When Tashia Owen’s son was born in 2007 with a birth defect, she decided to carve a new path in life. “As a mom, I immediately changed everything that influenced our family’s health and well-being, eliminating all toxins and synthetic products,” she said.
The mother of four children combined her chemistry and biology degrees, pharmaceutical experience, green thumb, and love of soap making into one passion. In 2011, she launched Tashi Handmade Naturals out of her home in Klamath Falls, Oregon. She started with only $78. She now sells more than 140 different plant-based skincare items at her store and website.
Customers who walk in the door often have ailments such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, headaches, arthritis, or muscle pain. Repeat customers know they’ll get some relief. “They will come in crying tears of happiness, because they’re no longer having to pay $300-400 to a dermatologist who isn’t helping them much,” Owen said. “Seriously. That’s happened so many times.”
Owen loves creating new products and helping people.
“We’re given a duty to take care of our family, and I felt like I needed to take that a step further,” Owen said. “Not only did I want to give my kids ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ and do things right for my family, but I wanted to help other moms and other ladies and other men do the same thing for their family.”
Owen’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire to help the community won her the $10,000 Runner-up prize in the AT&T Agility Challenge. She competed with more than 1,000 other small businesses across the United States who vied for a total of $100,000 in prize money.
Owen started out 5 years ago by making one bar of grapefruit lavender soap using organic lavender growing in her back yard. “My husband said what an amazing bar of soap it was, and it made his skin feel good, and my family encouraged me.” Now she makes a variety of soap and skincare products, including her popular Oatmeal Vanilla soap, Natural Pain Relief Bar, All Natural Cold Care Chest Rub, Coconut Dream Creamy Lotion with Sunscreen, Cinnamon Toothpowder, and Bug Balm Insect Repellent.
What does the “natural” in Tashi Handmade Naturals mean? “It means olive oil, beeswax, herbs, essential oils,” Owen said. “I don’t use any preservatives, no dyes, no artificial perfumes or ingredients of any kind. I don’t use any fillers or stabilizers. A lot of people don’t really know what to think of it, but when you look at the ingredients on my label, it doesn’t have any alcohols, it doesn’t have sodium lauryl sulfate. It doesn’t have any of the glycerins unless it’s vegetable glycerin. Everything I do is plant-based and is healthy. Just about all of my products are completely edible. It’s safe. You can eat the soap, it just doesn’t taste very good.”
We’re given a duty to take care of our family, and I felt like I needed to take that a step further.
Though Owen’s first name is “Tashia,” her business is “Tashi Handmade Naturals.”
“Tashi was what my Cuban grandmother called me growing up. She had an accent, so she said ‘Tashi.’ So my mom’s always called me Tashi, and it stuck.”
“A Taste of Cuba,” one of her products, reflects her Cuban ancestry.
“For years, our favorite family candle was something called Havana Nights. It smells like a sweet Cuban cigar. So my mom asked me one time if I could throw it all into a soap. I picked the smell of the candle apart and I put it together into a soap that smells like a sweet Cuban cigar. Like you’ve walked on the beach in Havana.”
The rural community in Klamath Falls provides a bounty of free natural ingredients. Owen can step outside her house and pick juniper berries, wild lavender, mint, spearmint, rose hips, fruits, berries, and even gather pine sap. The whole family helps in the process.
“For Mother’s Day we went and picked mushrooms, and we brought back a ton of herbs with us. It’s always a family affair. We are always outdoors playing. We are in the dirt. We are in the woods. We are enjoying fresh air and the birds singing. We are enjoying the life that’s out there while we’re having fun doing it.”
Tashi Handmade Naturals has customers all over the world, including Afghanistan.
“A lady contacted me one day and said that she wanted to do something special for her husband who was over there, and asked me if I could mix up a box of ‘feel good’ stuff. So I put in about 20 bars of soap with some lotions and lip balms and sent it off to Afghanistan. She sent me a thank you card afterwards. She said my husband said that was the neatest thing, the most like home he’s felt since he’s been gone.”
The scientist mom has been creative about marketing her products. She initially circulated bars of soap to family members at her brother-in-law’s wedding reception. When schools have fundraisers, she always gives them baskets for raffles. She gives out samples for weddings, showers, and birthday parties, and provides her products to local bed and breakfasts.
The Tashi Handmade Naturals website also plays a huge role in marketing her products. “I built it all myself, and I’m not really the most tech savvy.” Her goal, however, is to have someone else create a custom website for her so she can spend more time doing what she loves: creating new products. Since social media doesn’t come with a scratch and sniff feature, she paints word pictures about her soaps, lotions, and balms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+.
Having won $10,000 in the AT&T Agility Challenge, Owen has big dreams for the future.
“My husband and I have always had a vision of a year-round country store with a farmer’s market feel,” Owen said. “Winning this gives us the opportunity to add on more feel-good items like local artisan gourmet jams and jellies, honey, and organic loose leaf teas—anything and everything that speaks to your inside as well as your outside. We plan on adding some healthy desserts. We’re going to do some Cuban desserts, because it speaks to our Cuban hearts.”
Thinking of starting up your own endeavor? Find out more about AT&T small business products and services.
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