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Op-Ed: One woman’s determination to deliver quality handmade products (Includes interview and first-hand account)

“To say that the competition is tough is well, not enough. With the Internet and social media it is overwhelming,” she said.
Born and raised in New York, Brandes is no stranger to the rigors of retail and the demands made upon artistic endeavors. You can hear it in her voice, but it is also obvious in her style, demeanor and yes, her products. The Caryl B line of soaps, creams and other bath and body products are well-made and exquisitely thought-out.

But the reality of today’s retail sector of outsourcing, wholesale-warehouse stores and internet shopping, makes providing a quality hand-made product to a large customer base exhausting. “Many times we lost money,” she said on various ventures over the years. ” When Caryl says ” we ” she includes her husband and partner, Hal Brandes.

He helps Caryl and is a collaborator on many of the products and ideas she seeks to promote. The dazzling gold pear on her business card was made and designed by Hal.

“For as long as I can remember, said Caryl both Hal and myself have had a love affair with art and products.
This love affair started in New York and we have never departed from it.”

Not that every business and artistic venture together was smooth sailing. Far from it. “You have to have courage to be in any kind of creative, artistic or commercial endeavor.” And, as she explained further, “you have to have tenacity, persistence and the ability to endure.”

Even before she met and married Hal, Caryl was always drawn to the arts. She attended a performing arts high school and studied dance. “I loved dance,” she said as she left NY to attend a dance arts program at the University of Illinois. “But I knew after dedicating myself to it, that I was not meant to be a dancer. It requires a lot of dedication, discipline and physical energy. I realized I just did not have a dancer’s body. But I treasure the time I studied dance,” she said.

Perhaps it was those early experiences that helped pave the way for Caryl’s other venues in a creative setting. She described New York’s retail sector as a place of excitement and energy amid the competition that exists in the retail world. Yet as the retail sector has changed in recent decades, Caryl knew instinctively that there are other venues and ways out there to get product to market.

Friend and fellow former retailer Karen Kilian agreed. “It is really hard to shop local. Yes, people can buy more for less at outlet stores and the like. But I don’t believe the quality is the same,” she said.

“Caryl might seem ‘old school’ to some, but she really knows. She and Hal produce nothing but the best, real true quality,” added Kilian. “Like me, Caryl had a store front for years. And, I have to admit, it wasn’t easy. The cost of overhead is getting higher and the market is getting more competitive with new approaches to marketing and manufacturing almost every year.” “That is why I like the local markets, the farmers’ markets.” “In fact, said Kilian that is what I hope to bring about, a ‘farmer’s market for artists and artisans.” Kilian now works as an artisan promoter and rep.

While Brandes likes Kilian’s idea. She knows what that is like too.
“We did the craft shows, said Brandes, the smaller, locally owned shops.” “Still, even with those (and some are really wonderful) the competition is tough.” She cited an example, “I do my best to be tech savvy, usually I get someone from the younger generations to help. But this one time I posted a picture of one of our products on a social media site, and literally within minutes, three bath and body product companies were following me.” “I know what that means she said. They are checking up on the competition and copying ideas.”

“I love Caryl B products,” said customer Rachel Hubbard. “My son has terrible eczema on his legs and scalp, and Caryl B soaps are so gentle, I have no fear in using them,” said Hubbard. “His skin feels softer after, she added, and there is no irritation like he experiences from other products we have tried.” “Caryl B creams are rich and smooth without being greasy, and I love the way they feel on my hands and feet, which are incredibly dry,” Hubbard said.

The vote of confidence in her products is what seems to keep Brandes going. Yet, she is always mindful of how much time, effort and money it takes to make and then distribute a product. Not to be discouraged, Caryl B knows that even with so much out there, “people really do like a quality-made product and a decent price for something they enjoy.” This is one reason why she and Hal focus on boutique markets and never give up on being unique as well as authentic.

Caryl B is a line of all natural soaps  bath and body products; all made by hand in the USA.

Caryl B is a line of all natural soaps, bath and body products; all made by hand in the USA.
Caryl Brandes of Carl B Natural Bath and Body Products

“When we moved to Marin County, she said the involvement with product design continued and extended with our
ownership of three retail shops in San Francisco. We also developed product lines for department and
specialty stores, as well as proprietary product for corporate accounts.”

Another aspect to surviving in business is the ability to take and endure risks. She and Hal were impacted by the 2008 recession. “Oh there were several times we lost out or had to let go of something we treasured,” she said. This is where bravery and endurance is crucial.

She admitted it was not easy. And, doubts do creep into even the most sound of minds filled with positive thinking and great ideas. Yet Caryl believes that if one really has talent and tenacity and is inspired, a window or a door of opportunity will always be there.

“With the introduction of our exceptional line of personal care products I was inspired to adapt Hal’s
fine art photography into the packaging,” she said. And, it shows, the fine-art touches are everywhere in everyone of the products Caryl B provides.

“The combination of high quality product and a uniqueness in packaging, she said is what sets us apart from the competition. And, best of all, she said, we craft everything in the USA.”

To learn more about Caryl B Natural Bath and Body Products visit her web site.

And check out the photography/design page of husband Hal Brandes

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