This interview with CoFounder & COO Taylor Samuelsen (he/him) was originally published April 22, 2021 in honor of Earth Day.
*Edited on September 23, 2022
Nurturing your relationship with the environment around you is an important part in supporting the world inside you.
Improving and caring for our inner and outer worlds takes effort, intention, and daily action — kind of like a long term relationship. And like all healthy relationships, there’s a lot of unseen work and below the surface mental shifts that go into making sure all involved are happy, healthy, and in harmony.
With gratitude for our glorious globe, we figured it’s time we give you a behind the scenes scoop on how we create products as gentle on your body as they are for the planet.
Meet our cofounder, COO and in-house sustainability expert Taylor Samuelsen (he/him). With a background in Conservation Biology and over a decade of experience developing environmentally friendly supply chain and sourcing initiatives for major food and agriculture companies, Taylor’s understanding of the world’s supply chains has informed Momotaro’s Apotheca’s sustainable business practices for high impact on people, and low impact on the planet.
In this Q&A, Taylor explains what certified organic actually means in a world of “clean” skincare, how Momotaro Apotheca sustainably sources ingredients, and how he’d rather be content with something good, rather than idolizing the pinnacle of perfection.
After all, the perfect relationship doesn’t exist, but that doesn't mean we shouldn’t make the commitment — to people and the planet.
Where does one even begin to research plants that can help improve vulvovaginal health?
After spending time with some Portland based naturopaths, and a bit of web based research, we really got our start on the floor of Powell’s Books in Portland where we spent endless hours reading through a myriad of books on the subject — from new-age to old and witchy to medical journals with big studies on the effects of plants on people.
There’s a lot of information out there, much of it bad or pseudoscience, so we have always been sure to make sure that any decisions we’ve made around ingredients can be linked to well documented studies that follow the scientific method. That said, there’s a lot of information to be found in non-traditional medicine — that’s certainly been our north star in this process.
How has your background in sustainability informed your business decisions?
Absolutely. Although my younger, more idealistic self never really understood all that goes into responsibly building a business. The fact of the matter is that we make stuff that requires ingredients, manufacturing, transportation...and with that come all sorts of (unavoidable) environmental impacts. Not to mention, as a small upstart, we’ve got limited buying power which is to say, we’re sort of subject to whatever is on the market. For example, as much as we’d love to, we aren’t able to influence how sandalwood is grown/harvested, so, we buy what is effectively the most sustainable option that we can find. I’ve really adopted this notion that one of my mentors, Sara, taught me while I was working at The World Wildlife Fund, to not let the “perfect” be the enemy of the good. We set high standards for ourselves and do the very best we can to meet them.
When we’re formulating, we focus first on safety and efficacy, and then we try to figure out what the most sustainable and responsible way to manufacture that product is.
There’s a lot of debate over the benefits of essential oils, while at the same time, a rise in a holistic, phytotherapeutic approach to overall health and wellness. Seeing as your core line of products utilize a blend of cold pressed and essential oils, can you shed any light on the scientifically proven benefits of the healing power of plants?
To be honest, I’m not totally up to speed on the “debate.” My guess is that people are just finding junk to write about to fill up the internet. As for the scientifically proven benefits and the healing power of plants — this is how people have been healing themselves since the beginning of time. Whether we are talking about “traditional” medicines or “modern” western medicine it all relies on some sort of concentrated derivative from plants — which, sidebar, is why protecting biodiverse areas (like the Amazon) is SO important.
As for our products, we aim to use whole plant extracts. Which is to say we infuse carrier oils (like jojoba or coconut) with intact plant bodies (whole flowers, leaves, portions of roots, etc) to extract as much of the plant’s alkaloids and what you might think of as their “medicinal” qualities, as possible.
Our ingredient selection process is informed by multiple fields of study (western medicine and scientific journals, Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, etc.). That said, we categorize our products as plant based and natural, and don’t make claims around any sort of strict practice. We just try to make products that work— naturally.
The global health crisis has brought our farming systems sharply into focus, exposing the fragility of nearly every supply chain. How does Momotaro Apotheca source individual ingredients to ensure the production process is as gentle on the environment as the products are on our bodies?
We select certified organic and “responsibly” produced ingredients whenever and wherever possible. This often means that our products are quite a bit more expensive than they otherwise would be, but we trust that our customers are discerning and appreciate the steps we take to ensure the products are as safe as possible. I think of this as a pay now or pay later — pay the premium for the responsibly produced product now or pay the costs of environmental degradation in the future.
