From fine soaps to cheeses, FLDS entrepreneurs use hand-crafted appeal to cash in
Roxanne Johnson began crafting handmade soaps for family and friends last year, and when they proved wildly popular, she realized a business had surfaced in all those suds.
It wasn't a huge step from personal to professional soapmaker, after all.
"Family and friends around here kind of turns into a big thing," laughs Johnson, who lives in the fundamentalist Mormon community of Hildale.
Today, Johnson has teamed up with Dianna Peine to launch Naturally Young Essentials -- and, yes, they admit the company's name plays on the youthful look ascribed to many women in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Johnson and Peine are part of an entrepreneurial push in the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., where a handful of new or expanded ventures have taken root in the midst of a bad economy. In addition to Naturally Young Essentials, that boom includes Most Wanted Jeans, an Eddie Craft "Set-N-Up" furniture showroom and Finney Farm Home Dairy's artisan cheeses.
A soap smorgasbord » For Johnson and Peine, the hunt for skin-friendly soaps was an extension of their commitment to healthy eating.
"We wanted to do the natural thing," Johnson said.
The two learned about soap-making by reading books, searching the Internet and trying other products, including a fine soap they ordered from Australia.
"Mostly, it was just trial and error," Johnson said.
Their goal was to create a soap with no artificial colors or fragrances using ingredients that are good for your skin -- pure essential oils, mineral colorants and a blend of coconut, olive, rice bran and palm oils.
"It is as natural as we can get it and still be a pleasant product," said Johnson.
They have proved to be a good team.
"She is the one who comes up with good ideas and says, 'OK, Roxie, go do it,' " said Johnson, 27. "I have the gung-ho to get it done."
"Then I perfect it," added Peine, 26.
Each has a handful of children, so soap-making is squeezed in between demands of mothering, laundry days and piano lessons.
"We usually recruit help when we're doing this," said Johnson.
The two business partners mix small batches of soap in a kitchen, using a room-temperature cold process.
The soap is poured into log molds -- Johnson made the first mold herself using an electric saw -- and allowed to harden overnight. The logs are then cut into bars weighing 5.5 ounces each and allowed to cure for several weeks.
So far, they have come up with about 19 different bars, priced from $5.39 to $7.50, depending on the outlet.
Top sellers are Citrus Vanilla, Floral Bouquet and Black Pepper Lime -- the last described as "good for sore muscles" and a favorite with men. Unusual offerings include Coffee Latte and Cassia Clove.
The Licorice bar is popular with children; the duo also make a Baby Bar that is infused with chamomile.
Their own children have a "smorgasbord" of soaps from which to choose. "That's how we get our children to take a bath," Peine jokes.
In another innovation, the women use scrapwood from a local cabinet shop to make individual bar-sized crates that work as packaging and a soap holder.
The scraps would otherwise be burned, so it "goes to the green thing," Johnson said.
Naturally Young Essentials also offers a Lavender Rosewood shampoo and conditioner, at $10 a piece.
"It has a surfactant in it but it's the most natural [lathering agent] they have on the market," Peine said.
The duo began offering their soaps and hair products in the local grocery, herb and dairy stores in January and also sell them at http://www.fldscrafts.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.fldscrafts.com. Now, they hope to expand to nutritional stores in St. George and Las Vegas.
"I'm pleased with how it's doing," said Johnson.
"It's keeping us busy," said Peine.
A wanted brand? » The sign stands out among the businesses lining Utah Avenue in Hildale. Most Wanted Jeans, it says.
The reference that immediately springs to mind is the 2005 FBI listing for then-fugitive FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
Well, it is catchy.
Inside the store, Mirinda Barlow, a co-owner of the clothing line, said this when asked about the name: "We knew we were going to make the best pants."
And judging from the crowd of women inside the store a few weeks ago, she is right.
Barlow, her husband and a brother began making jeans for men and boys three years ago, working out of their home. They opened the storefront three months ago, adding fabric and hats.
"It's been going good," she said.
Barlow said the jeans are made from a custom pattern and are available in four styles -- extra baggy, regular baggy, loose and boot leg. They come in blue or black denim now, but Barlow said the company soon will offer stone wash and light blue colors, too.
Men's jeans sell for $30, boys for $12 to $25.
Some pants and ball caps are embroidered with the "Most Wanted Jeans" logo in bright red, yellow and orange thread.
A sunset, a moon, a merlot » A stop at Finney Farm Home Dairy's roadside stand in Hildale is a must for longtime fans of its cheese, yogurt and raw milk.
