Sept. 21, 2021

Monique Bohman (Honeii Bee's)

Monique Bohman, a hair stylist and esthetician, struggled to treat a skin condition that her baby developed. Her solution? Creating her own body butter. It not only healed her son, but ended up spreading across the community, and turned into Honeii Bee’s. Based in Novato, CA, the brand has grown to offer body mists, soaps, and bath bombs that are organic and handmade.

In this episode, we dive into Monique’s story, how starting this company has changed her, and a resource you can use to assess the toxicity of products you keep in your home.


What You’ll Learn:

[1:42] A haircut gone terribly wrong, and how Monique responds.

[4:02] Monique’s baby develops a skin condition, and it keeps getting worse.

[5:32] It’s 1 am. Monique brings a solution to life, in the form of body butter.

[7:38] A naturopath leads Monique to a resource that helps explain why traditional lotion wasn’t working.

[9:36] What led Monique down the path of making something vs. trying other conventional methods.

[10:15] How the idea came to Monique to start selling this body butter.

[11:13] Why packaging is everything.

[13:08] How the community becomes a testing ground for Monique’s new brand.

[14:03] The first order that makes it real.

[16:11] A behind-the-scenes look into Honeii Bee’s kitchen.

[18:03] Honeii Bee’s expansion beyond body butter.

[18:50] How building this company has changed Monique personally.

[21:14] What’s in store for Honeii Bee’s as we look into the future.

[23:11] (Audience Q&A) Skincare routine advice for someone just starting out.

[24:50] (Audience Q&A) How Monique’s grandmother left her imprint on the company.

[26:28] (Audience Q&A) Who would think that a bath bomb could do this?

Links:

Honeii Bee's

EWG

Transcript

PREVIEW

Monique  0:00

I tend to give things a try once, and then figure out a way I can do it myself. And that is with everything in my life. You know, give a mechanic a chance. If he can't change my battery, you know what? There's a YouTube video that can show me how to do it. I'm the oldest girl of seven kids. So it's always kind of been like, try to do it yourself. You know, don't just talk about it. Be about it.

INTRO

Mike  00:29

This is Making Us, a podcast about makers, artisans and creators. We dive into their story, how they approach their craft, and the meaning behind the things they make.

Mike  00:42

I'm Mike Giordani, and in this episode, a hairstylist and aesthetician who struggled to treat a skin condition that her baby developed. Her solution? Creating her own body butter. It not only healed her son, but ended up spreading across the community. Since then, she's expanded her product line while keeping everything organic and handmade. We'll talk about how her formula and packaging came together, how starting this company has changed her, and a resource you can use to assess the toxicity of products you keep in your home.

My guest today is Monique Bohman, the founder of Honeii Bee’s.

CONVERSATION

Mike  01:27

Hi, Monique.

Monique  01:28

Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Mike  01:30

Most of us have had a bad haircut at some point. But you had a situation that went so badly that it's the reason you got into hair?

Monique  01:42

Yes, it's a very terrible story. So my mom is Italian and Hungarian. She has stick straight jet black hair. And she has these little curly-haired, poofy-haired kids running around. And so I remember she takes me to one of her friends in Brooklyn to get my hair done, and I'm so excited. You know, she didn't know how to do my hair. She couldn't manage it, and I get it. She took me and I was there for maybe four hours. And I just went in for a trim, this is what we discussed on the ride there. So I turn around after four hours, and I have two inches of hair and the Jheri curl. And I'm, I'm bawling, crying, I'm distraught, and the woman's like, this will be easier for you to manage. You know, it'll be it'll be easier for your mom to manage. But I'm going into seventh grade. So in seventh grade for that whole year, everyone calls me a little boy. And that was the year I was like, "You know what, Mom? You're fired. Like, I love you, but you're fired. I'm not going to any more of your friends. I'm going to learn how to do my own hair." She got fired that year. And as my hair grew out, it was hilarious. It was it was shoulder length, and then I was Hillary from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. When I got to high school, it was huge, but it had no shape because I was terrified to cut it again. So they're like, "Oh, yeah, Scary Spice." And I'm like, "Okay, all right." But that year, I started doing my siblings hair. I did hair for prom. And I just kind of like, you know, I was like, I can do it, I can learn it. And I can do it myself.

