With names like Tailwinds, Sandcastles, Dune Grass and Bikini Weather, the skincare collections at 42N Naturals in South Haven elicit fantasies and memories of lazy days on the lake. But there’s more to the magic than meets the eye.
At 42N Naturals, everything is handmade at the on-site kitchen and most products have three ingredients or less. The products are plant-based and almost entirely vegan. The raw ingredients are produced by local farmers. And to top it off, the skincare products are packaged and shipped using recycled materials. You’d be hard pressed to find a cleaner, greener store.
“It’s nice to be able to give people an option that’s affordable and healthy that has a holistic, sustainable message,” said Rachel Leins, owner and founder of 42N Naturals. “It’s not just about the product being clean, but the entire cycle of the product and how it was produced. My mantra is ‘doing more with less.’”
Hobby turned business
For Rachel Leins, making homemade skincare products for her family using essential oils and raw ingredients from her pantry has always been a hobby.
“I love to cook and I’ve always had fun just playing and experimenting with recipes,” Leins said. “And I’ve always had this green thumb, tree-hugger mentality. I always wanted to reduce as much chemical colorants and things out of my skincare products. My youngest daughter struggled with skin allergies and reacted to detergents, shampoos and lotions, so I think that was part of the driver, too.”
Leins never dreamed of opening a business. As an energy manager by trade, she’s a pro at helping businesses reduce their carbon footprints. But as the COVID-19 pandemic began, opportunity called.
“When you couldn’t go to the store as easily during COVID, I had people reaching out asking if I was still making soaps,” Leins recalled. “So, we started in my kitchen just kind of using what I had in my pantry. And it just evolved from there.”
Leins began selling her products to friends and family, and then started marketing them a little more on Facebook. Late in 2020, she sold her products at an outdoor-air market.
“That really kind of launched us into the community seeing our products and learning who we were,” Leins said.
In May 2021, 42N Naturals opened its storefront at 203 Center St. in South Haven.
“Our name was driven from where I saw our products making the most sense,” Leins explained. “42-degrees north is the absolute location along Lake Michigan, the line of latitude from New Buffalo to Holland.”
42N Naturals’ line of products includes body scrubs, bug balm, lip balm and scrub, clay face masks, soaps, shampoo bars and whipped body butter. Everything is plant-based and vegan, except for the lip balm, which contains beeswax. And as far as ingredients go, it’s all pretty basic.
“For our sugar scrubs, those are mostly made from sugars,” Leins said. “For our body butter, our main ingredient is shea butter. We use a lot of olive oils and sugar. And most everything can be found in your pantry. We use turmeric in some of the products because it’s an anti-inflammatory.”
One of the most popular fragrance collections is Sandcastles, which features olive, coconut oil and brown sugar with beach-inspired scents of amber and incense. The most popular product line is the whipped body butter.
“It’s like a frosting, so we actually put it through a mixer and whip it up,” Leins explained. “It has three ingredients so it’s super clean and healthy, and people that put it on are like, ‘Oh my god, this is the best thing ever,’ because it’s so hydrating and nourishing — not oily.”
Leins said some of her products have been suggestions from customers. There was a high demand during the summer months for a bug balm, so she added that to the menu. She also added zero waste soaps for campers and hikers. Airbnbs, hotels and rental properties have also come to Leins wanting to use her products in their properties.
“They want to use our products because I source as much of our raw ingredients locally, if not regionally, so they can give their customer an experience of Michigan, not just of big soap mills,” she said. “We always have end cuts from our logs of soap because everything is hand-cut, and we’ve started working with the hotels to provide our products at a lower cost with zero waste in the form of single-use bars.”
The skincare products at 42N Naturals have a shorter shelf life than what people might be used to. Because the soap isn’t made with preservatives or put in plastic packaging, they’ll typically last for 30 to 35 days. Anything in the store sold in a container will last up to a year.
“It’s made to be used,” Leins said. “Our products are fresh and made-to-order.”
Protecting the environment and the Great Lakes is a big part of 42N Naturals’ mission. From the labels on the products to the shipping boxes, sustainability is always top of mind.
“We try to use recycled content on everything,” she said. “Our labels are never the same because we use recycled paper. We are literally picking stuff up wherever we can find it. And it’s fun to repurpose. People aren’t buying our packaging; they are buying our products.”
The labels on 42N Naturals’ lotions are made from recycled cereal boxes. And re-inked stamps are used to reduce printing, paper and waste. When buying from the online store, the boxes used to ship the products to customers are recycled and filled with scrap paper, recycled wood filler and reused dissolvable packing peanuts.
This year, Leins plans to implement a recycling program where customers can bring back their recycled sugar scrub, body butter or lotion container and receive a discount on future purchases.
Experiences and expansion
Calm. That’s how Leins wants customers to feel when they walk into her store.
“I want people to feel like this is a healthy store,” she said. “Not just from the skincare or the plants, but just, hopefully you feel re-energized when you leave.”
A minimalist layout, earthy colors and lots of plants add to the store’s chill atmosphere. And beyond just selling skincare, the store has an interactive side, too, in the form of a terrarium bar and lotion bar.
The terrarium bar lets customers build their own succulent planter. The succulents are grown by local farmers. And the terrarium decorations are all donated or thrifted, like used board game pieces, sewing pieces and figurines. At the lotion bar, customers can customize their own fragrance based on their preferences using essential oils or fragrance oils and 42N Naturals’ house lotion.
“These experiences have been received so well, because there’s nothing else like that here or in the other lakeshore communities where we’re looking [to expand],” Leins said. “There’s just not that kind of connection to something different that you get to build yourself and it’s customized so that it speaks to you. Every planter is unique. Every lotion and label is unique. And that’s important to people, I think.”
Experiential opportunities will grow when 42N Naturals moves into its new storefront at 335 Center St. in April.
“The new space with high ceilings, and an industrial, open vibe with lots of natural light will enhance the customer experience,” Leins said. “We will be adding an additional terrarium bar to have two workstations and an eight-person lotion bar. The space will allow for additional flexibility in private parties and rentals for special events.
The new space will also allow for in-house skincare classes and sound bath meditations. It’ll also give 42N Naturals more space for the production kitchen and to grow its inventory to eventually expand into another storefront in another Lake Michigan community. “When people are looking for something that speaks to what South Haven is, our store is definitely that,” Leins said. “It’s that experience that brings the lake and the nature part into a product that you can leave with. And that’s what we’ll continue to be as we grow. Whether it’s a store I open or stores our products go into, it has to fit that same vibe and community support.”