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Artisan Studio Tour: Alana of Etta + Billie Soap talks about her inspiration and business

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I first met Alana at a trade show in San Francisco. However, it's not without saying that I hadn't seen her product in every store around the Bay Area I had been to, including in West Elm's Local editions. Needless to say, Etta + Billie is hard to miss if you live in the Bay Area. 

Her product has become part of my assortment, from a new room spray that is safe for babies (that I dare say I helped influence her to produce quicker than she had hoped. :) ), to  her luscious smelling soaps rich in foody scents perfect for a new housewarming gift.

I met with her in her studio some time ago and had a chance to get the scoop on what Etta + Billie is about and what she geeks out on besides making bath and kitchen products.

How did you start your business/your craft/your art? 
I started making soap and other natural products in my kitchen as a way to escape the drudgery of my office job. I was feeling incredibly lost at the time but making soap and scrubs gave me purpose and tapped into a creative side of myself I never knew I had. 

What were some hurdles you've been overcoming?
Recently, I've been working on listening to my body more, forcing myself to stop and take a break. It's very easy to get wrapped up in things and before you know it you've been hunched over a laptop for hours without stretching or eating. No bueno. I'm also getting better at asking for help when I need it. I think it's a first born thing....

You have a product that is subject to a different type of scrutiny, the subjective nature of the art of smell, using food/spices to give your scents a natural type of sweetness. Do you consider yourself a maker or an artist? How do you perceive the intersection of these two worlds? 

Hmmm, good question. I'm not sure I've ever considered myself an artist though I would say some of my soaps are little works of art. So, I guess I'm a little bit of both. I think the two worlds are getting closer and closer together! 

What type of challenges do you find yourself faced with at this stage in your career?
There have always been new sets of challenges at each level of growth. Now I'm working on how to keep the business growing in a way that still allows me to do more creatively. I find that much of my time is spent on business management tasks and less on creative tasks!

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to or look at to fuel your work?
When I'm in need of inspiration, I do a few different things. First is take a walk, getting out of my space and changing scenery helps tremendously. I also love looking through cookbooks, food images, and food magazines for inspiration. 

What gets you excited about your product being in the world and growing as a business owner?
What gets me up every morning is knowing that someone's day might be a little brighter because they've found one of our scents and it makes them feel good. As a business owner, continuing to grow the business forces me to grow and learn as well. Change is constant!

There was no question of not falling in love with this brand, I mean, Janet Jackson? And cassettes to boot! I mean, kindred spirit or maybe just a product of the 80's. Come on, you gotta love it.

Do you partner with other businesses or artists? how does that influence your work?
Yes, I love partnering with other businesses! Getting a peek inside their process or tasting their creations fuels ideas and pushes me to create new things. I am so thrilled I've had the opportunity to work with other makers and creators on collaborations. 

Side note: Below is featured her collab with Bay Area Ritual Coffee Roasters.

What do you absolutely need in order to begin your process? 
Coffee, or at the very least, tea. ;) 

What is the most important thing that has brought you to the success you are having? 
My relationships! Both personally and professionally. I would not be where I am today without the support of my family and friends. They have been so amazing, helping me stay positive, grounded and even lending a hand when necessary. On the business side of things, my group the Creative Business League and professional organizations like SF Made and the Indie Business Network have been invaluable in helping me grow. I learn so much from other members who are so generous with their insight and feedback. 

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