Mike  03:33

That must have been really tough, especially as a teenager, when you're trying to figure out your identity, and hair is a big part of that. Look at the way you responded though, I mean, there's so much self reliance in that.

Monique  03:48

Yes. [laughs]

Mike  03:50

So you started doing hair professionally, and you've done that for a while now. What prompted you to make body butter for the first time?

Monique  04:02

My son, who's six now, he's allergic to everything on the planet. Whether he ingests it or whether he touches it, he has some kind of breakout or rash or indigestion. You know,  it's just kind of been, it's been, like, a learning curve for me as a person but as a mom and also as a provider. So Honeii Bee's actually started when he was around seven months, and he started to get eczema on his cheeks. And no mom wants to see their baby. It was like this red rashy and I'm like crying and you're like, "I'm such a bad mom." So I took them to the doctors' and they're like it's eczema, we'll give you this lotion. And the lotion was a prescription Amlactin, and I could be butchering that, but I'm pretty sure that's how it's pronounced. And I rubbed it on his cheeks and the doctor's like, "use this for a few weeks, it should clear up." So we used it for about three weeks. And I knew in the first week it was getting worse. And now he was having clogged pores on top of the eczema. And that about three weeks it had spread from his cheeks to his neck, and he's breaking out and he's really fussy. So I'm just distraught.

Mike  05:25

I can't imagine what you must have been feeling at the time. How did you start to deal with that?

Monique  05:32

So I do some research about like, you know, things that are good for babies, gentle on their skin, but also with some kind of antibacterial properties, to kind of clean, gently whatever's on the skin. And you know, the first thing that pops up in Google is coconut oil. And I'm like, "Well, great. I've got like the Costco sized coconut oil in my kitchen. I'm just going to slather that on him." He just looked like this little greaseball. So I started to research things to mix in, so that it wasn't so runny and oily. And shea butter comes up. And it also has amazing skin healing properties and nurturing properties, as well as argan oil and hobo oil. And cocoa butter. I really use it because I like the smell.

Mike  06:28

Nice.

Monique  06:29

So this really started like one night, you know, 10 o'clock at night, my husband goes to sleep. And I'm just like, I've ordered a ton of things off of Amazon. And I'm just like, I don't have a double boiler, and I don't have really anything that I need, but I'm gonna make it work. So I'm like pouring things in pots and mixing them up. And it's like one in the morning and I'm, I've got my KitchenAid going and my husband comes out and he's like, "What are you doing?" And I'm like, "I need to do something for his face because he needs to... he's so cute... and look at his face." I wound up making like a cream. And I was like, "Oh, this looks like whipped cream!" And I'm smothering it on him. I'm not smothering him, but I'm slathering it on him [laughs]. And I'm like, from head to toe literally all over and he smells delicious. And within two weeks, his skin cleared up.

Mike  07:24

Wow. I'm like really with you in the 1 am like birth moment for this company. Do you have any ideas why that worked for your son?

Monique  07:38

I shared that story with one of my clients who's a naturopath. And I was like, "You know, I tried the Amlactin. And it wasn't working." And it was kind of just like, "I don't know what I'm doing. Do you have something better you can recommend?"

Mike  07:50

Right.

Monique  07:51

And she says, "Well, no wonder you know, the amlactin isn't working. Have you been on to the EWG?" And I was like, "The what?" And for those of you who don't know, if you don't want to throw out everything in your house, don't go here. But it's a website. And it tells you pretty much the main ingredients in everything that's in your house, that you use on your skin for your skin that you put in your body, or that you even use to clean and it shows the level of toxicity in each product. And so Amlactin, when I went on and looked it up, one of the main ingredients in it actually is also the main ingredient for brake fluid. So I was like, well, no wonder his cheeks are bright red and his claw, his pores are clogged. So I stopped that there. And she told me I pretty much told her what I had mixed together and how it was working. And she said, "You know, you're on the right path. Everyone's skin is different. But if this is working for him, you know, continue to do it." And so I did.

Mike  09:01

That's pretty amazing that you took a tough situation as a mom and turned it around for him, and now so many other people.

Monique  09:09

Yes.

Mike  09:10

I think one of the things that stand out to me about your story is you had this maker instinct, right?

Monique  09:18

Absolutely.

Mike  09:19

It wasn't, "Oh, let me go back to the doctors', see if they can prescribe something else or do some research and find another, sort of, mass-produced item out there." What led you down the making path versus that other path that I think most people would probably go for? 

