Updates

Choice is Freedom

Might be more than a shack in the woods. Photo and words by Eryn Hughes (c)2019

This isn’t a sale pitch. It’s more like a public record of why I do what I do. This may change over time and most certainly will be perceived differently by others, but I have always felt the need to anchor my personal values somehow in my work to create meaningfulness.

Rules and boundaries have always begged me to challenge them. Broad applications of a system intended for everyone can not work effectively for anyone. We each have nuances, ideas and other contributions that can only be throttled by complete assimilation. Our identity is impacted by the circumstances in our environment and the Choices we make to interact with it.

These things affect my personal space on a daily basis and I find myself constantly adapting with the ebb and flow of the business needs. Even though I’ve finally moved my business out of my home into a professional production studio and sometime have staff assistance, it’s a legitimately chaotic ecosystem at times, and I don’t know how someone could prepare for this. It seems simple to the undiscerning eye, including my own.

How I serve the public is by offering soap and skincare products formulated for people who spend a lot of time outside. These products seek to spark a conversation about the environment and bridge a gap in consumer goods. I am inspired by anecdotes from my professional training in the outdoor industry, coaching, sports nutrition, transparent marketing and outdoor advocacy – places where I’d been in the comfort of collecting a modest paycheck, having benefits and the burden of decisions upon someone else. I don’t make any promises to fix the world, but I do want to engage the senses so that users can go through daily steps of problem-identification and solving on their own terms. Being creative with inflexible circumstances is fertile ground for rewarding innovation, although technically it is also a risky financial investment. It’s impractical to achieve alone, but worthwhile to pursue and develop allies along the trail.

Researching claims, making independent decisions and choosing which rules to challenge, gives me hope to maintain a living wage, save for retirement and lift someone else along the way. I welcome alternative opinions and feelings, but make no offers of free labor or goods with my transparency piece.

“We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Why economic nexus is a diversity issue + Etsy Goes To Washington Recap

This is probably a good time to sit down with a cup of coffee, tea or beer.  There are changes coming at an increasing rate that will probably affect you.  While recent policy changes I’m learning about most greatly impact micro-businesses (fewer than 10 employees), it affects other businesses and consumers in the long run.  I am not a tax expert, but have been told by enough people that I have helped them find the resources to further their own research, so I’m sharing what I have compiled here with the help of Etsy. It is by no means comprehensive and any questions should go to a professional tax preparer.  TLDR: We live in a New Economy.  Retail has shifted to a greater percentage of online purchases and States are trying to recover sales tax that is not collected outside of the seller’s storefront.  Changes are happening fast, mostly uncoordinated with each other.

 

There are presently 9,998 sales tax jurisdictions in the United States of America.

Taxpayers were reluctant to report Use tax on their income tax forms with their state, even when estimates can be calculated.  IMO: Probably because it is super confusing?

in 2018, South Dakota (a state with historically low # residents, businesses) went to court against Wayfair to demand sales tax collection by online marketplaces with a threshold disclaimer.  They won, set the precedent for all online marketplaces with multiple shops (like ebay, amazon, wayfair and Etsy) to collect and remit sales tax to each state where the consumer had their purchase shipped.

Without a federal solution regarding sales tax collection, states have independently passed “economic nexus laws” and “marketplace provider laws” with varying thresholds (#quantity or $ amount of sales in state per year), that require sellers to calculate, collect and remit sales tax to each state.  Right now, there are 34 different policies.

Example: Since Pennsylvania (PA) is where my production studio is and operates from, I have had to apply for a sales tax permit for in person and online sales, download tax tables for calculating the tax rate for online purchases in each zip code, collect sales tax per transaction, and then remit it quarterly.  I’ve been consistent about this. I requested to reduce the frequency of administrative work created by reporting to twice a year, but it was denied, possibly because my business’ sales are relatively low as compared to corporations.  Nonetheless I persisted and just when I thought I had it figured out, I learned that marketplace facilitators, like Etsy, were going to calculate, collect and report sales tax for online sales to PA AND now Washington State (WA) in my Etsy shop.  My fellow PA Etsy shop owners freaked out, needless to say.  There were no clear answers for what we should do since we were already filing in the state, and would continue to have transactions for in-person sales and on our own websites.  I’ve concluded to temporarily categorize all Etsy transactions as non-taxable in order to continue reporting the gross sales, and calculate as taxable all non-Etsy sales from in-person sales or on my own website going to PA residents.

Yeah, it works, for now. But does your brain hurt yet?  Mine does.  What if I was just starting out?  What if I sell beyond a threshold in another state(s)?  Where am I going to find time for 9,998 tax tables?  Filling out their forms?  Filing potentially quarterly sales tax returns to ALL THOSE PLACES?

