Dawn Fitch was on her way to work as a graphic designer at Sony Music when she suddenly went numb from the waist down. What followed was a five-year odyssey of doctors trying to figure out what was wrong. Frustrated with the lack of concrete answers, Fitch took matters into her own hands. She started immersing herself in aromatherapy and healthy eating. The New Jersey native noticed some improvement and doubled down on her deep dive into the world of wellness.
“I became obsessed with it because I read this one article about your skin being the largest organ and what you put on it goes into your system,” Fitch told Travel Noire as she recalled those early days. “We know that, but it really started to sink in that what I’m putting on here topically is going into my system. So I would open up my cabinets and I would make little recipes.”
Those tinctures and bottles were the prototypes for what is now Pooka Pure and Simple, a handmade, natural bath and body company. The name comes from a term of endearment used by Fitch’s mother.
“When we were little, she used to call us her pookalitas. We have no idea what that means or where it came from.”
Too long to fit on a label, the name was cut in half for packaging. The products are available in 65 Whole Foods stores and have garnered press from major outlets including Black Enterprise, Essence Magazine, The Today Show, and CBS News. It’s quite an accomplishment for someone who never set out to own a business. In fact, friends initially tried to convince a very reluctant Fitch to take some of her concoctions and sell them at a festival.
“I did and we sold out. I was like ‘they bought stuff that I made in my kitchen on my stove? I don’t understand this.’ I always feel like we’re catching up to the business because that’s not what it was really supposed to be. And from there, I realized after selling a table full of stuff that people are interested. So I just started making little batches and selling them. We went to festivals, people held little house Pooka parties, and it just really grew.”
With an assortment of body butters, oils, scrubs, and cleansing bars made from tantalizing combos like Coconut Lemongrass, Guava Mango, Basil & Grapefruit, and Pomegranate Kiwi, it’s no surprise that customers can’t get enough of the brand.
“When I first started making the products, some of the essentials had harsh smells,” Fitch explained. “I was like, I want to smell like a girl. So I fused the things that I love. When I started to go over to the healthier things I was all about coconut water, coconut milk, fresh fruits, and vegetables. So those things inspire me. I knew that people really feel happy if you’re on vacation, and they just felt healthier when they were eating fresh fruits.”
But it has not all been smooth sailing. Seven years into the business, Fitch fell ill again. This time she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. As she focused on her health, she incorporated ginger, turmeric, and essential oils — things that helped her wellbeing — into the bath and body brand as well. There were also missteps early on. Before the products hit the Whole Foods shelves, she received a cease and desist letter from a company that had trademarked the name Pooka. Pure and simple were added to differentiate the two.
“I spent a lot of money getting a lawyer and fighting that and now we’re trademarked. But there are a lot of things that I learned the hard way. I think even if you’re small just start doing things the right way.”
In 2017, she launched a Facebook group of like-minded wellness enthusiasts called the Best Life Tribe. It started out with 20 women and has now grown to over 5,000. Their mission is simple: to support each other in incorporating small but sustainable healthy habits into each day whether that’s a glass of water or stretching. Pooka Pure and Simple have also partnered with another soaper to teach young girls about holistic products and entrepreneurship. Their program works with the Girl Scouts and has serviced over 1000 girls to date.
“They receive badges, and hopefully we’re just putting out a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and beauty entrepreneurs or just people that are more attuned to wellness and holistic living.”
Also coming down the pipeline are puzzles to help stimulate brain health and a new scent, peach sangria, is being added to the already tropical-themed line. Both are scheduled to launch at the end of June.
It has been 20 years since Fitch’s homemade bath and body products made their debut as a one-woman operation in her New Jersey kitchen. Even now, her team is still relatively small, with four full-time and three part-time staff members and a slew of family and friends still pitching in. They have been key to keeping the operation thriving.
“Your team could be you and your mom, or you and your sister, your team is your team. You don’t want to have a team of 30 that you are paying, and you’re not really there versus a team of two, getting it done. You’re saving your money while you’re building. Grow your team as you grow your business. They work hand in hand.”
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