Monique  09:36

I did do research on a lot of products out there. But with the help of the EWG, it was kind of like, if I can't pronounce it, maybe don't put it on my baby, you know? And so I just, I don't know. I think some people think that it's really brilliant and creative. But for me, it was just me really needing to micromanage what was going into what I was going to put on my son.

Mike  10:08

Okay, so take me back to the moment the idea came to you to start selling this body butter.

Monique  10:16

I started using it. My sisters would come over and give my nieces and nephew bass and then they'd put it on and be like, "I smell like cookies." My sister is a manicurist and she will use it on cuticles and she's like, "Oh, it heals them so well." And you know, everything that's in it. Everything that's in it is natural, organic, and Fairtrade. I try to do locally sourced. My sister's like, "You should package this and sell it to people." And I was like, "Nobody's gonna buy this cream that I make in my kitchen." And she's like, "I would buy it." I'm like, "That's different."

Mike  10:54

"You're my sister. It doesn't count."

Monique  10:56

Yeah, exactly, "You would buy anything from my room, you would take everything. Come on, now."

Mike  11:01

Talk to me about your packaging. If you see it on a shelf, I think it really stands out. It's beautiful, it's distinct, it's clear that you put a lot of thought into it.

Monique  11:13

As a woman, and as a stylist, packaging to me is everything. Packaging is the reason why I purchase something or I don't purchase something. Because I need it and want it to look a certain way, and that's not just for like my bathroom and how's it gonna look? That's also for like, if I'm going to gift it to someone, how's it going to look? So I'm like "body butter." And when you Google it, most of it is in like plastic containers, or mason jars. For me, I was like, "No, I'm gonna do something else." You know, there's no preservatives, with the exception of vitamin E oil, which is a natural preservative in my body butter. So I wanted a container that would preserve the butter for the max amount of time that it could be preserved without artificial preservatives. And that led me to UV jars. And the UV jars, they're, I think they're really cute. They're pretty. If you hold them up to the light, they're like purple or blue. But they block out UV rays. And they're also able to seal pretty tight, but they are reasonable. So I just like to think that a conscious buyer, and a conscious community would reuse the jar in a way that makes them happy, whether it's your bath salts, or my husband likes to put his dried herbs in them, something like that. I even went as far to make sure that our sticker is waterproof and can be removed without ruining the jar. So when you're done with your body butter, you can just peel it right off. And then you have a beautiful jar to reuse.

Mike  12:58

Oh, I love that. So by now you have a formula that your family's using. You figured out the packaging. Where did you take the development from there?

Monique  13:08

After that, we nailed our recipe. I say "we" but it's me. I nailed my recipe, and I put it in a jar. And I'm really lucky to be a hairstylist because I have this community of women and men and just like, overtime friendships that I've created. And you know, there are the clients who I gave the product to, and I'm like, "Can you try this?" and they don't want to hurt my feelings. So they're like, "It was great." But then there are also the clients who were like, "Well, I would do this, this, this and this, and what are you doing about marketing?" And I'm like, "Oh, okay, great, awesome. Like, can I take you to lunch? Can you walk me through, you know, what you would do as a design tech to do it differently?" And so I had a few lunches like that.

Mike  14:01

Do you remember the first order that came in?

Monique  14:03

I had a client who I gave the product to come to me around Christmas time, like 2019. And she's like, "I would love to give this as a gift to someone." And I was like, "Wow, really? Seriously?" And she's like, "Yeah, like I love it. I love how it feels. I love how it smells. It's beautiful. Like I would like to give this as like a stocking stuffer to a sister in law or a mother in law or you know, a cousin or friend." And I was like, "Okay, all right, like, I can make you a batch, I can make you an order. You tell me how many and we'll see where it goes from there." And that was the first. You know, it takes a while to get to the first but after that it was Christmas, and then it was New Year's baskets, and then it was Valentine's Day gifts, and then it was Mother's Day. And I was like, you know, this might not be something that I throw into Whole Foods or [inaudible], but like small niche communities, this is something that people are appreciating. So you know, "Let's, let's, let's get a website up, let's, let's make this official, let's, let's do this." And it's always so scary to put yourself out there. For me, this was like, this was my other baby that I had for my baby. So then I'm putting my baby out there. And it's really nerve wracking.