Momotaro Apotheca takes great care to invest in sustainable farms that have invested in solar energy, water-saving harvesting techniques, and pesticide-free growth. Our suppliers focus heavily on living wage jobs and opportunities for local workers to ensure a positive social and environmental impact.
There is no official FDA definition of “organic” skincare and it can be confusing to weed through so many companies labelling their products as natural or organic. What does “certified organic” really mean and how does it separate the ingredients you use from other wellness companies?
Well, certified organic does have a standard. If a cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product contains or is made up of agricultural ingredients (plants), and can meet the USDA/National Organic Program (NOP) organic production, handling, processing and labeling standards, it may be eligible to be certified under the NOP regulations. Which is to say, we select ingredients that meet USDA certified organic standards and follow production protocols set out by them. A third party evaluates our products and issues the certification.
USDA certification standards address a variety of factors from soil quality, to pest and weed control practices. All ingredients used in Momotaro Apotheca products are grown without synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, or genetic engineering (GMOs), and our supplier partners Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, which is fully accredited with the USDA National Organic Program.
Personal wellbeing and the health of our world is inextricably linked. From supporting sex worker rights to raising awareness on Black birth (in)equity, you have quite a few customer facing campaigns that uplift and support marginalized communities. How are you supporting the environmental causes and the health of our planet?
I believe the biggest contribution we can make is through the sourcing decisions we make for our ingredients and packaging. Beyond that though, we are proud 1% for the Planet members which means we support specific organizations that have an environmental focus. In our case, we provide direct support to We Got Next (WGN), an organization that, we feel, bridges both our environmental and social justice goals. WGN facilitates adventure and activism opportunities for communities that have been underrepresented in outdoor and environmental spaces.
I believe that spending time outdoors is an important gateway to an informed environmental ethos. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same opportunities to access those truly beautiful wilderness places. I’m super excited to support We Got Next because of the individuals and communities that they support. I think in some ways there’s a likeness in how we try to amplify underrepresented voices in the vulvovaginal and sexual wellness space. And, to brag a little, we’ve gotten some great feedback on our Salve as a must-have when it comes to spending lots of time in the outdoors.
How do you minimize the impact you leave on the planet, while maximizing the impact you leave on improving people’s lives?
...try hard? Lol. The reality is that the best thing we can do doesn’t have much to do with vulvovaginal consumer packaged goods. The best decisions for the planet have to do with the food choices (no/low meat consumption and buying sustainably produced food), travel choices (get on your bike), and just simple but responsible purchasing choices (i.e. buying less superfluous stuff. There’s lots we buy that we don’t need — clothes, gadgets, etc).
From manufacturing to marketing, what are some of the behind the scenes ways Momotaro Apotheca makes sustainable business choices?
We work closely with our suppliers to ensure that our products have the best available certified organic ingredients. We select packaging that balances protecting our products, recyclability/disposal, and shipping weight/durability. There are always tradeoffs, but I’m confident that every product related decision is aligned with our environmental commitments. I'd LOVE to see our customers get involved.
We use FSC Certified packaging in support of sustainable forestry and our products come in clear PET plastic or glass bottles to ensure that they’re recyclable and reusable.
Consumption is looking very different than it did before Covid and, in a way, low-impact is the new high end. How can we be more conscious consumers when it often feels like the only thing we can do right now is consume?
Personally, I’d say that if consuming/buying/shopping is the only outlet you think you have, you’re really missing out! I’d encourage exploring books, art, music, exercise, meditation...there are plenty of ways to spend time and energy that doesn’t lead to more stuff buried in landfills, floating around the ocean, or piling up in your apartment...I think people will find that they feel better from those outlets than they do shopping.
What’s a low or no buy way to live a more sustainable life today?
Eat less meat. Be conscientious about your consumption habits.
Can you give us any hints of what’s in store for Momotaro Apotheca next year?
For me, the most exciting things ahead are the few products in development right now that I think will help us respond to our community’s requests.
Reduce • Recycle • Reuse
To properly recycle your empty bottles, remove the label and rinse the bottle to get rid of any residue. This is a very important step! Only clean bottles can be reused to make new bottles, building materials, and even clothes, so use it ‘til the very last drop!
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