In February 2020, Laurie Miller was on the verge of launching a botanic line of facial and cosmetic products. She had painstakingly formulated her serums by trial and error over the previous two years in a home lab on her rural Escondido ranch.
Suddenly her supply chain dried up. No longer could she get her glass droppers and serum pumps from Italy or her glass bottles from Germany. In addition to the many types of lavender she and her husband grow on their 157-acre property, her exotic botanical ingredients are imported from 14 countries.
Her serums include oils made from sandalwood seeds, kiwi seeds, guava seeds, prickly pear seeds, blackberry seeds, raspberry seeds, jojoba seeds and frankincense.
Instead of crying in coronavirus-induced frustration, she did an about-face.
Within 25 hours, Miller says she decided to temporarily shelve her skin care line and switch to producing a luxury hand sanitizer.
“Most of my friends were not surprised I did something like that. I’m always able to pivot. I’m a next-page kind of person.”
Her husband, Van, involved in corporate event sponsorship, likewise, was affected by the pandemic slowdown. He supported her decision.
Miller contacted two laboratories she worked with and arranged to manufacture hand sanitizer. As with her botanic line, she chose high-end ingredients, opting to incorporate a more expensive alcohol that is gentler on the skin than most.
She also supported her community during this difficult time.
“For every bottle we sold, we’d give one away to San Diego charities,” she says. A friend went downtown and handed out her sanitizer to the homeless. On her Instagram page, she posted an offer of free hand sanitizer to San Diego teachers. “We were winging it in the beginning.”
She supplied the bottles to Father Joe’s Villages, Casa de Amparo, San Diego Food Bank, Bridge of Hope and Coastal Roots Farm, a pay-what-you-can farm stand in Encinitas.
Kesha Spoor, of Coastal Roots Farm, said their collaboration with Miller “supported the farm’s commitment to keeping the community safe during this critical time.” Coastal Roots, in turn, distributed the hand sanitizer to the Vista Community Clinic, military veterans, Native Americans, a Holocaust survivor, customers and others in the community.
“I would never have been able to get through this without my girlfriends,” Miller says. “All of us are exhausted from the constant open and close of business. You could lose heart and not continue your journey unless you have people encouraging and supporting you.”
She points to Stevie Schweighardt, whose family’s fledgling coconut energy bar business was torpedoed, along with Schweighardt’s job, by the shutdown.
Schweighardt turned to professional modeling, primarily yoga and outdoor lifestyle brands, and Miller hired her for a photo marketing shoot. “Our retailers shut down during the pandemic so I lost my job and that forced me to become more creative,” she says.
Miller also mentions Emily Bowman, who launched her organic hair and skin care business in February 2021. Bowman proceeded with her online launch doing everything remotely, from signing documents and approving designs. Bowman still hasn’t had a chance to meet her design team or tour the manufacturing plant.
Nancy Flint made specialty caramels in her Talmadge home as VIP amenities for major hotels and conventions and for retail shops. The pandemic sidelined 70 percent of her Sugar Mamma business base, so she ramped up home curbside sales and expanded her offerings.
“I keep pivoting, keep creating new products,” says Flint, who added brownies, cookies, cupcakes and cakes to her menu.
An Oceanside artist transitioned to online gallery sales.
“These women are tough. They work their butts off,” Miller says. “Everyone had to shut down at some point unless they had an online business. … We’re buying each other’s products.”
The demand for hand sanitizer started drying up last summer as the pandemic ebbed so Miller again focused on her botanic serum line called Nani Pua (Hawaiian for “beautiful flower”).
She targeted sensitive skin, choosing healing oils for people with psoriasis, eczema or prone to acne.
In late September, Miller officially launched her skin care line at The Country Friends fashion show in Rancho Santa Fe and is marketing primarily through her website: www.nanipua.com.
In keeping with the Millers’ love of conservation that inspired them to remove non-native plants and restore a large section of their ranch property to its natural state, they encourage people to connect with companies that support a mission that benefits others and our environment.
Even in post-pandemic mode, the Millers still are giving back — and giving forward: “We plant an olive tree for every bottle of serum we sell.”