Deb Baumann, of California, made a point of visiting the dairy in past trips to southern Utah. She said the milk "tastes like a vanilla shake, it is so rich and sweet. Yum, yum. All other dairy products pale in comparison to those fresh goods."
The good news: The cheese might be available elsewhere in Utah one day because Finney Farm is in discussions with Harmons to offer it at the grocery chain's stores.
"Harmons loves local, so I think [it would] do really well," said Winford "Finney" Barlow.
Winford and his wife, Carolena, -- who is the cheesemaker -- also sell their farmstead artisan cheeses at Dixie Nutrition stores, the Farmers Market in St. George and online at http://www.finneyfarm.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.finneyfarm.com.
The Barlows have devoted themselves full time to the business since city budget cuts resulted in Winford begin laid off from his job as a mechanic last year. Winford said their farm is one of four state-certified raw milk dairies in Utah.
Winford credits his herd of Brown Swiss cows, some show quality, for the richness of their products. The breed is known for producing an extra creamy milk.
"They all have registered names, so they are family," Winford said.
As for the cheese, that's the handiwork of Carolena, who first became interested in the craft as a young girl.
"There was a guy who made the most awesome cheddar I'd ever tasted," Carolena said. "He taught me to make mild cheddar."
The Barlows built on that foundation by taking cheese-making classes at Utah State University's Western Dairy Center in Logan and developing their skills over the past decade through "trial and error."
"Cheesemaking is an art," Winford said. "It takes some rough experiences along with the good ones."
So far, the Barlows have come up with 14 varieties, though Winford said their blue cheese is still a work in progress.
It takes a gallon of milk to make a pound of cheese, and the Barlows make 40 pounds of cheese a day.
Their best-seller is Desert Sunset, a cactus apple cheddar, though the Desert Moon cheddar, laced with Merlot wine, is remarkable. The sharp cheddar, aged six years, and a Dry-Aged Cocoa Rind Cheddar, also are noteworthy.
'A changing world' » The Eddie Craft furniture showroom is tucked behind the Dezereta gas station on Central Street in Colorado City, which makes it easy to miss.
But for those looking for hand-crafted, distinctive and inexpensive furniture, it is worth the search.
Guy and Edson Jessop, brothers who live at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, came up with the patented "Set-N-Up" furniture line. The inspiration? The need to provide community members with furniture after they were scattered across Texas in the wake of a child welfare investigation at the ranch in 2008.
Until now, the furniture has been available only online at fldscrafts.com. The showroom opened about six months ago, but so far has had little traffic. Sales have been so slow the furniture line's future is uncertain.
Made from Baltic Birch, a plywood known for its durability and strength, the furniture hooks together like a puzzle and requires no tools to assemble. Taken apart, it stacks flat for easy storage and transportation -- hence the company's tag line "furnishing a changing world."
The line offers furniture to fill a house, from beds to tables to bookshelves.
"You can collapse it and put it in a closet," said Carvel Nielsen, who owns the gas station and oversees the showroom. "It takes a lot less room if you're storing it."
Many pieces have built-in functionality that allows them to meet a family's changing needs. The end pieces of the cradle/crib can be flipped to transform it from an infant rocker to a toddler bed, for example.
Unassembled, the cradle/crib combo is flat and small enough to fit in the backseat of a car, he pointed out. So is the desk, which makes it ideal for a college student or someone who needs to set up an office.
The furniture comes in five finishes or can be purchased unfinished. Prices range from $59 for a finished barstool to $149 for a full-sized crib and $399 for a dining table and four chairs.
Naturally Young Essentials » CMC Foodtown, 30 N. Central St., and Garden Gate Specialties, 80 N. Central St., in Hildale; Meadowayne Dairy, 385 Juniper St., Colorado City, Ariz.; online at http://www.fldscrafts.com
Finney Farm Home Dairy artisan cheeses » Finney Farm Home Dairy, 1320 N. Canyon St., Hildale; online at http://www.finneyfarm.com; St. George Farmers Market; Dixie Nutrition stores in St. George; and soon selected Harmons grocery stores.
Most Wanted Jeans » 1045 W. Utah Avenue in Hildale; by e-mail at Mostwantedjeans@gmail.com
Six-year sharp cheddar
Dry-aged cocoa rind cheddar
Cow's milk feta
Desert Sunset -- A cactus apple infused cheddar
Desert Moon -- Merlot wine-infused cheddar
Desert Heat -- a spicy pepper jack
Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Jack
Basil Pesto Jack
Caraway with Sage Jack
Garden herb parmesan
Short Creek Braid -- a smoked mozzarella
Short Creek Cavern Blue