Mother-daughter team crafts safe skin care products

| Debbie Musser | April 16, 2019 | 0 Comments
From left, Mary and Jessica Ottman package finished soap bars April 9 in the lower level of Mary’s home in Blaine, where they have set up Siena Soap Company operations. Siena Soap is offering readers of The Catholic Spirit free shipping at sienasoap.com; use the free shipping code Siena.

From left, Mary and Jessica Ottman package finished soap bars April 9 in the lower level of Mary’s home in Blaine, where they have set up Siena Soap Company operations. Siena Soap is offering readers of The Catholic Spirit free shipping at sienasoap.com; use the free shipping code Siena. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Click on the Siena Soap Company website and you’ll discover an all-natural, handcrafted artisan skin care company offering a variety of products, from aromatherapy soap bars to baby balms to charcoal deodorant.

Behind this growing business, named after St. Catherine of Siena, is a spunky and determined mother-daughter team, Mary and Jessica Ottman, whose faith guides them in their mission to bring customers high quality, affordable products with health and medicinal benefits.

“I have a servant’s heart, and I want to do what God wants me to do with my life,” Mary said. “This is one way I can serve, as I know we are helping lots of people. That brings me joy.”

With a background in public health and now working as a grant manager with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Positive Alternatives Grant Program, Mary developed an interest in natural products from her own family’s skincare needs. She and her husband, Tom, are parents of five children, four adopted from South Korea.

“My children who were born in Asia had skin irritations, and I was paying a lot of money for prescriptions and remedies that didn’t work,” Mary said. “I thought there had to be a simpler solution.”

After researching and buying some natural soaps, Mary received a gift from her oldest daughter, Jessica: a book on how to make natural soap.

“I started making soap for the kids — with great results by the way — and soon friends wanted my soap bars, and they wanted to pay me for them,” Mary said. “That’s how Siena Soap Company began back in 2006.”

A parishioner of St. Paul in Ham Lake, Mary has long admired St. Catherine of Siena as “an amazing woman of faith who is often pictured with the lily, a symbol of purity.” They chose the lily as the company’s emblem, she said, “as we offer safe, natural, 100 percent pure products.”

Five years ago, Jessica joined her mother as co-owner of Siena Soap and serves as director of marketing. A member of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, Jessica uses skills honed from her University of St. Thomas business entrepreneurship degree, plus experience in the business world to broaden awareness of the company.

“Jessica came to me and said, ‘Mom, I want to help you. Your products are great, but your labeling stinks,’” Mary said. “I recognized that wasn’t my strength — I like the artistry and science of doing formulations to make the products — so we each bring our own talents to Siena Soap.”

Mother and daughter admit they had some growing pains as they worked together. “I’m the oldest child and Jessica’s also the oldest child so we each like to be the boss,” Mary said.

“We have a good rhythm now, but it took a lot of grace and patience, and we learned along the way,” Jessica said.

Added Mary: “God presents us with these special opportunities in life, doesn’t he?”

Soap molds, ingredients, labels and packaging materials can be found in the Siena Soap studio in the lower level of Mary and Tom’s home in Blaine. It’s a busy place; all products are made on site.

“Our soaps, salves, serums, balms, deodorants and oils are made in small batches and are free of harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrances and irritating dyes; they have wonderful healing properties for dry, sensitive skin, aging and more,” Jessica said.

“One of our top sellers, our baby balm, was created as a natural alternative for diaper rash cream,” she said. “It’s jam-packed with healing herbs, and customers have found it works great on cuts, sunburn, mosquito bites and also reduces scarring.”

Mary makes the soaps in the studio from scratch using a timeless, cold-processed method. Jessica makes a lot of the non-soap products, manages the labeling and company website and social media, and is working to expand the number of wholesale customers. They’ve also had success with local pop-up markets.

Meanwhile, they’re collaborating with Catholic author and evangelist Jeff Cavins to develop a beard balm and beard oil with a biblical theme, Jessica said. “We have a lot of men customers; it’s fun to see men enjoying good products like our soaps and shave bars.”

Siena Soap plans to expand its outreach as well. A portion of profits helps survivors of sex trafficking heal through the company’s partnership with the Minnesota nonprofit Terebinth.

“Providing handcrafted, quality, natural skin care products for our growing customer base of all ages is our passion,” Mary said. “I believe we’ve only scratched the surface on what we can offer.”

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