The Sweet Scent of Success

By Pattie Pace
The story of Kayla Fioravanti BA ’90

In 1998, Kayla Fioravanti BA ’90 went on a mission to rid her 4-year-old son Keegan of a persistent case of ringworm near his eye. She rubbed on over-the-counter ointments and tried prescription treatments, but nothing cured the fungal infection.

Research and a trip to a health food store introduced her to tea tree oil, an essential oil known for its antiseptic, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties.

“After only three applications, my son’s ringworm had disappeared,” she says. “I’m chemically sensitive, and I was thrilled that the scent and composition of the oil didn’t make me sick.”

Inspired by her success, Fioravanti began making tea tree oil soap in her kitchen and giving it to family and friends for Christmas. Following her entrepreneurial instincts, she included reorder forms in the gift packaging.

The soap was a hit. A new business was born.

Kayla and her husband, Dennis, lead Essential Wholesale and Essential Labs, a supplier of natural and unscented cosmetic bases, raw ingredients, bulk personal care products, and aromatherapy oils. The company also provides custom formulations, packaging, and private-labeling services.

Kayla, a registered aromatherapist, is CEO and chief cosmetic formulator; Dennis is the president and COO. Kayla also writes the company’s blog, “Essential U,” and markets the company to potential clients on social networking sites. “Dennis and I have very different strengths that complement one another and benefit the business,” says Kayla.

When she started out, Fioravanti invested only $50 into natural ingredients, quickly made and sold products, and reinvested the profits.

She now empowers other fledgling entrepreneurs and start-ups by selling raw ingredients and bulk-packaged products with no minimum order requirements. She supplies established companies as well. Products made by Essential Wholesale can be found in the Portland area at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Made in Oregon, Nordstrom, and Sephora, and in boutiques across the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, South America, and Asia under thousands of different labels.

Fioravanti’s creative process begins with an ingredient that captivates her—like cocoa butter, which smells like rich chocolate. She considers its creamy properties and skin-softening benefits and then targets scents like mint and orange that can be used to expand the product line.

Then she delves into vigorous research, looking at the key ingredient from every imaginable perspective— a lesson she learned while at Lewis & Clark from Helena Carlson, professor emerita of psychology.

“Helena taught me how to think for myself, to do my research, and to make a decision only after collecting and evaluating all of the information,” says Fioravanti.

Committed to quality, Fioravanti buys raw ingredients only from countries where they grow naturally in abundance.

“Jojoba oil comes from the southwestern United States. Jasmine comes from the Far East. We buy only one ingredient from China, marking it clearly on the packaging after testing it thoroughly,” she says.

From conception to finished product takes, on average, three to four months. Fioravanti makes samples in the lab, conducts extensive testing, and distributes samples to a board of independent testers. Feedback and test results are used to tweak the final product.

Looking forward, Fioravanti has her eye on expanding Essential Wholesale and Essential Labs. “We are planning to open another distribution center in Kentucky,” she says. “And we are at work on plans for an international distribution center in India to better serve our Asian and Pacific Rim clients.”

Through these and other endeavors, Fioravanti has earned the respect of her peers and is considered a go-to specialist in her field.

—by Pattie Pace