Newsmaker Q&A: Lovely Lady Products targets celiacs

Cheryl Caspi’s skin-care company isn’t just another bit player in a crowded field; her products are aimed at celiacs and those with with chemical-sensitive skin, serving a niche that has quickly earned her the spotlight. Soon after launching her product line in May 2012, the owner of Fort Collins-based Lovely Lady Products earned runner-up in the Naturally Boulder Entrepreneurial Pitch Slam competition in October and received the Innovator of the Year title from the Center for Resource Conservation less than a month later. Caspi’s products are now sold at more than 16 stores and counting. We caught up with Caspi to find out why it’s worth spending more on soap and how Northern Colorado’s natural products industry has plenty of room to grow.

Question: You mention on your website that having celiac disease was a huge impetus behind starting the business. Can you explain how a disease that is most-often associated with dietary restrictions became the reason for a new beauty line?

Answer: I always made my own body care products because I had to. Because of having all kinds of skin problems associated with my allergies, I couldn’t use any other stuff. When I was in college everyone had pretty bottles on their dressers, and I had a jar with a tape label on it. Even fragrance used to make me feel nauseous.

As a celiac, when gluten goes into us, it starts to flatten and damage villi in the intestinal track, and they absorb the nutrients. So when our villi start to flatten, celiacs suffer from malnutrition. As a result, it starts to damage our immune system. So what you have here is a dangerous situation. It’s better now that you can diagnose it. But it’s hard because it can act up in so many ways. With our bodies not absorbing nutrients, it can create all kinds of problems for your skin. Allergens in general can cause skin and gut problems.

Also, a lot of celiacs have inflammatory issues, and my products really help calm that, too.

Q: What made you decide to turn your hobby into a business, and what are the risks you took to do so?

A: I made products out of necessity. It’s just what we did. My whole family are cooks and farmers and my mom’s side are Indians. It was a part of my life and I never thought about it because I had been doing it for so long – making stuff and cooking stuff. It wasn’t until other people knew that I could help them that made me realize I could do it as a business.

Through illness, I found my calling. I’m not a chemist, I just know through my own tough, hard times with skin and hair and my experience. I never expected what’s happening now. I’ve been doing it on and off for a long time and it’s just time to take it seriously.

Q: Where is your product produced and how do you market and sell it without a storefront?

A: I make it myself in a commercial kitchen in north Fort Collins. And God-willing, that’s how I’ll keep doing it. I also sell it online, which is where I started. As I grow, I’m finding some products do better online.

Since the end of May, I’m in 16 different stores. It’s going well and I am in talks with more stores now. The body care stuff comes natural to me, but the business stuff is harder. When you’re doing something new, you really have to get out there and educate people about it.

Q: Your product line is USDA-certified organic and waterless. Can you tell me why this matters in a beauty line and why these characteristics are worth paying more for?

A: Simple plants work. Why are you constantly buying something if your skin is still so dry? We give you our products undiluted. I use the best essential oils in the world, and they are extremely effective and they work. The products have spoken for themselves. If you’re looking for a product that is clean, and not full of water, that is going to be effective and pure, then it’s worth it. You could even eat my products if you were stranded on a dessert island. Knock yourself out.

And with all these skin problems, and all these gut problems out there, you’ve got to ask yourself why this is happening now. Women put 500-something chemicals a day on their bodies. Creams, makeup, sprays, etc. Our body is porous – we absorb 70 percent of what goes onto our skin. We’re poisoning ourselves.

Q: You frequently refer to social responsibility on your site and in your blog. Why have you chosen that as a tenant of your business, and what does it look like practically?

A: As my mom put it, I’ve always been sensitive. I care about things.

When I say lovely is as lovely does, I am asking how beautiful are you when you’re focused only on what’s here (pointing to her face) if the products you’re using are destroying all this (gestures the room around her).

Q: Boulder is typically considered the organic product hub in Colorado. What made you decide to start in Fort Collins and how would you describe the local organic/natural products industry?

A: I had to go to Boulder to learn, because we don’t have the organizations here and I would love to change that. I mean why not? Why not teach people here? We could have programs that help and teach people how to get certified organic. This town has a lot of businesses and some people don’t know how to grow this kind of business. But they want to.

- Maggie Shafer

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