By Lee Noles
WESLEY CHAPEL – For much of their lives, sisters Tara Raj and Arianne Ortiz have practically been inseparable.
The two shared the same bedroom growing up and worked at Subway as teenagers. When Raj moved from Ohio to Florida for college and then to Union County for her husband’s new job, Ortiz and her family soon followed at both stops.
When each decided to get into the business of creating handcrafted bath and body products from all organic materials, they knew who the perfect partner was to jump-start their new economic endeavor. They call it “Earth’s Farmacy.”
“I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else,” said Ortiz, who is the younger of the two by 21 months.
“There isn’t anyone who I trust more,” said Raj, who lives five miles away from her sister in Wesley Chapel.
The start of their business journey came after a scary moment for Ortiz’s youngest son. His skin began to crack and break into hives when he was just a few weeks old. The doctor prescribed medicine, but Ortiz didn’t feel comfortable giving it to her child.
“They may have helped him then, but they could have given him cancer later on, you just don’t know” she said.
It was then that Ortiz and Raj went back to their roots and remembered their mother, Joretta, using natural products to clean their house in Ohio. The pair began researching the internet and reading books while talking to their mother to see what natural ingredients could be used to ease the child’s eczema. After testing the product on themselves, they gave it to Ortiz’s son.
“She lathered him up and his skin was clear the next day,” Raj said of her nephew, who is now 6 years old.
The sisters continued working at their home, developing everything from soaps to skin care, all under the idea it had to be purely natural. At first, they gave away their product as holiday gifts, but everything changed when friends planted the seed about turning it into something more.
“They started asking ‘how much are these things?’” Raj said. “The light bulb went off, and we started thinking this could be a business.”
One of the first things the pair did was get involved with a program for small business owners called SCORE. The nonprofit pairs people who are starting their own business with a veteran mentor who can help with such issues as solving operating problems or achieving access to funding.
Ortiz and Raj developed a 37-page business plan that included getting lower financing and building a pricing structure.
“It was just about getting the nuts and bolts down,” Raj said of being involved in the program.
Another must for the pair was using both local and foreign ingredients in their products that was beneficial to the environment. The Lemon Zest, which helped Ortiz’s son deal with eczema, included oatmeal. The two also use shea butter from Africa.
Receiving ingredients from foreign countries came when the sisters got involved in a business practice known as fair trade. The movement, which was started in the 1940s, helps developing countries with proceeds from sales going to buy books for education, getting medicine and securing clean water.
“It’s important to us,” Raj said. “We are constantly saying when we are searching for ingredients, we are looking to see if the values they have matches with what we believe in.”
Making sure their product is environmentally safe is also at the top of their list. The sisters use recycled material, and the wrapping paper can be a catalyst for the environment. There are tiny seeds embedded in the lining of the paper. When a person is finished, they take the paper and plant it in a pot or in the backyard. As the paper breaks down, the seeds are released into the soil and wildflowers will grow in its place.
The sisters are also looking toward the future with their products. They are interested in starting a wellness facility in downtown Monroe. They are also teaching classes on organic products. A class is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 21 at Peddler’s Paradise.
“We are overachievers and we are creative,” Raj said. “And when we get together, we want to do everything. It all goes back to a need. When someone says ‘Oh, I would want this’ we go back and think about how we can do it.”
Want to learn more?
If interested in products from Earth’s Farmacy, go to Peddler’s Paradise in Monroe or www.earths-farmacy.com. The sisters can also be reached at earthsfarmacy@green