Interview by Sarah Ann Noel
At Fellow, one of our goals is to be in community, supporting the buyers, sellers, makers, and artists who bring people together. As we gear up for the holiday season, and our attention can turn to more material endeavors, we wanted to maintain that focus, with a special push for shopping small and shopping locally. If you didn’t see our Instagram announcement, Fellow will host a Holiday Hullabaloo at Fort Greene for Small Business Saturday on November 26. Bring your Thanksgiving leftovers to our potluck, and get to know the faces behind great local brands from 3-8 p.m.
We’ll also spend the rest of the month getting to know small business owners about Denver. For our last week, we spoke with Kelly Perkins, the creator of Spinster Sisters, an incredible line of all-natural, handmade bath and beauty products. Now with three locations in Golden, RiNo, and Cherry Creek, stop in and get to know Sisters!
Tell me how Spinster Sisters came to be.
A very long time ago, I think it was ’93, I read an article about this chemical called triclosan. Which, was just banned two days ago by the FDA—finally. It’s a horrible chemical that stunts hormone growth, that’s linked to cancer. Almost any product you pick up in the grocery store, if you look at the label, you’ll see triclosan in it. So, I decided that I was going to learn to make soap. You’ve got to start somewhere. And that was before I knew the Internet existed, so I read a lot of books about how to make soap. Very basic recipes.
In my family, everything you give for Christmas has to be handmade, so my plan was to make this batch of soap and then I’d give it to my family and friends for Christmas. That worked great. I gave the bars out for Christmas and I had some left over. My sister had made Christmas ornaments, and she had some left over. She said, “They’re having a craft fair at work. Why don’t we do it?” We lived together at the time, and we were always joking about being spinsters. So I said, “Spinster Sisters.” And we did this one craft fair under Spinster Sisters. That was the only thing that was done under Spinster Sisters until 2011.
Big break there! Friends kept saying, “Will you make this flavor for me or this flavor.” Pretty soon, I had, like, twenty bins of soap. I was constantly rotating scents and trying out different things. I met my husband and we moved from Boulder to Golden. He had to move those twenty bins of soap and he said, “Why don’t you try selling this?” I thought, “Fun thing to do on the weekends! Great, I’ll do it!” Highland Square Street Fair was my first market ever, and I split a little 10x10 booth with a friend of mine. It was before there were a lot of handmade soap makers, and I could not believe how much I sold—so that made it extra fun! Then I got to go home and make more soap, so it was kind of a win-win situation.
I only did that one market that year. The next year, I signed up for about 15 of them, and I started getting wholesale requests. Fast forward to April of 2012, and it was too much to keep my day job. It was that or the business, so I picked the business. And I’ve never looked back—I love it!
So your business is, quite literally, homegrown.
Yes! In April 2012, we were still in the basement of my house, and at the time, it was just me. I think, the next year is when I hired my first employee who also worked in my basement. Then I hired a couple more employees who also worked in my basement. And pretty soon, it had advanced enough, we were getting so many wholesale accounts, that we didn’t have a house anymore. It was all Spinster Sisters. We had 55-gallon drums of oil in the garage; and you’d open the garage and there’s the market setup; and the kitchen table was wholesale orders: and the living room was market product for the weekend’s market. So I finally moved, April of last year, out of my house and rented a space in Golden.
And that was sort of a whole new angle for the business.
At first, the Golden location was just intended to be for manufacturing—it’s on an off street, not a central location. I thought, well if we’re here all day anyway, we might as well open a little shop and people can come in to buy it if they want. I couldn’t believe how many people came in. Then I got hooked. It’s really fun having a store like that, where you can go into the store, and I ask you, “I’m trying out this new scent. What do you think of it?” Or, “Do you want to be a tester for a new beard balm?” That whole immediate feedback and reaction is so helpful. I decided I wanted to do more. So we opened the RiNo location and then Cherry Creek.
With three locations—and now a new manufacturing location—how do you manage your time?
We moved manufacturing to a warehouse that’s a couple miles away [from the shop] in Golden. And that’s where I spend most of my time when I’m not traveling for trade shows . I do try to come down to the stores as much as possible—I love when I have days in the store. Honestly, if you had ever said to me, “When are you going to open a store?” I might have said, “Why would I do that?” But it turns out, that’s the part that I really love. You know—the interaction with people.
And the creating? Do you still get to make the soap? With three locations, there’s probably a lot of business to manage.
Yeah, I’m not sure I knew that when I first started. I didn’t know that the business was going to grow like it did either. It is really fun though to see that love passed on to other people. I have some awesome gals working for me. I taught them and it’s really fun to see how much they’re enjoying it too.
I do love the creative aspect, though. I will say, if I have too many hours on Quickbooks or something on any given day, I might just walk out onto the floor and say, “I gotta make something.” And that’s usually where our new products come from. I’ve had too much Quickbooks!
I know a lot of your products are a labor of love—born from research and trial-and-error. What are some of your favorites?
We just came out with a new hair conditioner that’s out of this world. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever made. It’s such a weird thing—it’s a solid conditioner, and people don’t always know what to do with it—but it’s my favorite. Our sore muscle rub, that was the one I probably worked on the hardest and the longest, so that holds a special place in my heart. And I love making soap! That’s one of my favorites. Well, it IS my favorite, definitely. As evidenced by the 35 different scents we have because I just keep trying new ones.
Do you have favorite scents then too?
I really like earthy and citrusy scents. So I love our lemongrass. We just introduced lemongrass-tea tree, which is now my favorite scent. But I’m a Boulder girl—I love patchouli, I love rosemary, I love citrusy scents. I’m not a super floral person, but gardenia is one of our best-selling scents.
I love seeing the passion behind your products, but you have other passion in the business too.
Sustainability is super important to us. When I started this business, it was in our basement, and we had a solar system, so we were solar powered. I was challenged when I moved out of our house [into the Golden location] to find renewable energy. I finally did find that Xcel energy has a wind source program, so we wind power for all of our locations.
We’re also big outdoors people, and camp a lot; I don’t want to camp with products that are going to hurt the ecosystem, and I worked really hard to make sure everything biodegradable. We use recycled and/or recyclable or biodegradable materials in our packaging. Even the shrink wrap—it’s made from corn. We use a lot of recycled glass. A lot of our labels are dissolvable. When we do have to use plastic, we try to make sure that it’s recyclable. We have a bulk section in each of our stores where you can bring your old packaging in and refill it. It’s savings for the consumer and keeping that plastic out of the landfill. It’s a big important part of our business, that focus on sustainability.
It shows a consciousness of your place in community—how you do your part. Do you feel that the small business community in Colorado reciprocates?
We are very lucky to live in a community that is so focused on local makers. I can tell you, pretty confidently, there are not a lot of places like that. It’s really nice to have that support. I can’t tell you how many times, in Golden, we hear, “How nice to have a local company.” And that’s kind of our home playing field. Small business in Colorado is a unique environment. And the maker community around here is incredible. We have Facebook groups where people are throwing questions out there. Where can I find this product? Where’s the best place to buy bags? It’s really neat to have it be less about competition and more about supporting each other. Everybody wants everybody to succeed, which I think is terrific.