Mike  15:41

I'm glad you're saying that, because that's a part of the experience that we don't often talk about: that it's really exciting and at the same time really scary to put something new out there into the world, especially when it's so personal, like you said.

Mike  16:01

What does a typical day in the making kitchen look like? Can you take me behind the scenes?

Monique  16:11

The greatest thing about all of my current products is that there's one base. And it's usually shea butter, and coconut oil. So a typical day in the making kitchen for me is pounds of shea butter and cocoa butter and oils everywhere. And I've got double boilers going and I'm making I try to do one at a time. And it's usually body butter, because then you know, the house smells like cookies, and it I love the smell. So it kind of gets me motivated, and there's some music going. And then, um, I'm like, I put out all my jars. And I really, if you open the jar, you can see there's like a little flower, rose petal on top. So I like to think that when people open that they're like, "Oh, that's super sweet." I kind of like lay everything out, decide what to do first, make package. And then finish. But it's usually like in a in a home setting. Like, I've got music playing, you know, my kid's sitting on the couch, and I'm asking him for help, and he's refusing. And so it's it's really, it really is like me taking time out of my day, I'm usually not making until breakfast is done and I have at least three hours where someone won't need to be fed. And that's about it.

Mike  17:46

I just think it's hilarious that the kid who started this all is now sitting on a couch going "No, I don't want to help you know, I'm my own person now." It's kind of come full circle.

Monique  17:58

Yeah, exactly.

Mike  17:59

Can we talk about your product line and how it has grown since the body butter?

Monique  18:04

It started with body butter, and I've moved into body mists, as well as soaps, and bath bombs. And in the future, I'd like to be like shampoos and conditioner for curly hair. So  it'll take some time, you know, just getting getting the body butter off the ground took about a year. I did it slow. But I like to also think that I did it consciously and right.

Mike  18:35

Yeah, it's really cool to see how you've expanded it so far and stayed committed to it being handmade and really thoughtful. How would you say this experience has changed you?

Monique  18:50

I like to think that it has changed my life for better. Being an aesthetician, being the hairstylist, you know, more and more and more. More products, more this, there's more skincare, more, more. And that is just me being a consumer. More has to be better, right? But this has kind of taught me that less is actually okay. And sometimes in some instances, less is better. And so when I realized that in my products, I kind of tried to find ways to implement that in my life. Which is funny because I used to straighten my hair a lot, super straight. I needed it to be straight. And I don't need it to be super straight. It's fine to be curly. I actually have more time when I'm not spending it doing silly things like night routines and straightening my hair. So I think it's changed me to kind of step back from the the mass consumption of things, and needs, nd really just figure out that I don't, I don't need a lot. And once you have that time back from doing things like, for example, my hair takes forever. So once I have that three hours back to let it go naturally curly now I can, you know, come up with another idea, what's next for Honeii Bee's, or finally go build, like a 30-hour Lego project with my son that he's going to wreck in two minutes. But he had fun doing that. And I wasn't locked in my room using 18 soaps or straightening my hair or, you know, going out and needing to purchase mass amounts of things.

Mike  20:52

That's a really great reminder. You're making me think here about ways that, you know, that I could be staying true to what's actually important in life. Looking into the future, what's the vision that gets you excited to keep doing this?

Monique  21:14

So my vision for the future of Honeii Bee's is to stay on the same path that I am now. I would love to stay small batch and handmade. I think most people are like, you know, "I'd like to put a brand out there and then get it bought and sold" but like I've said this is like it's a baby for me. I'd like to see it grow and go off to college. But when it gets to college, I don't want to just let it go. I'd like to turn it into like an apothecary. And if that apothecary is only here in Marin, I'm happy. If we have a space up in Sonoma, that's great. If we have a space over in the East Coast, I don't know New York, SoHo, I'd love it. But I really would like it to stay small and handmade and clean. and personal. I would like to, and the reason why my heart is so set on an apothecary is because I'd like to have people go to apothecaries are returning customers. And I like to see clients and customers come in and that's from being a hairdresser. Like, you know, "Hey, Dan, how's the wife? Here's her soap body butters in here,"  you know, like, I like to build those relationships. I feel like we need that as people. I feel like the pandemic really helped a lot of people understand that we need that human interaction as people and being able to personalize and customize and give someone a little package made from me to them, it makes me happy.

