landscape set the foundation for my eventual interest in soap making! Working with plants in a garden setting takes a knowledge of not only the planting environment but the limits of each plant’s ability to thrive in that area along with how it can contribute to the overall space throughout the entire year.
When I make soap, I have to consider how all the base oils contribute to the finished batch since each oil has different features that result in a hard or soft soap, a creamy or bubbly lather, a conditioning/moisturizing bar or one that cleans really well. Its all about balance because for example, creating a lovely creamy and bubbly lather often times yields a softer bar and one that doesn’t last as long! With experience, I’ve learned the ratios of each oil and how they work best for my soaps…although I love to experiment and I’m always learning something new!”
How did you get involved in soap making and handmade body products and how long have you had your business? Do you focus all of your time on this or do you have another job in addition?
“I made my first batch of soap back in 2009…it was “Sweet Earth”. I had no idea what I doing…it was very basic without any color but the essential oil blend that I created was quite nice…beginners luck! I took some of these first soaps to the my parents’ garden center where I worked to share with coworkers and offer to customers…within a few days they had all sold! Now I had all this extra money…I made the decision to buy more ingredients and especially build an inventory or essential oils to create other blends. Within a few months I was up to 6 different scents and was invited to to attend the Boyertown farmers market where my soaps continued to sell quickly, which ironically created a problem in that I never had enough inventory due to the 4-6 week cure time for each batch. In order to keep filling my empty wagon…I started experimenting with other body care products that I could make and turn around within a day or two…thus came the sugar scrubs, healing balms and other body care products. This was a huge step in helping me create weekly interest and consistent sales and growth. With time I was able to participate in various farmers markets in Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties and eventually built my own web site at www.Betulasbotanica.com and offer my products through various retail outlets.
After my parent’s garden center closed…I was offered a full time position at Soap Making Resource, my own soap ingredient supplier in Lancaster, as their soap maker and customer service consultant. Even though it’s a long commute…I’m able to participate in soap chatter all day long and assist other soap makers with their questions or offer advice on building their businesses. I’m very grateful for the opportunity because I can load up my car with all my ingredients and use them that night! This relationship also continues the cycle of supporting local business which is very important to me.”
Do you make the products in your home?
I’m currently making all of my products in my basement studio…it’s very convenient but I’m quickly running out of space! In order for me to continue growing…I need to soon consider buying my oils in 50 gallon drums but they’re not going down my basement stairs! Eventually I’ll think of something!
What is the story behind your name, Betula’s Botanica?
Back when I first became interested in making soap through a book and soap making kit that I bought…my daughters and I went through a very difficult and dark time…we lost their father to leukemia. I had managed to read the book but wasn’t able to move forward with it and stored everything in my dining room closet. After about a year and half, I was cleaning out the closet and came across the soap making kit and decided that I needed to do something new and fun for myself…so one Saturday afternoon I made the that first batch. It was so much fun and helped me rebuild my confidence and restore my creativity…especially since people were so eager to buy it! As a horticulturist…I love trees and one of my favorites beside the oak tree is the Birch tree. Betula is the genus for birch trees although I pronounce my name differently than the Latin nomenclature…my pronunciation is a bit softer. Birch trees are a harbinger of spring and new beginnings and are also considered nurse trees in the forest because they grow fairly quickly and provide shelter for younger sapling and then nourish the soil as they finish their life cycle. For me this name represented coming out of a challenging time in our lives and creating something new and nourishing….just like the Betula tree.
What is your favorite part about selling at outdoor markets? What do you like best about the Antietam Valley Farmers’ and Artists’ Market?
I love attending farmers markets because of the community support and feedback that comes almost immediately when customers stop by to buy their favorites or to check out your new offerings. I have made several close friends that I see every week…I call them my Market Friends! Its also a great way to establish a clientele in a community and then approach local store fronts to carry your products in the off season…this in turn keeps your products available and visible in that market place.
Antietam Valley Farmers’ & Artists’ market is a very motivated and energetic market and I love the beautiful park setting and that it’s a short commute for me. I also appreciate the earlier start time than some other markets…it’s not always easy getting up at 5:00am but getting home earlier works for me too! The customers here and at other markets really appreciate a home crafted product made locally and from all natural ingredients!
If a person could only buy one product from you, what would you suggest and why?
Absolutely my soaps! There are over 30 different soaps including the seasonal blends, all created by hand using natural ingredients and premium essential oils. Once you have a few favorites…you can expand those scents into other body care products such as the sugar scrubs, moisturizing lotion bars, bath & body oils and even mineral baths salts and lip balms! I call it “creating a “wardrobe of your own personal body care products!”
Be sure to stop by and say hello to Monica at the market. She’s always willing to answer questions and can help to get you started assembling your own “wardrobe”!