I am eternally grateful for the labor that Etsy provides (which come at the expense of fees), but it doesn’t apply on other platforms, including independent websites. But, if Etsy is worried that the current system isn’t manageable with their staff of 800 people, I am pulling out my hair being a staff of 1.05 (a friend helps 3 hours a week).  While I’m over here juggling tasks from selling wholesale to 40 stores around the country, attending trade shows, local pop-up markets, fulfilling orders on my own website – in addition to my Etsy shop, I can barely keep up with PA sales tax.  It appears as though this policy change favors states sales tax collection at the time of transaction – and whatever whim that jurisdiction has – at the expense of micro-businesses.

 

It was an honor to join 20 Etsy sellers and staff from around the country in lobbying to create a simple, clear federal solution that is fair for all.  We split up into 3 groups and our North Eastern group visited with the Office of Representative Nydia Velasquez (D-NY),  Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD),  Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator John Thune (R-SD), Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Christina Sevilla, Deputy Assistant to the United States Trade Representative. Years ago, I’d met directly with the PA representatives before, on behalf of the rights of people who ride bikes on and off the road and I found it interesting to be received entirely by staffers this time around.  They were mostly receptive and understanding of our position as constituents, while there were a couple folks that refused to discuss the tax issue or spent the conversation tuning out by looking at their phone, which I took as an indication of a biased agenda.  Hearing other sellers’ stories, it was more pronounced how health care, student debt and living low income have additional impacts on one’s ability to sustain a business, let alone make a trip to Washington.  For many, not having the foresight and language to ask the right questions presents an unfair business advantage in favor of large corporations. I am unaware of notices being sent out to micro-businesses regarding these policy changes, risks and penalties.  Clearly, this was important to us and we didn’t want to be silenced.

Nonetheless, I have been trying to figure out why they felt it was not important to their office.  With the stats Etsy provided:$2.3 trillion is online retail (25% increase from 2016), 2.1 million Etsy Sellers worldwide, 87% of which were women and more than half ship internationally.  On the smaller scale, micro-businesses have fewer than 10 employees, work more than 40 hours a week and frequently invest their savings in their business in order to fill a need for creative innovation that is not already supported by large corporations. Surely, those numbers and altruistic goals make us significant – but could they also make us an easy target because of the implicit diversity comprising small business owners?  Is it possible that those who oppose a simplified federal sales tax solution WANT to make it even more difficult for the over-worked demographic to share success without a penalty across state lines?  The idea of that makes me angry.  And that’s why I won’t let micro-businesses become obsolete.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

In addition to trying to make sense of it all, you can build awareness in your community, write to your representatives in Congress (use the links above), talk with your local legislators so that they understand how this affects the future of business in their territory and fill out this form: https://action.etsy.com/USzxeDP*

 

*Please note that this form does not presently include Mx. (non-binary prefix in place of gender), but requires selection from limited prefixes in order for the petition company handling the data to send your contact information to the corresponding office.  I am also advocating to remove this qualification on petitions in order to maximize vocal representation.  Prefixes are universally required on petitions, so this means a huge portion of constituents are not able to sign petitions on issues that directly affect them. In an era where votes and input is claimed to be equal, gender should not be relevant.  Let’s commit to this and repeal gender classification on petitions!

Planting your soap labels!

Spring is a good time to plant the Apothecary Muse soap wrappers you’ve been saving. You might have noticed the note: “WRAPPED IN PLANTABLE PAPER” shown on the side of your favorite bars of soap. Hopefully, you saved the wrappers so you might plant them and get a second round of sensory enjoyment! The labels are printed with eco-friendly, wax-based ink (think: crayons), on paper embedded with a blend of North American wildflower seeds. Upon flowering, your wildflowers may help attract pollinators like butterflies which also help our local farms to have a sustainable crop. I store trimmings from the holiday show season and either germinate them in a bag during colder months or put the paper in some damp soil and then covering it with a piece of lexan glass like a winter cold frame. But that’s mostly what works for my space and region. Read on to learn more ideas that might work for you:

Germination may begin as quickly as one week or may take up to six weeks depending on your regional growing zone and planting depth. We recommend just 1/4 inch of soil coverage. The full Step by Step journey: How do we ensure a successful planting? It can be tough to nurse the live seeds through germination into fully grown plants and because of these common challenges, we do not offer a guarantee that every customer will be successful in this process. There are too many factors that come into play and too much that can go wrong for us to take the responsibility of elements that we cannot control, like soil temperature and acidity, watering, sunlight and planting depth. We have very rigid testing and handling protocol to ensure that every batch of paper made here contains enough viable seeds for each item that we sell to have the potential for growth. For your own piece of mind we recommend that you do the following; take a small piece (quarter size or bigger) of our made in the USA paper (larger is recommended for made in Nepal stock), place it into an airtight zip lock plastic sandwich bag, place a table spoon of water (or enough to fully saturate the paper) in the bag and then seal the bag and trap a bit of air inside it so it forms a bubble to keep both sides of the bag from touching. If you do this in a room that is has an ambient temperature of at least 72 degrees and allow the bag to be touched by sunlight for a few hours each day. You will see evidence of the seeds growth within 10 days time. Once you see the sprouts roots searching for soil, transfer the paper from the bag into a pot (or garden) with a light covering of soil and continue nursing the seedlings along by daily watering.

