Home-grown holiday gifts

Hand-poured scented soy candles from CT River Candles
Hand-poured scented soy candles from CT River Candles

As the holidays approach, we can choose to gift people with trendy gizmos made in China or buy products created by home-based companies right here in Connecticut. Besides supporting the recession-affected local economy, local vendors provide a great opportunity to purchase unique, natural, homegrown products for friends and family.

There are many "cottage industries" in the region offering a vast selection of items to nourish both body and soul that can be purchased on their websites, as well as in nearby stores and gift shops. We recently spoke to two home-based business owners about their operations and products.

More than skin deep

Before Lisa Kennally of Madison even imagined starting a home-based business - lisa ann skincare - the stars were lining up to make her dream come true.

A number of things prepared Kennally to start a natural skin-care business. She recalls doing egg white facials with her mother when she was growing up. She majored in consumer affairs in college, which taught her about product ingredients, and over the years she worked in sales and in her father's packaging business.

After her two sons were born, Kennally says she wanted to work from home and decided to go into business for herself. Since she felt passionately about using natural skin care products she asked herself, "What can I make?create with my own hands?"

Kennally started her company seven years ago in her kitchen with one item: a hand scrub, and it blossomed from there. She began to develop more products in the line: scrubs, lotions and body butters, facial care items and lip balm, which she sold locally to day spas. Three years ago The Norwich Inn & Spa began carrying her products. Now the inn requests a new line of treatments for every season.

She created a website and is now shipping her products all over the world.

"It's all created in small batches," she says. "I research every ingredient and know where it's coming from, and I do lots of experimenting with recipes and tweaking them.

"Almost everything has Fair Trade shea butter in it, which is a really great, nourishing product for the skin," she adds, "that I get from a co-op in Ghana."

This fall she introduced "Inspired by Tea" body products that contain green tea antioxidants.

Kennally continues to make all her products herself in her home.

"I wear all the hats-buyer, manufacturer and marketer-for now," she says.

Despite the challenges, including a lot of competition, she says the business is growing every year, which is very encouraging.

"You're always anxious when you're running a business," she says. "Where is the next sale coming from? What new am I going to create? What keeps me motivated is when a customer says, 'I love your product, how it smells, and how it makes my skin feel so much smoother.

"I love the creative process, too-thinking about new products and new scents. It's a lot of fun."

A bright new venture

Brenda Hunter is into her fifth year as owner/operator of CT River Candles, which makes hand-poured, 100 percent natural scented soy candles in glass jars labeled with photos of the Connecticut River.

A bad back was the impetus for her business. She was the assistant director at UConn Health Center when she had to undergo back surgery, which took her out of work for an extended period.

"I had always worked with my hands, making baskets, painting," she explains. "During the time I was out of work, someone had given me a candle that smelled really good. I was very web-centric with an IT background, and so I started researching how to make candles and soy kept coming up as the best alternative-it's clean-burning, natural and renewable, unlike paraffin.

"I wasn't physically ready to go back to work, so I opted not to," Hunter says.

She made a few candles for herself, doing a lot of testing with scents until she found ones she really liked, using the finest fragrance oils available.

Hunter and her husband had recently moved to Haddam on the Connecticut River, which inspired the name of the candles.

Hunter's husband turned the basement into a workshop where she does most of work herself, eliciting help from family members when big orders come in or during the holidays-her busiest time of the year.

There are now more than 60 different scented candles on the line, which vary by season. At this time of year Mistletoe & Berries, Pumpkin Soufflé, Cranberry Marmalade and Jack Frost (peppermint vanilla) are top sellers.

Along with candles, Hunter makes soy melts, tarts, tins, fire starters and CT River Dog & Friends soy-wax-dipped plush toy air fresheners, inspired by her yellow lab Dakota.

Hunter notes that she couldn't have grown to where she is now without a website, social networking and all the sales and marketing opportunities provided by the Internet.

"There's no way I could have been able to afford a bricks-and-mortar store," she says. "I'm now selling to every state in the U.S. I've shipped a candle as far as to a solider in Afghanistan."

Hunter says she has no interest in ever going back to the stressful job of desktop support as an IT manager.

"I totally enjoy doing this, it's so much more fulfilling," she says. "I can make my own hours-(although) it's definitely a lot of hours. But you're doing it for yourself, for your own business. It's a different kind of feeling."

Where to get it

Lisa ann skincare products can be purchased at www.lisaannskincare.com. CT River Candles can be purchased at www.ctrivercandles.com. Both women's products, as well as many other handcrafted Connecticut-made items, are sold at CONNfetti, 13 Golden St., New London. 860-442-0122 or online www.confettigifts.com.

Chocolate Body Scrub from lisa ann skincare
Chocolate Body Scrub from lisa ann skincare
At left, Carol Monnerat Artisan Truffles
At left, Carol Monnerat Artisan Truffles
A sailor rope bracelet from  Mystic Knotwork
A sailor rope bracelet from Mystic Knotwork

More holiday gifts ideas by local home-based businesses

Bonne Sante: Your Path to Good Health
www.bonnesantellc.com

Founded by Rosemary Barcklay in 2007, this Old Lyme-based business provides wellness services, plus organic skincare products made with organic raw ingredients that contain no artificial fragrances or chemicals.

Mystic Knotwork: Nautical Knotwork and Novelties www.mysticknotwork.com

Family business founded in 1960, known for making original sailor rope bracelets, has expanded to offer Carrick weave mats, ocean plait mats, floating key rings, and other gifts for the sailor.

Three Sisters Farms of Essex
http://threesistersfarms.com

A family business since 1999, Glenn, Stasia and the "Three Sisters" -Anastasia, Nadia, and Kyra make honey products using organic hive management (including infused lavender honey), handcrafted soap, hand cream, lip balm, and beeswax candles.

Big Nanny's Soft Biscotti
www.bignannys.com

Since 2002, Donna Galluccio of Guilford has been selling her tasty homemade soft biscotti at dozens of locations throughout the shoreline and Southeastern Connecticut-soon to be available through her online store.

Inoscents of Madison: Imported Lavender Gifts
www.inoscentsofmadison.com

Dyan Salemi specializes in lavender products imported from France; bath salts made with pure essential oils and Epsom salts; eye wraps; and hand-made soaps. Custom order gift baskets available.

Willow Whimsy
www.willowwhimsy.com

Shirley La Rosa of Higganum crafts handmade, whimsical cloth napkins, reusable bags, organic washcloths, coasters, jewelry, hair accessories, notecards, baby gifts and more.

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