Five Artisans: Twig and Leaf Naturals
When Victor's Keli DiRisio got dry skin as a medication side effect, she got an idea for a skin care business.
It’s mid-morning in the hills of a winding private road in Victor, a suburban community built around a private golf course where homeowners keep their lawns cut as precisely short as the fairway. Soapmaker Keli DiRisio starts the day in her enclosed porch overlooking the golf course as her husband joins in the streetwide lawn-mowing club. Her eleven-year-old son is effervescent, yet reserved, as he wrangles Boomer, the DiRisio family’s Oreo-speckled Havanese puppy.
As sole proprietor and chief mixologist behind the made-to-order skin care line Twig and Leaf Naturals, DiRisio started her company just a year ago and has seen business grow steadily through her online store. Her pomegranate oil and shea butter-infused products are popular with mothers with school-aged children looking to branch out from apples as teacher’s gifts and brides seeking elegant thank-you goodies for their court.
However, the origins of her business are far more tied to DiRisio’s personal well-being.
At first, DiRosio was seeking a solution to the dry skin she experienced as an unpleasant side effect from medications used to treat multiple sclerosis. An online forum introduced her to several women who shared the same annoyances. One woman mentioned she had begun crafting her own lotions, soaps, and scrubs—and this intrigued DiRosio.
“A few women had sent me some websites to look at. I was so intrigued by the research I was doing, and, as I kept going, I was learning more about the ingredients used in commercial products,” says DiRisio. “I thought to myself, even if I didn’t have [MS] why am I allowing these ingredients on me? My son? My family?”
The first installation of an experiment in progress began in the Nature’s Marketplace aisle at Wegmans. As the trips became more frequent, DiRisio found it more cost effective to begin ordering the oils, salts, and sugars wholesale. “Twig and Leaf started out as more for myself. As my friends began learning about and using my products, it snowballed from there. The next thing I knew, it was a business.”
A sheet of labels designed by DiRisio rolls out of her color laser printer as she peers into her wraparound bank of two large computer monitors. She is simultaneously updating her online store at Etsy and answering a customer’s email. Outside, a golfer peers across the greens, an outstretched hand shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun. DiRisio’s background is in graphic design and marketing communications, and she tends to every aspect of her business on her own. At local gatherings of artisan skin care hobbyists, Twig and Leaf stands out among competitors with an elevated brand identity and packaging on par with apothecaries.
“My background in advertising gave me the base knowledge of the ins and outs of what to do when selling a product,” says DiRisio. “I understand what it’s like to identify target markets, focus on them, and take the necessary steps to reach out to them.”
So, who buys Twig and Leaf Naturals, then?
“I started researching who my market was before I really even knew for myself, and it turns out there isn’t one,” says DiRisio. “Going to shows, I saw everything from young families to teenagers to older people. It showed me that I was appealing to a broad-based audience of people who are interested in taking care of themselves and their loved ones. I wanted to infuse creativity and fun into Twig and Leaf from the logo and the name itself down to the copy I write for my packaging, website, and promotional materials.”
On Twig and Leaf’s website, customers find a growing selection of scrubs, lotions, and body butters. Calming eucalyptus body and room mist are reminiscent of a steaming hot sauna. Supple lotions and oils are soft and fragrant with top notes of lavender, tea tree, cedarwood, and rosemary. But what if a customer has something particular in mind? Where is Honeysuckle Mountain Mint? Gingerberry Eucalyptus? Vanilla Almond? DiRisio is happy to take on the challenge since all of her jars are made to order with a shelf life of six months.
“Most of my products stand out with their all-natural features,” says DiRisio. “There are no preservatives or chemically processed ingredients of any kind. Even some of the most respected handmade products will still have preservatives in them. I don’t have inventory that sits on the shelf. I want my customers to enjoy this the way I do.”
Twig and Leaf is merely a piece of DiRisio’s multifaceted daily life. Her workload varies depending on volunteer commitments with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, picking up a freelance design job here or there, or pitching in with her husband’s business, a real estate brokerage firm in which she also holds a stake. “My family is very understanding, and we’re all very used to working from home, and I don’t see this as any different than renting out a studio,” she says. “When I have a big order to dive into, there’s not really any major conflict. Everyone understands that it needs to get done.”
Throughout the warmer months, DiRisio puts in extra hours mixing soaps and lotions given as party favors at bridal and baby showers. She expects a friend to drop in during the evening to pick up a batch she has ordered to use as hostess gifts for the barbeques and garden parties on her calendar. It may seem like a cop-out since it’s her own product, but DiRiseo admits Twig and Leaf has also become her go-to token of appreciation. “All of my son’s teachers got lotion at the end of this school year,” she says. “I also use them as client gifts and thank-yous for my friends.”
Since her products have a recommended “best used by” period of six months after jarring, it’s important that DiRisio moves her orders swiftly. “Sometimes it would be nice to have someone to split up the work with, but I’m a very disciplined type of person and know how to manage a business on my own,” says DiRisio.
The high season can mean at times recruiting her middle-school-aged son to join in on the fun. He steps in as her workload becomes exceptionally heavier and has worked in several pieces of the assembly line from measuring ingredients to mixing oils together and labeling jars. “He enjoys when I make the soap especially, because it’s chemistry based,” says DiRisio. “He loves to make sure everything is exactly perfect.”
Twig and Leaf’s online presence gives clients a peek into the range of products DiRisio carries, and she hopes to learn more about potential new products through feedback she receives from clients. “My products are always a work in progress,” says DiRisio. “I tweak my recipes as I find better methods or ingredient ratios. If I don’t like [what I make], I don’t want anyone else to use it.”
She is currently expanding her inventory, developing lip balms, pump lotions with lighter consistencies, and sugar-based scrubs. She encourages locals to build a rapport with her and frequently opens her doors to clients in Rochester. “If you’re local, and you want to order something, just call me! I can meet [clients] in person as it saves time and shipping costs for the customer.”
“Since I started Twig and Leaf for personal reasons, I don’t want to lose track of my origins,” says DiRisio. “But I realize I have to be aware of what the market is doing. More and more people are becoming aware of organic, all natural skin care. If there’s a demand for something new, then I would look into it. I think a majority of artisans try to conform to market trends while still trying to stay true to the their original mission.”