Thanks to Of The Earth for their Step by Step instructions!

Artisan Code of Conduct

Safety:

ALWAYS Wear protective clothing when handling raw materials:

  • Pants, Long Sleeves, Gloves, apron, closed toe shoes, goggles (and mask when handling lye).
  • Hat or hair tie helps prevent touching face.

PREVENT contamination

  • Please notify the instructor upon registration if there are any allergies or sensitivities. 
    • Use dedicated tools for each raw material.
    • NO food or drink beyond the lobby desk.
    • Do NOT touch hair, face or clothing with contaminated gloves.
    • Exposure will be mitigated as best possible; however, cross contamination can not be guaranteed especially in the classroom setting.

Code of Conduct

Diversity and Inclusion

By proceeding with programs in this studio, you agree to support efforts to make this classroom and other spaces safe for all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, livelihood, culture, race, religion, or ethnicity.

Cooperation and Kindness

We’re all in this together to create a welcoming, educational environment. Keep all comments on-topic and respectful. Dialogue is encouraged, but unsolicited advice should be avoided. When in doubt, report safety concerns to the teacher.

No Promotions or Poaching

Give more than you take in this shared educational experience. Curriculum is designed by and property of Apothecary Muse to provide basic crafting skills for hobby-level makers. Self-promotion or outside referrals must be pre-approved by teacher. Spam, multi-level marketing or poaching student or other proprietary information is prohibited and will be grounds for dismissal without refund.

Respect Everyone’s Privacy

Being present in this classroom means open minds and mutual trust. Authentic, expressive discussions make groups great, but may also be sensitive and private. What’s shared in the group should stay in the group.

Sometimes you get lucky!

As mentioned in a previous post, the natural deodorant pursuit has been a long, educational one. Just when I think I’ve gotten it figured out, a client brings up a new challenge or in this case, a shortage of paperboard tubes in the size I have been using forced me to readdress my packaging.  Fortunately, I was able to find another version in the same quality which fits my existing labels (although I have to handcut a perforated line in them) and secures the tops more easily.  This solves a BUNCH of issues I’d been ignoring: 1) shoppers sometimes open the sealed deodorant tubes, tearing the custom washi tape, and the larger perforated label is much stronger 2) the pricepoint is reduced to $10, making it more accessible to folks who want to start using a natural deodorant, and reduce their impact on the environment at the same time 3) I can make more product in the batch sizes I’d recently reformulated, although that is balanced out with increased labor and packaging.  So, ultimately the profit is the same per unit, the labor is more, but I expect more quantity of sales.  If I can keep using these and purchase an even larger quantity of packaging, I can afford the increase in labor.  Yes, I know.  I’m a one-woman show – but I got bills to pay like everyone else and once I can secure my own living wage, I’m inching closer to creating meaningful work for someone else.  I am crossing my fingers that this is a step towards more growth and my luck continues!

Fresh & Fair Trail Magic

As a one-woman show, balancing production with administrative work can be a challenge – especially through the holidays.  After that storm has passed, I get to turn my energy back inwards and revisit some of my reasons for consolidating my longtime hobby with my professional career in the outdoor industry (coaching and retail) as a full time business.  Everything is strategic.  I usually plan the itinerary for my backpacking trips based on calorie expenditure per thousand feet of elevation, and relative warmth. Knowing the frequency of potable water sources also helps many hikers plan their route and packlist. Similarly, I try to isolate a gap in skincare routines that I might solve with more sustainable ingredients, packaging or even my special branding navigation system.  I am pursuing this labor of love as an artisan with an entrepreneur’s spirit; and that’s where the Triple Bottom Line fits in.

These 3 metrics of sustainability include People, Planet and Profit – and they must balance, prioritized equally.  If there is no environmental problem to solve or one is created (example: single-use plastic); I move along despite the capacity to increase profit.  If a raw material is sourced without fair pay, permissions, or in excess of crop tolerance; I find a substitute distributor, grow my own or find an equivalent material.  Although it is a huge struggle for small businesses, I try to order in bulk to keep my materials costs low and calculate my retail prices to be accessible for the people.  In the spirit of removing barriers, I sponsor ambassadors and various programs that support inclusion and diversity in the outdoors, donate a portion of my product to folks who contribution time to public trails with maintenance, education and leadership.  Lastly, I personally volunteer 5-10 hours each week to repair drainage, restore trail corridors, assist with trail planning/land manager relations, remove invasive plants, plant native ones and provide some training opportunities to stewardship. As some elements of my professional training have past, others have just begun.

 

Here’s my short list of Trail Magic resources.

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