Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Story of Mama

I've been putting myself "out there" more and more over the last year and have consequently been fielding lots of questions relating to the origin of my company. I've had this company in some form or another for over 8 years now, so Mama has a long and varied history with many components that make up the whole. I get a lot of questions about how I started, which I think is great. Authenticity is a big buzzword these days, so I suppose it's only natural that people would want to know how I got started in the business making natural products. I am an authentic person, and it's hard to stand out in the midst of so much unauthentic marketing, so I really try to give them the goods.

I always thought that the seed for Mama was sown on a fateful late night sitting in the Los Angeles airport, waiting to board a red eye to Atlanta to produce a music video that was giving me hives. I was on a career path that had made me miserable. I looked around at a lot of happy people (this was in early 2001, when travel used to be a happy occasion) and wondered what they did in life. And then I thought "body products make me happy. Maybe I could make them." And thus began the long journey that landed where I am today. I thought that was the beginning of my story. But then I remembered another layer.

This other layer is not quite as romantic as the "I hated my life so I made a new one" story. Yes, that is part of my story, and it's a common thread that keeps popping up in the bios of many an entrepreneur, because it's a concept appeals to a whole lot of people these days. But if I really think about it, another part of Mama's story happened prior to my airport epiphany and involves a failed attempt at multi-level marketing. It was not my first. There have been many failed efforts in general and my first (of two) multi-level marketing attempts was in college, when I decided that I should sell knives. I think I maybe sold a set to my parents and grandparents - didn't even cover the cost of my demo set. But I can still cut a penny with scissors.

So the next time around, I was a freelancer in the film industry in Los Angeles. I was admittedly not a master networker, and there were only so many jobs available to a larger work pool, so I didn't feel like I had much control over my career. I was a hard worker and I was tired of not having enough opportunities (read: money.) So I was always keeping an ear to the ground for other ways to line my wallet. A friend and film ex-pat came to me with an "exciting new opportunity" which shortly revealed itself to be a multi-level company that sold "natural" cleaning and body products. (I say "natural" because I'm not really sure that they actually were.) It's funny, because I had recently completed work on a film that had an entire part of the script dedicated to poking fun at multi-level product companies. To top this off, at the time I was working for the writer of said script. (he was lovely, but not a proponent of multi-level marketing). I knew that this type of selling hadn't worked for me in the past, and that most of my friends would probably give me hell, but that shows you how badly I was looking for new opportunities (read: money.) So I signed up. Predictably, I sucked at it. I don't think I even sold enough to cover my demo set. To let you know where my head was, when my friend initially showed me the company's catalog (no website - remember people, this was pre-21st Century) I didn't understand what it was and I started pitching her ideas that I had for redesigning their packaging. I was obviously missing the concept. She looked at me like I had a third eye.

But here's the thing that I got out all of this: I learned about the existence of natural products. This company's specialty was cleaning products that came in concentrated form and you added water. Truthfully, the products (and the packaging) weren't memorable. The only thing I really remember is that they lasted a long time and I couldn't keep up with the monthly required minimum purchase because I had a tiny apartment that I rarely cleaned. But I do distinctly remember going to the orientation where they were talking about the cleaning products aisle at grocery stores. Lots of expounding on the chemicals that most of these products contained, and explanations of why they were bad for our environment, our home, our water, etc. This information is in the forefront now, but remember, this was over a decade ago. They told us to take a trip down the cleaning product section of the grocery store aisle and notice the smell. That the smell is called "seepage" and it occurs because the plastic can't contain the chemicals it holds. Their instructions were to go home, gather up all of our chemical laden cleaning supplies, put them in a box and set them out at the curb. This was, not so obviously at the time, to make way for the starter kit of their cleaning supplies that was on it's way, but I bought into it and I did it. And let me tell you, I have never used another bottle of Pledge or Windex again. And I still can't stand to walk down the cleaning products aisle of any grocery store. The point is, this is a very important part of my story, because if not for this experience, none of this information would have even been in my consciousness. I was passionate about the message, but I couldn't sell the company because I didn't believe in it. I have worked so hard to make Mama a company whose products I do believe in, and I can vouch for them because I make them myself. This year, I plan to write more about all of this and natural products in general. I hope that you'll enjoy the journey with me.


Judi said...

I really loved your story. Want to hear more. Hope you are feeling better!

Ginny said...

Awesome! Wish I found your blog a long time ago. I have vinegar & baking soda under my kitchen sink;) I make my own dish soap etc too:) I feel the same way about the cleaning section in stores, ugh