By LISA MONTI
Vanessa Mueller can still remember how her young daughter suffered from eczema and how frustrated she was with the limited treatment options.
“As a mom, I felt helpless,” she said. “We tried creams and lotions to get some relief, but nothing was working.”
So Mueller, a registered nurse, decided to use her training and experience to develop soaps and lotions herself.
“I’ve been researching and making products for my daughter her whole life,” she said. “Then one Christmas I decided to make some products for friends and family and I was amazed at the response. I was making things out of my kitchen (on Marina Drive in Ocean Springs) and the orders were pouring in. We couldn’t even eat in the kitchen.”
Demand for the products continued to grow and three years ago Mueller decided to retire from her six-figure job as a director of nursing at Sunplex Subacute Center in Ocean Springs and go into business full time. “Everybody, even my husband, thought I was crazy, retiring to make soap,” she said.
Nobody thinks that now.
Marina Cottage Soap Co., her “labor of love” snowballed and sales volume increased by 300 percent after one year. The products are now sold in more than 800 retail outlets around the country and online. “It’s growing daily,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
“We don’t do big box,” she said. “We want mom-and-pop stores, boutiques, pharmacies, grocery stores and sporting goods stores.”
The all-natural products are designed to treat eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions that cause intense itching and burning. Auto immune disorders such as eczema and psoriasis can be triggered by environmental allergens, gluten and everyday items such as laundry detergent and fabric softener, Mueller said.
Besides soaps and lotions, Marina Cottage makes balms, butters, makeup remover, shampoo bars, an award winning natural insect repellant and dog shampoo bars.
For the second year in a row, Marina Cottage products will be tucked into SWAG bags given to celebrities at the 2016 Academy Awards, Golden Globes and MTV music awards.
The company’s brick and mortar store in Ocean Springs has two full time and two part time employees. The Muellers’ daughter, now 24, designs the labels.
Marina Cottage produces 2,700 ounces of lotion and 250 pounds of soap every two weeks. Products are handcrafted in the back of the store in Ocean Springs and sold up front and online. Small batches ensure the quality remains high.
The all-organic products are free of chemicals, alcohol, parabens, gluten, perfumes and dyes. The scents come from a blend of essential oils and the colors are from natural minerals and oxides.
The main ingredient in the soaps is goat’s milk, which is the same PH as human milk and contains vitamins and minerals that nourish the skin. The soap, made from all natural ingredients, hydrates the skin and seals in moisture, providing immediate relief to irritated skin and it doesn’t dissolve the skin’s protective oils.
That’s especially important for children at bath time. Using the organic soaps and bubble bath, she said, “They can play in the tub now without fear.”
Mueller uses her nursing skills to find out what would work best for her customers. “We don’t just hand a customer a product and say here you go,” she said. “We work closely with them and we form bonds with them.”
Physicians and pharmacists are referring patients to Marina Cottage. “We’re starting to get their attention,” she said.
Mueller, who belongs to the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild, follows federal regulations for making the products. “It seems so easy and a lot of people make soap at home but when you’re making something for human consumption, there are a lot of regulatory agencies you have to go through.”
Mueller said she would like to add more retailers and go international but “it’s not always about the money. As a nurse, I firmly believe God gave us two hands for a reason: one to help ourselves and one to help others.”
For that reason, Mueller keeps prices low without lowering quality, so people who need the products and can afford them can buy them. For those who can’t afford it, she said, “We donate the product to them. The biggest thing is, we help others.”