MGB: Please tell me about your background as a potter.
CS: I found my love for pottery when I was in college. I was on a study abroad trip to Cortona, Italy with the University of Georgia. I took a pottery class with Ted Saupe and we got to work with local clay and experiment with Majolica glazes.We had the chance to tour Deruta, Italy where we learned about the rich history of majolica pottery and I had the opportunity to see how it is still produced today.
Unfortunately, when I returned to my college I learned that my school didn't offer pottery (they said it was craft, not art). However, one of my favorite professors gave me the gift of a kick wheel that I brought with me when I moved to Asheville, NC.
In Asheville, I worked as the co-manager at Mud Hunter Pottery. While I was there, I was introduced to the wonderful community of potters in the Asheville area. I set up my wheel in the back of the shop and the owner and I played with clay after hours. After the shop closed, I took a break from pottery. Skipping forward 13 years, I resumed my pottery studies at The Village Potters, where I still study today.
MGB: When did your interest in skin care begin? What was the motivation for developing the Potter’s Skin Butter?
CS: Well, growing up I always had dry skin on my hands. It must run in the family. My mom is a nurse who washed her hands constantly, so she taught me the importance of taking care of my hands. She used to buy a hand lotion out of Germany that she found while on a trip there. It was a hand cream used by factory workers, and she found it was what worked best for her. I remember us putting on hand lotion in the mornings when she was driving me to school.
One day while I was at Mud Hunter Pottery, the owner ran out of her favorite body butter and asked if I would make a product similar to it for potters. I had never made lotion but I was very interested. I love science and crafting and experimenting, so I took a shot at it.
With the help of books, the Internet, and advice from another skin care maker, I started experimenting with formulas. It was the 6th batch that was just right, not too greasy and rich enough to last through hand washing.
MGB: What are the benefits of using this kind of lotion in the studio over others?
CS: Potters Skin Butter is specially formulated to withstand the drying effects of 3 main elements: water, clay, and harsh drying elements. It creates a barrier that seals in moisture and keeps it from evaporating along with the water as you are throwing clay.
Secondly, it provides protection from clay, which acts as a desiccant, absorbing moisture from the skin and drinking up any water the artist is using to make the clay workable.
Third, Potters’ Skin Butter protects the skin from harsh chemicals such as drying soaps, sanitizers, and cleaners that may be used to keep a clean studio. We all wash our hands a lot during the course of a day, and Potters’ Skin Butter lasts through hand washing and minimizes the drying effects of hand sanitizer.
MGB: What is the most common response to your products?
CS: People are amazed that it is non-greasy even as it feels hydrating. I also hear back from folks who have taken it to the studio and put it to the test for a while. They say that it is the only thing that works for them.
MGB: How do you balance making your artwork and running your business?
CS: It is always a challenge, and a perfect balance is never achieved. It is a living, breathing thing, my creative life. Sometimes I lean more into business and it takes me away from the studio. Sometimes, I find that I lean into making pottery and my business is actually enhanced by the time I spend in the ceramic world with my hands in the clay. I consider art making to be walking the walk of the mission of my business. I am driven not by skin care, but by making something that gets artists back in the studio, able to do what they love without being distracted by their dry skin. So when I spend more time in the studio, I am following my passion as well. Making art and helping others go hand-in-hand for me: one being as important as the the other.
MGB: Do you have any advice for creatives who are developing their own businesses?
CS: Do your own weird thing. Do not try to conform with the advice others give you. For so long, people (non-pottery business folks) encouraged me to abandon the name Potters’ Skin Butter to cater to all people (lotion for everyone) or to make 10 different specialized lotion lines, each with a different target audience. At first I was swayed by their advice. But I realized over the years that potters are my people. Potters are my audience. And this last year when I went to my first NCECA Conference, I had the feeling of a homecoming. Potters get it.
I guess what I am saying is do what you are doing and speak to who you are speaking to (your target audience). It doesn't matter if folks outside your niche don't get it. What matters is that you are creating what works for you and your community. Stick with it.
Oh, and keep a bit of a day job if you need to. Business books and podcasts tell the glamorous stories of those who risked it all to make it big. I believe in a steadier, more sustainable growth, feeling out how big you want to grow as you live it, rather than getting ahead of yourself and overcommitting and going into debt. Take risks, but know the lifestyle you are after. People used to tell me I had to be in Whole Foods to make it big. But I believe in independent retailers and chose to grow in a grassroots way. It takes longer, but after 14 years of business, I have strong roots, dedicated customers, and a happy life.
MGB: What’s next for Cara Mae?
CS: I plan to continue to grow and deepen my relationships within the ceramic community. In August, I am excited to be a guest on The Potters Cast podcast by Paul Blais. (Thepotterscast.com #pdblais) We met at NCECA and have stayed in touch.
I will continue my studies in pottery. I will attend more NCECA conferences and nerd out with potters. And I will remain dedicated to making the best lotion for potters from scratch in Asheville, NC.
Join our instagram giveaway August 28th for a chance to win a jar of Potters Skin Butter! Check out the details at instagram.com/wellnessformakers