Tucked away in an unassuming, mostly residential neighborhood in Newport, Brenda Brock is quietly leading a beauty movement. Upon entering the main office and warehouse space of Farmaesthetics, the company she founded 14 years ago, it's not immediately clear that you've stepped inside the global headquarters of an acclaimed skincare line. Herbs and flowers are hanging upside down, left on racks to dry. Dozens of freshly bottled oils sit on a rolling rack, ready for labels.
Brenda isn't your average CEO, and this isn't your average beauty business. She's donning an apron on a late summer's morning along with two employees who are preparing online orders for shipment. Brenda, this year's recipient of the Rhode Island Small Business Person of the Year, has grown her company organically, carefully hand-picking the people and places that help her make her products.
Farmaesthetics' rise is the stuff of legend. Brenda, a seventh generation member of a farming family with a background in traditional kitchen chemistry, sold her first batch of herbal salves and creams at a friend's farm stand in 1999. Organic products were just coming into market, along with a demand for sustainability. “This was not a business plan,” Brenda says. ”By the time this was a ‘business,' I was already growing crops and making products for people. We became a company based on a need.” Interestingly, in Brenda's former life she was an actress on the daytime soap One Life to Live. “I played a farmer. Then I made enough money, quit and became a real farmer,” she says with a chuckle. With a pure philosophy and healing goods to match, it was poised for great success.
Today with eight employees and millions of products sold internationally, Brenda is a revered leader in the green beauty industry. Her accolades range from acquiring prestigious speaking engagements at green conferences, to being named a “natural beauty guru” by Martha Stewart and listed as one of the top 100 “most influential people and ideas behind green design in beauty” by Time magazine.
The Farmaesthetics line may look simple, with its clear bottles, handwritten labels and straightforward product names like Fine Herbal Cleanser and Midnight Honey Bath & Beauty Oil. But these 100% all-natural creams, oils and salves pack a powerful healing punch. With all products made with organically grown flowers and herbs from small American farms, each jar comes with a certified two-year shelf life from date of opening. “Our products are live,” Kenzie Gallagher, the brand's executive coordinator, explains. “We create small batches to keep the products as fresh as possible.” With ingredients like calendula, beeswax and lavender, each product is designed to feed the skin and the body within.
The skincare and body products are featured in prominent spas and hotels from coast to coast, including The Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, CA and the Tree Spa at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, ME. Closer to home, loyalists visit the OH! Spa at the Ocean House in Watch Hill and 360 Face Mind Body in Coventry for holistic treatments. Customers, who range from a 100-year-old woman in France to RISD students, typically stumble upon Farmaesthetics “when they're cleaning up their act,” Brenda says with a laugh. And since the products are void of artificial preservatives, dyes and other potentially harmful chemicals, her staff responds to frequent inquiries from pregnant women and women with cancer. “That's pretty powerful stuff, that when you really care and you want the optimal outcome, you tend to go with real food that's going to nourish your body and real skincare that's going to nourish your skin,” she says. The company has even partnered with Women and Infants' Integrative Care Program to provide products to chemotherapy and radiation patients for facials and massage treatments.
With over 60 products in her line, Brenda, a self proclaimed “kitchen chemist,” still remains the company's only formulator. Referring to old books and a “mile long” recipe box is just part of her process when developing a new product. Inspiration is also drawn from simply seeing the crops grow. “In the old ways of herbalism, they say you can know what to do with the plant by watching it grow,” she smiles, adding that she's excited about an upcoming batch of experimental herbs growing at one of the farms they source from. “And I'm motivated by products with nasty formulas,” she admits, sharing a little insight on how she views the traditional beauty industry. “How can I provide that experience, that benefit and that result completely from nature? Nature has every cosmetic result we're looking for; you just need to pair up the right ingredients.”
As she looks to the future, she's not in a big hurry to add products, divisions or retail partners. Rather, she wants the company's growth to be as natural as the products they create. “You're seeing this kind of artistry and depth of understanding with beer, clothing designers, restaurants… where someone can focus and get really good at what they do. That artisan movement is allowing us to be very successful by doing what we do really, really well. And that's what a movement is. It's not a race. It's a little movement in a new direction. And it takes time.” For more, visit the apothecary at 144 Bellevue Avenue, Newport.