Trendsetters: Sapelo Skin Care
Starting a successful business requires hard work, smarts and a heaping helping of luck, and the founders of Sapelo Skin Care have had more than most – they’ve discovered a glass slipper at nearly every turn.
Initially, Stephanie Duttenhaver and Cindy Edwards of Savannah didn’t know much about chemistry or the regulations associated with getting a product from the lab into consumers’ hands. What they did know was that they wanted to come up with a natural, gentle solution for the skin’s long-term health and beauty.
“We looked at the [skin care] strategies available today that use acids and procedures for controlled inflammation,” Duttenhaver says. “All those strategies create damage to the skin for it to [eventually] look better. We thought there must be a better option.”
In 2012, they began their search for ways to rejuvenate skin cells without the destruction – and to incorporate ingredients indigenous to their coastal home. The first step was to find a chemist. After scouring the country for about a year, they found the ideal partner in their own backyard. “It’s almost like he’d been waiting for us,” Edwards says.
Another two years were spent developing Sapelo Skin Care’s three-step core product line. “We had to find ingredients that were southern-inspired [like gardenia stem cells, magnolia oil extract and oyster shell] and that fit the science,” Duttenhaver says. “We ended up with a system where all the pieces fit together.”
During that process, a local designer developed the company’s brand, logo and packaging and the women trademarked their formulas. “We were very cautious and we took our time, but when we went public [with the company launch in 2015], everything was in place,” Edwards says.
Along the way, they had help from the Small Business Administration, friends and family members, including their physician husbands who connected them with experts at academic institutions for a better understanding of dermatology and skin chemistry. A year before the launch, they also met their fairy godmother through a series of improbable chance encounters. Pamela Baxter, president of Christian Dior Couture and CEO of LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics, took them under her wing.
“Our products have been refined since 2015 because she helped us,” Duttenhaver says. “She recognized that one of the emerging markets in skin care was ‘luxury natural,’ and she helped us get our products positioned for that new space.”
Today, the women are making and shipping products in small, quality-controlled batches to spas coast-to-coast and to consumers who buy them online. Everyone involved in the company is based in Savannah, from the lab that makes and warehouses the products to the distribution center in Duttenhaver’s home.
“We feel we are leading the charge for the way skin care is going to move in the future,” Duttenhaver says.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky in the people we’ve come across and done business with,” Edwards adds. “Sometimes we look at each other and say, ‘can you believe it?’ But it’s persistence every single day that helps us move forward.” – Mary Ann DeMuth