Living off the grid taught Kristin Fraser Cotte, founder and CEO of The Grapeseed Company, to “tread lightly upon the Earth.”
Before marrying, she and her husband, Peter, sailed their 30-foot sailboat from Boston to the Caribbean Islands with a 15-horsepower outboard motor, solar power, no refrigeration and a rainwater system for collecting water. The couple carried all of their trash on board between finding places to dispose of it.
“We spent whole days getting water from local wells on Caribbean Islands and treating it,” Fraser Cotte said.
During the adventure, she said she became widely aware of how much trash they produced and water they used. She also read books on aromatherapy and making bath products.
“I started learning about making my own products with things that I’d have on the boat anyway, like sugar,” Fraser Cotte said. “Down on the islands, I’d buy coconut lotions and other locally made products.”
After getting married in Boston after the sailing trip, the couple moved to Santa Barbara in 2002.
“We had both been to Santa Barbara during day trips we had both taken while visiting friends in Los Angeles,” Fraser Cotte said. “We made a list of places we’d like to live, and Santa Barbara was at the top of both of our lists.”
Fraser Cotte took a teaching job with the Goleta Union School District, and her husband found a job giving bike tours in the Santa Ynez wine country. Fraser Cotte said she learned that grape seeds are high in antioxidants and that winemakers dispose of them during the wine-making process.
In 2004, The Grapeseed Company was born. Fraser Cotte worked with a few marketing friends to design the labels, and she launched with three products — scrubs, massage oils and lip balms. She started an online store and sold her products at the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts show held on Sundays. Fraser Cotte also did well in the wholesale market, selling to spas, boutiques, wineries and gift shops. The company sells to customers in more than 35 states, Canada, the United Kingdom and France.
“We grew the company organically and never took outside money,” she said. “We grew our company by reinvesting.”
In August 2010, The Grapeseed Company began selling its wide array of grape-seed-oil-infused lotions, scrubs, candles, lip balms and soaps to the public, opening a shop at 201 W. Carrillo St., where customers also have the opportunity to customize their products with more than 50 essential oils and fragrance oils at the shop’s scent bar.
The facial care line is The Grapeseed Company’s best-selling product line, Fraser Cotte said, adding that the company has been doing well during the economic recession.
“I think the products are a really good value for the money you’re paying,” she said. “They’re not much more expensive than products at CVS.”
The Grapeseed Company keeps costs low partly through its in-house marketing and production.
The company has recently added a pet care line, called Dirty Dog Organics, and a body wash and lotion for babies. The Grapeseed Company is also branching out into events, hosting parties for people who want to bring in a group to mix scents and take home unique products.
“Having been a teacher, I love working with groups and teaching people how to make things,” Fraser Cotte said.
She credits the success of The Grapeseed Company’s downtown shop to a solid customer base.
“Santa Barbara is a great place to open up a business like this,” she said.