In March, a Native-owned startup on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico will break ground on a storefront and workshop, surrounded by herb and floral gardens vital to the company’s products.
Bison Star Naturals makes all-natural lotions, bath salts and more—infused with the beauty and intoxicating scent of the land of Taos, New Mexico. Think sage pine and lavender.
“The lands that we are going to develop is where we pick a lot of our herbs,” Jacquelene McHorse, co-founder of Bison Star Naturals, told Native Business Magazine. “We pick wild rose petals, mint that grows along rivers and ditches, chamomile that grows up in the high country, and marigold flowers in our garden.”
Perfumed solely by local herbs, florals and pure essential oils—always purchased from local businesses “to keep the dollar closer to home and in our own community,” Jacquelene said—the Bison Star Naturals line contains no animal products, artificial perfumes or dyes.
Lotions anchor the brand, and this spring, Bison Star will release a liquid jojoba and yucca root soap. “It’s expensive to launch a new product,” Jacquelene noted. But fortunately for the husband-and-wife team behind Bison Star, they received an injection of support from the Native American Venture Acceleration Fund, along with six other New Mexico-based, Native-owned businesses awarded participation.
Not only is Bison Star Naturals in harmony with nature, it’s rooted on the Taos Pueblo, where Angelo McHorse, co-founder of Bison Star Naturals, was born and raised. A member of Taos Pueblo, Angleo met his wife and business partner Jacquelene on dorm move-in day in 2007 at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.
They both received Agricultural Science degrees. Angelo additionally earned a Business degree, and Jacquelene, a Spanish degree. The pair’s skill sets balance one another and naturally lead to entrepreneurship. “Between the two of us, we do everything from production to building the website to sales,” Jacquelene said.
Once Angelo took Jacquelene back to visit, the couple knew they would call this land home together. Now Angelo is thrilled to bring a new business to Taos Pueblo.
“It’s really great to be back home and starting a project for some economic development for our Tribe. It’s awesome, because I think entrepreneurship is a growing sector. Our only economic development was basically a casino. Years down the line, the Tribe is developing a convenience store and possibly a gas station on the Taos Pueblo,” Angelo told Native Business Magazine. “It’s really cool to be able to start a business, to grow it, and to break ground on a storefront and a warehouse on Tribal land. It has enormous potential and economic value for our Tribe as far as employment and putting Taos Pueblo on the map.”
Jacquelene added that Angelo has been instrumental in product development and manufacturing at Bison Star Natural products. “This year we have experienced exponential growth,” Angelo said.
Making all-natural, organic soaps and lotions was already a hobby and part-time business for Jacquelene, prior to taking a hiatus to start their family. When Bison Star Naturals officially hit the marketplace in 2018, “we already had a following,” Jacquelene said. And Angelo, as former manager of Red Willow Farm, an onsite farmers’ market at Taos Pueblo, also had a consistent client-base who supported the couple’s new venture.
Bison Star Naturals’ Sales
Bison Star Naturals has engaged primarily in direct-to-consumer sales through farmers’ markets, trade shows, and arts and crafts events. “Last year we sold at Taos Farmers’ Market, which is right in the historic Taos Plaza as well as Angel Fire and Eagle’s Nest Farmers’ Market,” Jacquelene said, adding that they vend at arts and crafts fairs in Denver and Albuquerque, as well.
Their online store leads to great returns, accounting for approximately 20-25 percent of Bison Star’s overall revenue. Bison Star Naturals products can also be found throughout New Mexico and at stores in four different states.
But the McHorses have their visions set on new horizons—acquiring more wholesale accounts to expand their reach, starting with the Denver March Pow Wow and the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque.
“It’s really exciting to hit the pow wow trail at the beginning of the year. Those are great potential markets. We’re going to try to gain a following and meet a lot of potential wholesale customers,” Angelo said.
Putting UPCs on all Bison Star products is further helping the company reach “that next level of business,” Angelo said. “We’ve locked down some product liability insurance, which allows us to enter these bigger markets, so we’ll be able to meet the minimum qualifications and be considered by those big fish that we’re throwing hooks out there for, such as REI or organic retailers like Whole Foods. That’s really where we want to head—to be a major wholesaler.”
Building a Community Attraction
March marks the official groundbreaking of Bison Star Naturals’ storefront, studio—and the family of three’s living quarters. “But utilities will be installed before I even start the foundation,” Angelo said. “It’s really going to be exciting, and I will be documenting all of that as I do the work. I’m going to be inviting the community along the way to follow us. We will have volunteer opportunities, and we’re open to any kind of support the community wishes to give us like sales, volunteering, highlights or features.”
After floating around to different arts and crafts fairs for a year, the couple is excited to root down in a physical space, “where people can come and learn about us, watch us work, and purchase products,” Jacquelene said.
The McHorses hope their space, flanked with gardens and trees, will be a destination. Much more than a boutique, they envision their space becoming a “communal hub where people will come and hang out and walk through our gardens,” Jacquelene said.
Angelo added: “Our property has a lot to offer in the form of an agricultural experience, because one of our boundary lines has a traditional irrigation ditch from the Rio Pueblo [also known as the Rio Pueblo de Taos, a tributary of the Rio Grande]. We actually have right-of-way to irrigate when we need to. Not only can we use all the seeds that we’ve saved over the years, but we can accumulate more with Red Willow Farm right down the road.”
The structure of Bison Star Naturals—built from traditional adobe brick—is forecasted for completion by September 30.
Bison Star intends to host numerous events—including an exciting groundbreaking event. Gardens, raised flower and herb beds, and trees will dance across the property. “We’ll share the harvest from whatever comes from our gardens,” Angelo said.
The couple is grateful for the immense support from both the Taos and Taos Pueblo communities. “We will be inviting all of our Tribal government officials to our openings and all of our events,” Angelo said.
Promoting Bison Star
Bison Star Naturals has cultivated quite the following on social media. The couple documents their beautiful scenery and hours spent harvesting wildflowers and herbs in different seasons. The family also shares their outdoorsy lifestyle online—from mountain biking to skiing to hiking.
“I think social media is about as authentic as it gets when you’re bringing your audience along on your journey. We’re not creators of social media; we just document what we do in our daily lives,” Angelo said.
The couple also plan to chronicle and share the process of building their storefront, work space and living quarters with their social media followers.
For Angelo and Jacquelene, this next milestone of realizing their dream of a community-centered store and gardens is one step on a great journey of Bison Star Naturals becoming a highly respected, celebrated and successful brand.
“We hope to become a company that is comparable with Burt’s Bees or Sister Sky or Los Poblanos in Albuquerque,” Angelo said. “We’re looking to scale, because we’re poised for it.”