Q&A

Mike  23:03

It's time for Q&A. You submit a question, and today's maker will answer it.

Q&A Participant  23:11

Oh, hey, hey, hello there Monique. I'm gonna just be honest, you know, I haven't been very careful about my skincare at all. And I'm just coming around to that. So I want to know, you know, can you tell us what your skincare routine looks like? Like how many products you use and you know all that good stuff. Thanks a lot.

Monique  23:34

So I would say if you're just coming around to it, don't be too hard on yourself. You know, it's never too late to adjust. And like I said before, less is more. So all you really need is a good face wash, a good body wash. You can do a few exfoliants if you need to you have dry skin or there's dead skin. And then a moisturizer that is also a sunblock is pretty much all you need. Less is more. I find that when people delve into this cream and that cream and that cream and this cream then you're having skin reactions and then you need this cream to fix that. And then that cream to fix this. So just keep it simple, and I know that sounds like you know, super, I don't know, basic, but keep it simple.

Q&A Participant  24:26

This is Monica from Kentfield, California. A friend of mine gave me your body butter as a gift, and now I'm a big fan. Here's my question: What do you wish people knew about you and honey bees that may not be obvious right away. Okay, bye.

Monique  24:50

You know one thing that I think people always, they don't always ask, so I'm going to share. The name Honeii Bee's. It is spelled H-O-N-E-I-I-B-E-E. And that is actually a nickname that was given to me by my grandma. I am Honeii Bee. And she always said, you know, you're cute, and you're sweet, and you're fun to look at, but there's a little bit of sting going on there. So, you know, it applies to my day to day life. But I also want people to know that the name, not just the product comes from something that is important to me. It's not an Instagram handle. I didn't find it on Google. It actually is something that is really special to me.

Mike  25:40

Where does the spelling come from?

Monique  25:43

That is my grandma. My grandma is, she is Italian, born and raised. And she's funny because she would always just say random things or like, make up her own words or like, leave me these little notes on my lunch and I'd be like, "She can't... the... this... the spelling's wrong." And then she's like, "It's not wrong. It's how I spell it." And I'm like, "Okay, then it's right." [laughs]

Mike  26:12

[Laughs] The person who questioned it is no longer here. That's how I spell it, too, actually, from now on.

Monique  26:24

And if you don't, you're wrong, so hey.

Q&A Participant  26:28

Hi, Gregory here calling from Ridgefield, Washington. One of my favorite things about this show is hearing how people find their own way to grow their business. But my question for Monique is: What has been the most interesting or surprising part of your experience so far, building your company?

Monique  26:49

You know, it's really been my community, and my local support. I love how when there's an event, or there's a wedding, or there's a holiday, clients will call me and ask me to package together gifts. It makes me really happy. Because obviously, they could go anywhere and purchase anything. But the fact that I'm in the forefront of their mind, and they want my products to give to their friends and loved ones, it just makes me it feel really taken care of. You know what I mean? My husband had a co-worker whose friends were flying in from the East Coast. And she's like, "I would love Monique to make a basket for my friend and her husband. They're going up to Napa. They, they're here for a little bit. They just want to do a couple's retreat. Can she throw something together?" And I was like, "Yes, I can. I'm already working on it." So I'm like making a basket and I threw some bath bombs in there for them. And she loved it. And I didn't hear from her for a while. And then she texts me and she's like, "They really love the bath bombs. You know, they did something they hadn't done in a while they took a couple's bath together. And oh my gosh, thank you so much." And I was like, oh, like even now it gives me goosebumps because just something as simple as me like, you know, singing Sam Hunt and making a bath bomb, and then giving it to someone brought them together in a way that they haven't been together in a while. And who would think that, you know, a bath bomb could do that.

Mike  28:35

Yeah. This was awesome. Thanks for joining me, Monique.

Monique  28:39

Yes, thank you for having me. I was happy to be here.

Mike  28:44

That's Monique Bohman from Honeii Bee's, based in Novato, California.

OUTRO

Mike  29:00

I love the way Monique takes matters into her own hands. What she said at the beginning pretty much sums up the kind of person I think she is: "Don't just talk about it. Be about it."

Mike  29:16

You can find a full transcript and notes from today's conversation and send questions for future guests on our website, MakingUs.com. We have new episodes coming out every other week, so if you like what you heard today, go ahead and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks so much for listening to Making Us. See you next time.