By Jamie Siebrase | Oct 17, 2016
Fort Collins, Colorado
Fort Collins, Colorado
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Before integrative medicine was in vogue, Motherlove founder Kathryn Higgins was making simple oils and tinctures that would eventually bloom into a family legacy.
Higgins grew up in a Mayo medical family in Minnesota; her parents were avid gardeners, too, and instilled in their daughter an interest in the intersection between plants and Western medicine. "My mom is what you'd call the black sheep in her family," interjects Cox, Higgins' daughter.
After wrapping up a liberal arts degree at Colorado State University, Higgins went to Santa Cruz to study herbal medicine. When she returned to Colorado in 1982, she began experimenting with native plants to ease her prenatal woes, using crockpots to apply low heat to a natural base oil -- olive, coconut, and odorless apricot -- and infuse it with a given plant's therapeutic properties.
For balms, Higgins added thickening agents such as shea butter and beeswax, and for tinctures she'd leaven plant medicine into water and alcohol. Higgins even encapsulated her herbal supplements for palatable alternatives to tinctures.
"She would give away the products to friends and family," Cox explains. The owner of Higgins' local food co-op was impressed, and asked her if he could stock her stuff. "The products," Cox says, "slowly began gaining popularity because they really work."
By 1995, Higgins had reason to relocate her operation from her home to a 1,000-square-foot facility in Laporte. Two years ago, Motherlove moved again, to its 14,000-square-foot home in Fort Collins where it manufactures body-care products. Herbal supplements -- regulated by the FDA -- are made off-site by a contract manufacturer.
Motherlove's bestselling SKU -- a nipple cream -- used to move about 1,000 units a month. "Now we move 20,000 units a month," says Cox, whose products sell in 10,000 retailers domestically, including Target, Whole Foods, and Walgreens, along with smaller grocery chains -- Natural Grocers, Sprouts Famers Market -- and hospitals and specialty baby stores.
Some companies add products as they mature, but Cox found success by honing in on a niche market. "We've actually discontinued a lot of products over the years," she says, referencing a big inventory cut in 2000. "We were so small, it was hard to compete with bigger companies," Cox adds. "But there weren't many others focusing solely on natural products for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and baby care."
Motherlove's pouring system has changed slightly since 1990, and, says Cox, "We do have some automation now." Mostly, though, the company stayed true to its organic roots.
"Everything we have it still plant-based," Cox says, offering, "We haven't changed ingredients to accommodate a longer shelf life; we don't believe in putting chemicals on your skin while pregnant, or on your new baby's skin."
Motherlove's lotions and creams are so natural that most could be ingested! "Everything's food-grade and certified organic," Cox says, adding, "Of course, we don't recommend that consumers eat our skincare products."
"Being certified organic is huge to Motherlove," continues Cox. And that commitment is as much about protecting customers as it is about preserving our planet.
Motherlove uses recycled materials for office supplies and packaging, and manufactures on wind credits. Last year, the company restructured as a B Corporation, changing its bylaws to reflect the passion that guides daily operations.
The company also became its own supply chain upon acquiring a 120-acre Front Range farm in 2013, where it grows organic herbs. "The farm guarantees there will be an organic supply of our best selling herbs and the herbs that are hard to find," Cox explains.
It also allows Motherlove to share information about native wild plants via farm tours. "Our dream," says Cox, "is to make this into a full-blown education center with an array of plant-based sessions and environmental courses for guests of all ages."
Challenges: "My mom didn't go into this with a business plan," Cox says. "And I was literally born into this." Motherlove, then, has risen organically. "Retailers come to us," says Cox. As interest grows, she's working on striking a balance between supply and demand.
Opportunities: As natural and organic become mainstream, Cox sees an opportunity to share her products -- and passion -- with a much broader population of consumers.
Needs: "What we need most is planning," says Cox, noting that Motherlove is still outlining its vision for the future.