By Michelle Aiello
Bourbon and Beans
At Bourbon and Beans, we’re fans of anything local, handmade and good for the body. So when we came across Erin Taydus of Harrodsburg and her line of artisan body care products, Sassa Bella, we knew we had to interview her.
Inspired by time-honored Appalachian sassafras soap-making techniques, Sassa Bella products are high quality and 100 percent natural. Like all good things, Sassa Bella was born out of a desire to create something pure and inspired by nature. After noticing that many of the ingredients in her body care products – even high-quality ones – were “inorganic, even toxic, hard to pronounce and understand,” Taydus knew something had to change. So she searched for products that were high quality, 100 percent natural and certified organic. In many cases there simply weren’t any.
In the midst of “climbing the corporate ladder,” Taydus suddenly had a shift of perspective. On a trip to the Appalachian Mountains in September of 2001, she stumbled upon a book about Appalachian traditions. She was struck by the simplicity of traditional soap making: a completely organic product created according to a time-honored tradition; using a special sassafras branch blending process that added a natural, wonderfully scented insect repellent.
“I had a personal epiphany when I discovered that sassafras branches were used to infuse soap with a natural insect repellent, representing the connection between nature and its many benefits for people.” And so her adventure began.
To celebrate the genesis of her newly learned concepts, the first Sassa Bella product Taydus created was a pure, natural sassafras soap. Since then, Sassa Bella has grown to include face and body cream, body butter, shampoo and body wash, bath salts, face care products and even an entire product line for horses and dogs.
The connection to nature is apparent in every aspect of Sassa Bella’s production. The company uses raw materials from sustainable farms, and they practice good corporate citizenship and mindful waste disposal.
We think Erin Taydus embodies a true Kentucky spirit – if you can’t find it, make it!
A. This is an interesting question! I don’t drink. I might have one taste or a quarter of a glass of wine once a year. However, I have toured the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery, and I would have to say that the flavor is amazing. I also love the taste of the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, but red wine is my favorite. Bread pudding with bourbon sauce is a favorite.
Q. Favorite bean?
A. Pinto beans are my favorite. I love the flavor of the beans and ham. I usually add some chopped Vidalia onions and soak up the bean soup with corn bread.
Q. Are you from Kentucky?
I was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and grew up on the family homestead in Baldwinsville, N.Y., near Syracuse. After college graduation my husband and I moved to Wilmington, N.C. and then two years later moved the Harrodsburg.
Q. Do you consider yourself to be sassy?
A. Yes, sassy can mean spirited, meaning lively, vigorous, animated or courageous. It takes someone with all those characteristics to start a business that is 100 percent natural that goes against the “norm.”
Q. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Sassa Bella founder Erin Taydus and family (Photo from Bourbon & Beans)
A. Knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life, being a good mom and making a difference in the world.
Q. What’s your favorite smart phone app?
I love Twitter. I can stay in touch and get super fast updates from the people I follow. I love it.
Q. What’s one of your leadership secrets?
A. Absolutely never, ever ask someone to do something for you that you are not willing to do yourself.
Q. Who do you lean on for support (let’s face it, we can’t do this alone)?
A. I lean on my husband for support. He is my strength and cheerleader! My husband Matt and I spent a year in Taiwan together and when we finished our time overseas, he told me that he just couldn’t work behind a desk anymore. I asked him what he wanted to do, and he told me that he wanted to become a farrier – and a really good farrier at that. He wanted to make a difference in the quality of the animals and riders lives through quality craftsmanship.
After watching Matt change careers, I decided to put my fear and anxiety aside and launch my own business. My son was born in 2010, and I turned my maternity leave into a dual career of mom and body care business startup manager. Little did I know the size of the undertaking!
Q. When do you know it’s time for a vacation?
A. At times both my husband and I get overly wrapped up with our work. We usually catch ourselves and we call a time out, and schedule some “time in” time for the family and each other.
Q. What do you look for in an employee?
A. The most important thing I look for is the person’s energy. It’s super important to my company that any employee be an optimist and has a positive outlook. An employee is an extension of the company and needs to be able to portray the same energy as I would.
Q. What’s a quote or saying that gets you through the tough days?
A. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Q. How do you relish your successes?
I just sit back and thank God for using me to enhance someone’s life. I really enjoy the feeling of being appreciated.
Q. Why is it important to buy from local businesses?
A. Buying local is one of the most important things a U.S. citizen can do. Every day when we spend our money, we actually are voting. We vote for what we believe in. Buying local increases the strength of our communities and decreases the demand for products that are grown in the conventional agriculture system. The current conventional system does not focus on nutrient dense food but rather, high-profit foods. Buying local is the best way to regain independence and community strength for both the citizens and the small-scale farmers.
Q. Where do you see your company in five years?
I will be certified organic with a beyond organic focus. I will be enhancing the lives of babies, children and adults. I will also be in a new facility with new employees with positive energy and have a great work -ife balance program. Other goals include having a zero waste facility, creating our own electricity and becoming a role model company.
Michelle Aiello is Chicago-born writer and self-publisher, now living in Bourbon County. She writes for the Lexington marketing company Bourbon & Beans and works with local businesses to refine their look and message. She is the writer and publisher of Indigo zine and organizer of Ephemera Festival.