Meet three new entrepreneurs who are putting Taos on the map as a great place to make business ideas a reality.
By Elizabeth Burns
There is a hum in Taos but it’s not the enigmatic low-frequency one that people report hearing. It’s the hum of cottage (or maybe casita is a better term in New Mexico) industries. In recent years, our mountain town has become home to the to-die-for confections of the internationally award-winning chocolatiers at Chokola; the 100 percent body-friendly deodorants by Humble; the organic, cruelty-free cosmetics by Vapour, the yummy energy bars of Taos Bakes, and the organic and locally-sourced skincare products of Bison Star. But these companies are only the tip of the chile pepper. Let’s meet three more who are putting Taos on the map as a great place to make business ideas a reality.
Being forced to give up coffee led Dana Blair to tea, but the tea available in the small Georgia town where she was living was no substitute for the bean so she started blending her own tea-based coffee alternative. The year and a half she spent teaching in China is when “I really fell into the world of tea,” Dana says. In her free time she visited tea gardens, tea plantations and tea rooms and, without realizing it, gave herself an education. She learned the difference between a cup of tea brewed from the full leaf and one from a tea bag that sat in a warehouse for years is like the difference between a farmers market tomato and a supermarket one.
Eventually, Dana’s travels brought her to Taos where she started tea.o.graphy marrying her love of the leaf with her love of blending.
Fast-forward six years, tea.o.graphy now employs 12 people, offers private label and dual-branding options and their loose leaf tea blends are available all over New Mexico. Each tea is blended, and packaged by hand, no large scale equipment is used, keeping real people in our community employed. And their packaging is almost all fully compostable.
The piñon tree plays the starring role in Brenda’s Botanicals. The tree is one of the dominant species in Northern New Mexico, contributing to the unique scent of what is called “Taos Air.” Founder Brenda Archuleta says that piñon has been used for generations as a traditional remedy and to create botanicals, a term for plant parts and extracts used in skin and haircare products.
Her soaps, salves, lip balms and lotions bars are made from the resin, also called trementina, of the piñon tree. Her body oils come from its needles, which are then infused with the food-grade ylang ylang, lavender, cedarwood, or tea tree essential oils. Her products contain only 100 percent active ingredients that “harness the power of nature to soothe and moisturize skin.”
Brenda, who grew up in Cerro, wildcrafts all piñon-based ingredients in the Taos area, grinds with mortar and pestle the needles to extract their oil, and is learning how to distill her own piñon essential oil. Her business is currently a one-woman operation, but Brenda hopes to see it grow to be a source for local employment.
Originally from New Zealand, Valerie Nielsen moved to Taos as an artist in the late nineties, showing her paintings in local galleries, but a natural approach
to health and a deepening love of nature led her to start experimenting with a different artistic medium: making her own skincare products.
With interest and encouragement from others, her experiments became Nuturessence, a fully-fledged natural skincare line.
Valerie produces only small batches of her products to ensure full potency of their antioxidants and anti-aging bioactives. The plants, like yarrow, borage, and calendula, that she makes into the extracts and essences for her body and room sprays are grown in her own garden. What her products don’t contain are synthetic fragrances or harmful ingredients like parabens and petrochemicals. Valerie hopes the good energy that comes from her connection to the flowers and herbs and to nature’s cycles is transferred into her products and thereby to those who use them.