Anne-Marie Faiola is a successful entrepreneur, author, crafter, lifestyle coach, mother and founder and CEO of Bramble Berry Handcraft Provisions, a DIY supplies business she founded in 1998. With her ever-growing passion about helping other makers learn and grown their craft, Faiola expanded the Bramble Berry network to include the popular soap-making instructional website TeachSoap.com, the blog Soapqueen.com, the YouTube channel SoapQueen.tv, and the brick-and-mortar crafting store Otion, in Bellingham, Washington.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve been making and selling soap since high school. From there, I continued to sell soap through college. I got a degree in psychology with an emphasis on criminal justice in college and eventually got a job in corrections. But it soon became clear to me that corrections was not a good fit. After work, I would go home and make soap to cheer myself up. Making soap and being creative was a place of refuge for me. After months of deliberation, I quit my job in corrections and decided that selling soap. Teaching people to make soap seemed like the natural next step.
Any emerging industry trends?
Absolutely. The biggest thing I’m seeing is eco-conscious, fair trade, exotic ingredients like neem oil, babassu oil, borage oil and tamanu oil. As consumers continue to elevate their buying habits for natural and become more aware of things going onto their body as well as in their body, they are starting to become kitchen chemists and DIY their own skincare and bodycare.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The biggest challenge in the handmade soap and cosmetic industry is current legislation and overhaul of the cosmetic industry. Over the last several years, multiple legislative proposals have been introduced and discussed in Congress that would create new regulations on the cosmetics industry. Thousands of makers could be negatively impacted. Helping lawmakers understand the unique needs of our industry is the biggest challenge we currently face. In fact, I’ve founded a makers coalition - Coalition of Handcrafted Entrepreneurs - to address the needs of small and micro-business in the face of potential cosmetic legislation.
Handmade products are becoming more popular than ever. This is a huge opportunity for our industry and for Bramble Berry. People are becoming interested in crafts and DIY for various reasons. Some makers create because it’s a way to relieve stress, some want more control over what goes into their products, and others create because it’s more economical. No matter what the reason is, I want to make sure we meet consumers where they are at in their crafting journey.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I was inspired by my love of soapmaking and creating consumable art. The process of creativity and outcome of soapmaking (hello amazing soap) changed my life and I realized I could teach people how to make soap and change their lives as well. I believe that handmade is bestmade, and I want to keep expanding that belief into other crafting categories.
Over the next few years, I plan on exploring different crafts outside of soap. I have already begun experimenting with things like cheesemaking, candlemaking and creating bitters. If you want to see what I’m currently making, you can find me on Instagram @ComeMakeWithMe. If you’re looking for soap inspiration, the Bramble Berry blog, SoapQueen.com, is full of tutorials and ideas.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We have recently expanded our space to make room for more creativity. Our new studio space in downtown Bellingham was acquired specifically for creating more content. It’s where my team and I spend time creating recipes, tutorials and content.
Bramble Berry is continuing to explore new ingredients for soap and beyond, including exotic items like beet root powder and rosehip powder. Our team is constantly testing and experimenting, which is something we will continue with in the future.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
The ability to connect with makers online and on social media has been extremely important. From our blog (SoapQueen.com) to our social media to our YouTube channel (SoapQueen.TV), we’re able to teach readers how to use Bramble Berry products. It’s also a place to share inspiration and expertise. We believe knowledge is power and freedom, and we want our readers and customers to experience that. Beyond the blog, having a strong presence on other social media platforms has been a great way to build our community and connect with our customers.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The most difficult moments in business generally come down to cash. At 24 years old, I was trying to buy a building because the company desperately needed a permanent space. I was turned down by over 20 different banks for a loan. I felt overwhelmed, scared, alone, and unsure.
I got through it by not giving up, and continuing to try. Finally, I found a bank that worked with the Small Business Administration that helped me get a loan. At 24 I didn’t have assets, so basically (simplifying it greatly) the government co-signed my loan for me.
Down the road, I was named the “Best Entrepreneur in Washington” by the Small Business Administration because I had been a good steward for their money. I turned their loan into results. It’s one of the best examples I have of not giving up, and believing in the vision for your business.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
An ideal experience for our customers would look something like this. First, they come across a project or tutorial that inspires them to start their creative journey with Bramble Berry. Once they purchase the products and the products come on time, they create something. The project is successful and the customer is left with a product that’s better than what they could get in the store, and a feeling of satisfaction. The ultimate compliment is recommendation to a friend or family member about Bramble Berry.
How do you motivate others?
My number one strategy for motivating people is communication. We have daily huddles with the entire team. We also make yearly goals for entire company and share them, so everybody knows the direction we are heading. Recently, I started an internal printed company newsletter. As we have grown to 90+ employees, the newsletter is a great way to communicate with everybody in an effective way.
Career advice to those in your industry?
As a boss, I notice when people step up and do more than what was asked. I firmly believe that how you do anything is how you do everything. I also love to see people who take the time to invest in themselves. People who get out of their comfort zone and try new things are the people I want to hire and work with.
My current career has been shaped by a skill that, at the time, had nothing to do with my planned career path (corrections). But sometimes, learning a new skill can take you new and exciting places. Push yourself to learn new things, because you never know when they may become useful. If you invest in yourself and expand your horizons, your career may follow.