GLENS FALLS -- The gems Thomas Morganstern cuts are made from vegetable glycerine and essential oils, but they might as well be precious stones for the value they’ve added to his and his wife’s life as they grow their business.
Their company, Adirondack Aromatherapy, is a marriage of their passions. It started when Thomas’ wife, Gretchen, a certified aromatherapist with a lifelong interest in herbal alternative medicine, turned her knowledge into a business. This gave Thomas, who finds serenity in soaping, an outlet for his creative expression.
Now a business that started online has grown into a storefront that sells aromatherapy products made by Gretchen, along with Thomas’ colorful crystal gem soaps that get their scents from her oil blends.
The Morgansterns launched the business online in 2009 with their own website and store on Etsy.com, which gives artisans an e-commerce outlet. “Within a week, we had 60 sales,” Gretchen said. “I was just working on the dining room table, and we converted the upstairs bathroom into a studio (for soap making.) Soon (the business) outgrew that.”
In February, Adirondack Aromatherapy signed a one-year lease to open its first storefront on the first floor of The Shirt Factory at 21 Cooper St.
“We’re growing every year in an economic time when it’s really hard to grow,” Thomas said.
Essential oils are concentrated plant essences extracted from flowers, roots, rhizomes (subterranean stems), leaves, bark, and fruits.
Aromatherapy is plant-based healing through the topical application or inhalation of essential oils. It never involves synthetic fragrances, also known as fragrance oils and made in a lab, Gretchen said.
At the store, Gretchen uses steam distillation to create hydrosols, or flower waters. Those can be used on their own or mixed into aromatherapy mists ($9 for two ounces) for home or body.
Gretchen also infuses jewelry with essential oils, and the store carries other products, like white sage smudge sticks (one for $5 or two for $8), a natural incense for neutralizing negative odors and energy. She can recreate scents, such as discontinued perfumes, if a customer knows the ingredients.
“Together, we can re-create something they haven’t smelled in years, as long as they know what was in it,” Gretchen said.
Many of the oils are popular because of their religious or historical context, such as frankincense, myrrh and spikenard. A pint of spikenard, according to the New Testament, was used by Mary, sister of Lazarus, to anoint Jesus’ feet.
With mists, Gretchen takes her inspiration from history, blending the florals of the Victorian era, for example; or using a medieval recipe such as “angel water,” made with angelica root, orange blossom, amber, rose and myrtle.
Gretchen’s blends are used locally by reiki masters and massage therapists at Hands to Balance in the Queensbury Hotel.
The couple’s products received media attention early, which helped bolster online sales.
The crystal gem soaps were featured in publications such as Time Out New York and then in “The Art of Soap,” a book compiled by Debbie Chialtas, a soap artisan known in the industry as “Sopeylove.”
In his story in the book, Thomas wrote about falling in love with soap as his medium for art and expression while working at a large soap-making corporation.
But the stink of the corporate scene pushed him out of the industry, and he switched to carpentry for the next 10 years.
When Gretchen started Adirondack Aromatherapy, Thomas was able to use her oil blends in his craft work with soap.
Today, they make hundreds of pounds of soap and work in the business full time.
“The first year, we did maybe a quarter of what we do now,” Gretchen said.
Sometimes, Gretchen’s oil blends inspire the colors and shapes of the soap.
Other times, she creates a blend to go with Thomas’ soap design.
The soaps come in a variety of scents, such as Terra Crystal, with patchouli, vetiver, amber and ginger; Oakmoss, with cedar oils; and Perfect Peace lavender.
To make the crystal gem soaps with swirly effects and tiny air pockets, Thomas sculpts the soap when it is between liquid and solid form. It starts as a vegetable glycerine base melted and mixed with colors and Gretchen’s blended oils. Layers are poured into a glass container, then the bars are hand-sculpted.
In 2009, with all three of their children attending school, Gretchen needed something to do, so she started the business. Startup costs were a couple thousand dollars.
In 2010, Gretchen finished a 50-hour aromatherapy certification and is working toward her 500-hour aromatherapy and plant medicine certification.
As the business grew, it allowed them to spend more time with their three children, all of whom were diagnosed with autism, and involve them in the business.
“It truly is a family business,” said Gretchen, whose stepfather, Gary Carter, participates by creating special wooden boxes for storing the small oil vials.
“We’re just thrilled to be paying the bills and growing,” Thomas said.
Editor’s note: This is a regular series focusing on interesting local businesses and the ways they survive, thrive and innovate. Local business owners with stories to tell about their new or established businesses are invited to contact The Post-Star.