Justine Osceola, Founder of Made by Justine O LLC, originally started her career baking cakes. She soon discovered the demand, and her love, of making soaps. (Courtesy Justine Osceola)
This article originally appeared in the summer 2019 edition of Native Business Magazine.
When Justine Osceola, Founder of Made by Justine O LLC, started her professional career, it wasn’t soap bubbles that were in her sights — it was cake batter.
A member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Osceola graduated from culinary school and was having a pretty good run at cake making even though “she wasn’t that into it.” When a stint at a pow wow craft fair showed her a higher demand existed for handmade soaps, she made the leap. It satisfied her craving for a new creative outlet, and much to her delight, her culinary skills proved transferable.
Osceola likes to operate by the book. Similar health codes made the transition from the production of food to soap fairly easy. Coupled with relatively low startup costs (Osceola’s “office” is her home kitchen), those reduced barriers to market entry kept her debt free.
While Osceola gained invaluable insights from her mother, who had always been a pow wow vendor, her expectations for sales her first time vending at the Seminole Tribal Fair were pretty modest. That is, until she sold out, and people kept asking for more. That was in November 2017, and she hasn’t looked back.
“I’m so excited when I’m making soaps! I love the seasonal scents,” shared Osceola, who color-coordinates for holidays and events. “I even did a two-spirit bar for Pride Month, and I do self-love soaps that are popular.”
Fortunately for Justine Osceola, taking her product to market ignites her passion even more.
“My favorite part of doing business is when I have already created the soap, cured it, packaged it, and I’m out there selling it,” Osceola said. “People expect a plain old bar of soap. I think people are in shock when they see unique colors and scents. I love to see a customer buy my soap and be excited about something I’ve made.”
Two years into it, Osceola is now a Florida LLC, and has just completed coursework that will allow her to become a vendor to her own Tribe.
While word-of-mouth marketing got her business off the ground, now Osceola is enjoying leveraging the potential of social media, in addition to paying for the occasional promotional ad.
Networking and growing her sphere of influence are also critical to expanding her business, she added. “I was really inspired and loved networking with other Native business people with like-minded goals,” she said of the Native Business Summit in May.
Osceola anticipates traveling to more business conferences and events to promote her products alongside other Native entrepreneurs and Tribal businesses in coming years. She’d also like to experiment with hemp-based soaps, but has great respect for Tribal law, which currently prevents it. For the moment, she’s focused on quality over quantity in the vegan, earth friendly, non-GMO line she’s vested in.
For aspiring Native entrepreneurs, Osceola’s words echo those of others who have thrown caution to the wind to bring their hopes and visions to life. “Pursue your dreams and goals. Do not give up! If you have a passion for it, you can do it!”