Friday, May 23, 2008

Pretty profits for cosmetics business

Gaithersburg lawyer turns passion for all-natural products into revenues

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Linda Stein of Gaithersburg makes natural cosmetics and skin-care products in her basement laboratory.
Many women like the natural look, and Linda Stein is taking the notion to new heights.

Since 2004, the Gaithersburg mother of two has cooked up handcrafted mineral cosmetics and natural skin care on hot plates in her basement — from eye shadows and pencils to deodorants and hand creams.

‘‘I have always been very crafty and also liked cooking,” Stein said. ‘‘I make lipsticks, lipstick samples, sugar scrubs, bug spray.”

Stein uses natural ingredients, from flaxseed and alfalfa to African teas, to concoct cosmetics developed from original recipes for her home business, Zosimos Botanicals LLC.

Through her Web site she sells more than 125 products to individual customers and wholesale retailers as far away as Latvia and New Zealand; some clients adopt her products under a private label, she said.

‘‘I’ve reordered from her several times already,” said June Gaudreau, proprietor of Naturally Yours, an 8-month-old ‘‘eco-friendly emporium” in the resort town of Jim Thorpe, Pa. ‘‘I would say it’s a good seller.”

Zosimos, recently recognized by the GenGreen Network for setting an example in ‘‘environmental stewardship,” relies entirely on wind-generated electricity.

Stein said she assembled her entire home workshop with free goods gathered on FreeCycle, an online network dedicated to swapping unwanted items instead of discarding them. Stein used the site to obtain equipment, such as hot plates and the scrubs she wears while working.

‘‘I was always a greenie. I was doing the green thing before I even knew there were these people that were into green makeup,” said Stein, who works three days a week as a trademark lawyer for the U.S. Postal Service. She picked up tricks of the beauty trade from a longtime friend in the industry who also has started her own makeup line, Stein said.

‘‘I learned how to use the raw materials and I started making my own recipes and when I had enough of my own cosmetics, I asked the webmaster, who’s my husband, to build me a Web site,” Stein said.

Stein, who says she works for ‘‘the creative process” and not the money, recently saw her annual sales leap 300 percent — from $3,400 in 2006 to $12,000 in 2007 — after Zosimos received one of the safest ratings on Skin Deep, a database of 800 natural cosmetics retailers; and free promotion from, a Web site that promotes the ‘‘hip and cool.”

In March, Zosimos grossed more than $5,000 and her bookkeeper projects the company will gross $60,000 in 2008, when Stein will draw a salary for the first time.

Stein said co-worker Dannielle Mungo of Capitol Heights has inspired products by requesting certain colors to match her clothes.

‘‘I like to wear different shades of eye shadow, all different colors and I was having trouble with different brands bothering me,” said Mungo, who has had ‘‘trouble wearing drugstore brands.”

‘‘I can wear it all day and not wash my face and feel no irritation. ... I’ve even played softball in it and had no eye irritation or burning — and that surprises me,” Mungo said.

Stein squeezes liquid into wooden eye pencils and molds her lipstick into tubes; she boxes and ships her own products.

Mass production would mean adding synthetics or petroleum products to preserve pigments, she said.