Boreal Folk Apothecary
British Columbia, Canada
Today our female entrepreneur is Raphaelle Gagnon, a co-founder of Boreal Folk Apothecary, a unique business specializing in natural wildcrafted botanical skincare products. Raphaelle co-founded Boreal Folk Apothecary together with her husband in 2015. Their business was started out of the desire to be connected more to nature and is completely mobile and runs from a 1967 bus.
Raphaelle’s journey has been quite impressive, to say the least, and it was fantastic to hear her story. It’s an interview you don’t want to miss.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED.
In 2009, I graduated university in social sciences with a minor in languages, women’s studies and political sciences. My various interests lead me travelling many years to six continents exploring old traditions, cultures, customs and languages. For a decade I worked in the silviculture industry as a tree planter and with my own two hands planted over 2.3 million trees.
My work as a tree planter enabled me to have financial freedom. It also gave me time to explore my passion of formulating natural skincare products. I obtained a diploma in organic skincare formulation and with my savings from planting trees, I launched with the help of my husband our business Boreal Folk apothecary. I’ve always lived my life to the beat of my own drum so being self-employed seemed like the only path available for me.
During my decade of silvicultural work, I began studying the wild plants found specifically in the Canadian Boreal Forest and how to sustainably harvest them. This inspired me to create a local line of natural skincare products regional to Canada and the resources we have here. We offer wildcrafted botanical products reflecting our unparalleled wilderness. Our target audience is someone who appreciates natural, eco-friendly, regional, sustainably harvested and handcrafted goods.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
My day is dictated by the seasons of the year. My husband and I live in a 1967 bus and I work out of a converted trailer that we call the Wilderness lab. It’s my 99 square foot mobile studio that has been following us throughout the Canadian wilderness since 2015.
A typical day looks like waking up in the forest, responding to emails, going out on the land to sustainably harvest various wild plants, processing these harvests (dehydrating or distilling them in our copper still to make essential oils), making products, labeling them, packing online orders and enjoying living in the forest.
During certain times of the year, we tour craft markets and spend a few months on the road as well.
I stay productive by keeping inspired.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.
I’ve always known I wanted to be a business owner of some sorts. While I was working as a tree planter for 9 years, I saved up over $80,000 to use in the future to start a business.
I became passionate about the formulation of skincare products using Canadian ingredients during my early twenties but also had a strong case of wanderlust. In 2015, My partner suggested we convert his step van into our home and workshop so that we could travel deep into the wilderness and work remotely from there.
That’s exactly what we did. By the fall of 2015 we were living in our van in our recently purchased gold claim in northern BC and I was making products from wild plants gathered on the claim and selling them at the farmer’s market. Thus the birth of Boreal Folk! We then in 2016 converted a 99 square foot trailer into our mobile studio which has travelled thousands of kilometers all over Canada and is still our production studio to this day.
We spent about $30,000 launching Boreal Folk with the Wilderness Lab. The name Boreal Folk came to me while I was planting trees in the Boreal forest. It speaks of the people of the Boreal forest but also of its folklore. Everything we do is done from scratch by myself and my husband. We’ve done the graphic design for our packaging, we print and label the products our selves, we formulate & handcraft the products, we collect the harvests, we take our own pictures and market products ourselves.
My husband is a coppersmith and he has even built our copper stills that we use for distilling essential oils. We’ve never had any partners or investors, we built Boreal Folk from the ground up little by little. We hired a friend to help us build our website back in 2017 but that’s the only help we’ve outsourced.
Our brand has developed a cult following over the years and we’ve received very inspirational feedback from our customers and community.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?
Our greatest achievement has been to see this idea through and watch it blossom. From saying back in 2015 ‘let’s turn our van into a mobile soap shop and travel the country making and selling soap’ to creating a 6 digit income is a big accomplishment.
Ironically our biggest challenge has been taking the risk of running a business on the road; without a permanent address, without regular access to running water or electricity.
WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? AND HOW?
I’m all about authenticity. You may have already noticed we aren’t your average business folk. We don’t follow a specific growth/goal setting model or any model for that matter. We’ve grown about 30%-50% each year in business and we still haven’t ran a single advertisement for our business.
We focus on authentic engagement with our followers on Facebook & Instagram as well as generating inspiring and creative content.
Currently, my husband & I wear all of the hats but soon we will be expanding towards having a team of people working for Boreal Folk. This will come naturally with more stability for Boreal Folk like having a building to work out of and living in one place!
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?
Our business is providing my husband & I each a good paying salary and the freedom to be creative. We are both artists in our own ways and bring different values to our business. We have grown out of the 99 square foot mobile space available to us so this year we will be moving our business to the great indoors. We look forward to growing Boreal Folk with the same wildness & core values while having regular access to the modern-day conveniences of power & running water 🙂
Our goals for the future are to deepen our connections with our Canadian resources and continue to dive deeper into our craft inviting others to join our team along the way. A big goal of ours is to continue to give back to the land by planting trees, seeds and native plant species to ensure their growth in the future. We plan to purchase land to grow many of the native plant species we harvest in the wild. It will also be a space to hold workshops & share traditional crafts.
RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES OR TOOLS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OTHERS THAT HAVE HELPED YOU RUN YOUR BUSINESS?
Shopify has been an amazing tool to use to help us grow and understand the analytics of our business. Crafty base is a program that helps makers keep track of inventory, raw materials, batch recording and finished products. It has all kinds of features that help you record your production costs to better reflect the price you tag to each item.
Years ago I read the book “Marketing, a love story” by Bernadette Jiwa which made me really focus on my WHY. It’s not what you do that matters most, it’s why you do it and how you do it.
WHAT OR WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCE IN BUSINESS AND WHY?
Beverley Gray, Herbalist and owner of Aroma Borealis a wildcrafted apothecary in the Yukon has been a great inspiration. I have taken her workshops and admire how she has grown her passion and business side by side.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
It’s very important when you are starting out to think of why you want to start a business. I believe why you want to start a business is more important than what the business is.
What will set you apart and who will be your ideal customer? You cannot be everything to everyone so it’s very important to be disciplined in creating a niche for yourself.
WHAT BUSINESS IDEA DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
I’m thinking of different ways to create low waste products that contain no or little packaging.
Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!
If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.
By sharing their stories, we want to inspire other women to get started.
If you are interested to share your own story on the Biz Ladies LET ME KNOW!