December 1, 2022

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How a local body care company bounced back from the pandemic | Business

Even as the world is shifting back toward something close to normalcy, the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact daily life and businesses of all sizes. For Taos-based body care company Humble Brands, Inc., the early days of the pandemic were especially challenging from an economic standpoint, forcing a shift in operations.

Known for its line of natural deodorants, Humble began to manufacture hand sanitizer in an effort to offset poor sales during the height of the pandemic. The move “helped us stay afloat as a business in the early days of the pandemic, and hopefully helped many Americans stay safe and healthy,” said Humble founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shardell.

Today, despite supply chain and logistical challenges, Humble has bounced back, and business is again booming. “As things have started to normalize, our deodorant sales have taken off again and are now better than they were pre-pandemic,” said Shardell.

Humble products are now sold in 8,000 stores worldwide, and can also be ordered online. Within the Town of Taos, Humble brands can be found at numerous retailers, including Albertsons, Taos Herb Company, Cid’s and Taos Food Coop. 

Helping fuel the company’s popularity, Humble products, especially its flagship deodorants, have also appeared on dozens of “best of” lists. Humble brands has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Ode Magazine, Men’s Journal and many more prominent blogs.

From a San Francisco kitchen to bathroom cabinets across the nation

Breaking into a well-established industry is no small feat, but Humble managed to do just that by sourcing natural ingredients and keeping its business model simple – a formula that Shardell and his team have stuck to since day one.

“We decided on a multi-pronged approach to break into the established health and beauty market,” said Shardell, a former Bay Area corporate executive. “First off, we set out to create products that have the simplest set of safe ingredients possible, yet still perform the way they are intended. We then decided to just focus on one line of products (deodorant), as I am a believer in starting off by doing one thing insanely well.”  

As the story goes, Shardell switched to all-natural deodorants after learning about the harmful ingredients contained in some name-brand deodorants. Common toxins found in deodorants and antiperspirants include aluminum, propylene glycol and parabens, according to a study by Penn Medicine.

When natural deodorant brands didn’t live up to his expectations, Shardell turned to his own kitchen for solutions, and the Humble brand was born in 2015. To this day, Humble’s original formula deodorant is handcrafted in small batches and made with only four simple, natural ingredients: Baking soda, beeswax, non-GMO cornstarch and fractionated coconut oil.

Finally, the mixture is infused with essential oils and botanical extracts, many of which are inspired by local plant life. Mountain lavender and black spruce are among Humble’s most popular original formula deodorant scents.

Just because Humble deodorant contains simple ingredients doesn’t mean that the inventing process was an easy endeavor. Shardell and his team went through lots of trial and error before ultimately settling on the four-ingredient original formula still used in its flagship product.  

“When we were developing the original formula, we trial-ed and researched many different natural ingredients that could be considered to have deodorant properties,” according to Shardell. “Our goal was to create the most simple and most effective product that we could.”

But the road bumps didn’t end there, as the Humble team discovered. Even all-natural ingredients can cause irritation among those with certain sensitivities, and baking soda is a common culprit. For its vegan and sensitive formula, Humble swapped out baking soda for magnesium hydroxide, another naturally occurring substance.

“Both magnesium hydroxide and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are naturally occurring minerals that come from the earth’s crust,” said Shardell. “They are also commonly used as food ingredients and are just about as clean and natural as you can get.”

Making a home in the high desert 

In Taos, Shardell’s vision was able to grow into something much grander than he ever anticipated. As of October 2021, the Humble team is composed of 30 employees, 80 percent of whom call the Taos area home.

Further, Shardell said giving back to the community is integral to Humble’s overall mission. The company is a member of 1% for the Planet, a network of businesses from around the globe that focus on tackling environmental issues. On a more localized level, Humble is working to address waste management issues in Taos County, which has risen to top of mind for many of its residents with the recent closure of the Taos Recycling Center and a new single-use plastic ban that went into effect Nov. 1 for businesses within the Town of Taos.

“We are now heavily focused on sustainable packaging for our products,” Shardell said. The company is set to launch a line of paperboard deodorant in the near future, which is fully biodegradable.

Shardell said his company is also focused on charitable giving, which became a special emphasis, he said, during the pandemic; the company donated thousands of sticks of deodorant and bottles of hand sanitizer to frontline workers and healthcare workers in New Mexico and across the nation. 

Establishing roots in Taos County

In addition to its hand sanitizer, which contains 80 percent ethyl alcohol, Humble’s line of body care products has expanded over the years to include soaps, lip balm and natural deodorants infused with CBD oil. While the company has expanded well beyond Taos County since its founding, Shardell said there has always been a high-demand in the local area for the types of natural, organic products they produce.

For Taos Food Coop manager Susan Moore, stocking Humble products at the member-owned establishment was an easy choice. 

“On our personal products, what we look for is, if there are organic ingredients, that’s great,” Moore said. “In particular, we’re looking for really clean products with quality ingredients and very few or no chemicals that you can’t pronounce. 

“And the Humble line is just exemplary in living up to those standards.” 

The fact that Humble is also based in the Taos area is a welcome bonus, says Moore. The co-op does its best to support local farmers and artisans whenever possible. 

Although Humble products exceeded her expectations in terms of quality, Moore admits that she was initially unsure about product sales in the small shop.

“You know, I was a little skeptical at first,” Moore said. “We’re a little tiny grocery store, and how many deodorants are you gonna sell, right? But, to tell you the truth, they just fly off the shelves.”