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Michelle Pauly and Natalia Trawkowski make small batches of something awesome right here in Chicago. As owners of the newly launched Swim Club Bath Salts, the young entrepreneurs work out of their apartments to produce therapeutic bath salts that look great enough to gift (which, it turns out, isn't easy to find.)
In honor of Small Business Saturday, we wrangled the crafty duo for a Q&A on what it's like to own a startup, where to find some R&R in Chicago, and why bathing has more benefits than straight relaxation. Read on to get to know the makers of our favorite new form of therapy.
First, what drew you to bath salts in particular? I personally love hot baths—you must too! But was it something deeper than this?
Michelle: Natalia and I met at work, a business that specializes in natural health and wellness, so Swim Club kind of happened organically. We saw a lot of bath products come in and out our doors and all of them seemed to fall into two categories: One, they were natural and made with great ingredients, but the outside didn't match. The packaging wasn't something you would feel excited about giving as a gift or having out on your shelf. Or, second category: They looked great, but the salts included chemicals or synthetic ingredients. We took this information along with our love of design, and came up with our brand. And it doesn't hurt that I love baths. I pretty much use our salts every week. Whereas Natalia doesn't have a bathtub in her apartment so she uses them as a foot soak a lot. Our next product will have to be something she can use on a regular basis!
Natalia: Therapeutic bath salts are underrated. To be honest, I didn't know much about them before working in the natural health business. I think many people don't really think about taking baths as a treatment—at least not the younger generations. Rather, they just think of it as a method to relax and soak in something that smells nice. Hot water on its own feels great, but pair that with some salty nutrients and aromatherapy and you will feel amazing. By the way, I dream of having a bathtub. Foot soaks are awesome, but not quite the same.
What was the research process like for developing your formula?
Michelle: We did a lot of research. We wanted to make sure everything that went into our products was natural and had a purpose or benefit for the body. We had an idea of which salts we wanted to use because of our time in the natural health field, but we spent a lot of time finding the right combination of scents to use. Essential oils have great therapeutic properties as well as the salts, so it was important that they not only smelled good but worked in unison with the salts. Plus, experimenting on ourselves was pretty fun.
Natalia: We literally spent hours looking through essential oil descriptions before we decided to order some samples and start playing around. From there we tried to choose the combinations that not only smelled nice but also stood out from your typical blends.
Did you always know you were going to base your business in Chicago, or did you consider other options?
Michelle: We both grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and have lived in the city for years now. So Chicago was just a given for us.
What are the challenges and advantages of having a business here?
Michelle: Chicago is home, so it's really nice having your friends and family here for constant support, help, and encouragement. It is also a great city for fairs, pop-ups and markets for independent makers, which we really love. With that said, I'm sure if we were based in a smaller town some expenses would be more affordable for a start up business.
What's a day-in-the-life like for you, running the Swim Club operations?
Michelle: We work out of our apartments and split up our operations. We do the design work at Natalia's and the production at mine. Our salts are made to order. So any order we get during the day, we make that night, package it up, and send out the next day. And on weekends we usually get together and work on all the other aspects of the brand such as new products, product photography, our website, et cetera.
Friends don't always work as business partners—what makes you two click as business partners?
Michelle: We started out working together and then became friends, so maybe that helps? We also have different strengths so we can divide the work pretty easily and not step on each others toes.
Natalia: Luckily both of us are easy-going. And as Michelle said, our strengths are balanced. We were able to get through Michelle's wedding and the startup of our business all in one summer. If we didn't go crazy doing that, I feel like we can withstand anything!
Your business is still new, but what's the biggest lesson you've learned so far?
Michelle: For me, it's to remember that things take time and to have patience. Between trying to get your name out there, dealing with printers, our schedules, finding great manufactures, and everything else, I have to remember that all great things may take a little longer than expected.
Natalia: Patience, and that I need to work on my upper body strength! Bags of salt are incredibly heavy! Michelle is a champ.
Who's your business role model?
Michelle: Small businesses that create a brand, not just a product.
Natalia: I'm a little obsessed with Izola. They have such a variety of products, and manage to keep everything so cohesive. Also, other brands that try to maintain totally pure products instead of sacrificing quality for cost-saving.
Finally, when you're not bathing in Swim Club Salts, what are some other great Chicago spots you like for finding therapeutic moments?
Michelle: Well, I do love a good massage every now and then. But honestly, eating good food and sipping on a cocktail with loved ones are my favorite and most therapeutic moments. Oh, and cuddle-time with my puppies. That's a daily stress reliever.
Natalia: King Spa & Sauna just north of Chicago is an awesome combination of relaxing and bizarre—at least for a newbie like me! I love heat. They have seven or eight different sauna rooms that you can go in and out of as you like. Each room is made from different materials that have different therapeutic benefits, It's almost like a community sauna entertainment center. I've never experienced anything else like it.