Behind the Scenes with Plantfolk Apothecary

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What does it take to create the truly unique blends of Plantfolk Apothecary? Knowledge, passion and a whole lot of fresh herbs and flowers…

By now, I believe it’s safe to say we’re well aware of the mysterious magic housed deep within wild plants and flowers. We know it’s there, but it takes a certain set of skills and depth of knowledge to release that magic into the world. That’s when we turn to people like Kate Clearlight, herbalist, wildcrafter, and founder of natural beauty brand Plantfolk Apothecary, to do the legwork for us. Born and raised in Vermont and eventually making her way to New Mexico, Kate has spent her life surrounded by the uninhibited beauty of the natural world, a beauty she strives to infuse in each and every product she produces. For the relaunch of the FP Hair Shop, Kate created two Free People-exclusive products, Surf Sister and Island Flower Hair Retreat. I tried them out myself, and to say the experience was luxurious would be an understatement. These are so much more than beauty products – they’re meant to heal, restore, and nourish not just the hair and skin, but the soul, too. Because, as Kate explains below, if we take the time to show our bodies some kindness, our inner selves will glow that much brighter.

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As a native Vermonter, what is your favorite thing about having grown up where you did?

What I love most about Vermont is the common love for the land and an earth-based lifestyle. The communities center around a shared desire for growing pure food and a life rooted in caring for the earth. It’s really quite radical and at the same time so archaic. It’s an awesome mindset to be exposed to from a young age.

How do you feel your upbringing there shaped your future as an herbalist? Did you always feel so connected to the earth?

Vermont is a really special place and its magic definitely helped shape my path as an herbalist and a plant-lover. It’s hard not to fall in love with the earth when you live surrounded by wild landscapes and beautifully tended gardens. I grew up in a magical forest of sugar maples, and each spring my family tapped the trees, hauled buckets of sap and boiled our own maple syrup. My loving connection to those trees and to the land stays with me no matter where I go. Vermont is also full of herbalists, gardeners, organic farmers and plant-lovers, and so many of these inspiring people helped shape my path.

Tell us about your journey to Taos, New Mexico – how did you make your way there?

My journey to Taos was part of a very long, winding, mostly very unmapped path! My dad lived in the southwest in his 20s, so our house in Vermont was full of artwork and magical little mementos that carried the spirit of New Mexico. In that sense, the spirit of this place has enchanted me since I was very young. I’ve taken many trips across the country and each time I always found myself driving out of the way to stop in Taos. For the past eight years my partner Andy and I have been wandering, studying and exploring the earth’s beauty: we lived in Hawaii, we worked on an organic farm in Alaska, and then lived in northern California while I was going to herb school, with extended stays in Vermont in between. Throughout our travels, neither of us could get the magic of Taos out of our hearts. Taoseños say the mountain is the guardian of this town, and that people are either called in or pushed out depending on the mountain’s wishes. We were definitely called in, and I’ve never felt more inspired or welcomed by a place.

What do you love most about where you live now?

I love the pure spirit of this place, the clarity of the light, and the high elevation. The high desert has an impermanence to it that makes it hard to stay too attached to anything, which makes room for spontaneity, creativity, wildness, and total freedom of spirit. The strong winds come to constantly refresh the consciousness of this place, and much of the landscape is covered in fragrant and purifying sagebrush. It is truly the land of enchantment! I am enchanted by this place over and over again, and each day I feel set free.

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Let’s talk about your company, Plantfolk Apothecary. What inspired you to start your own line of botanical products?

I love creating botanicals that illuminate the playful spirit of the herbs, trees and flowers. My total inspiration for the line sprouted from the sheer delight I would witness whenever I shared a botanical creation with someone. It felt like I was helping to facilitate the sweetest connection between people and the plants, and it felt like my calling. Everything we create at Plantfolk is 100% inspired by the healing power of the plants. My own experience with working with herbs is that they help us feel a loving connection to the whole planet. The magic of the plants is contagious and it’s what encouraged me to start creating formulations to share with others.

What is a typical day in the life of Kate like? 

Most of my days are either spent inside in the apothecary or working outside, wildcrafting and herb gardening. Both are equally essential to the function of Plantfolk. Most often, I wake up, make tea or coffee or a strangely delicious blend of the two, spend a little time in the herb garden, walk my dogs Gaia and Lilikoi, and then get ready for “work”. I love to start my day with a mini facial- either a quick exfoliant or a clay mask, and several times a week I also do a hair rinse. Starting the day with a hair rinse, to me, feels like a ceremony of self-love. It sets the intention for a beautiful day. When I go to work in the apothecary, I usually start the day with medicine-making tasks, such as starting new oil infusions, garbling dried herbs, blending formulas and pressing herbal extracts that have finished macerating. This is really meditative work; it’s very hands-on and it helps me ease into the day with a connection to the plants. By the time I start answering emails and compiling lists of orders, I feel excited to start sending botanical magic out into the world! Afternoons are spent packing up orders and taking boxes to the post office. Evenings are reserved for being in the garden, sitting in our field with the dogs, watching the sunset, cooking dinner, lighting some smudge or incense and sipping tea or an herbal cocktail. Often we take our dinner to a beautiful spot nearby and have a picnic. It’s a sweet ritual to start and end each day by enjoying the earth’s beauty, sitting by a river or hanging out with the flowers.

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Why is a holistic approach to beauty and wellness important to you?

Just as our bodies need organic, fresh, high vibration food in order for us to thrive, a holistic approach to skin and hair care is equally vital. Beauty care should be intentional, and I find that we really shine the brightest when we feel a connection to the products we use on our bodies. So often I see products being marketed to fix or change the way we look, rather than accentuate our wild, natural beauty. It is really empowering to make beauty care a ritual of self-love, with the help of herbs and flowers. I feel that plant-based products have the ability to shift the confines of beauty standards and help us find our way toward true beauty.

Can you tell us a bit about the products you created for Free People? What makes them special? How should they be used?

I am in love with the products Plantfolk created for Free People. I think there is a really sweet alignment between Plantfolk and the lifestyle aesthetic of Free People. For me, these products are about the fusion between freeness of spirit and earth-conscious self-care. Surf Sister texturizing hair spray is a salt spray that features Hawaiian alaea salt, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil and kelp extract. I have a personal love affair with tousled, beachy hair and I keep a bottle of salt spray with me everywhere I go. I always feel happier when my hair looks like I’ve been hanging out at the beach or swimming under waterfalls! This is a really natural version of a salt spray with absolutely no synthetics or fragrances. It is scented with only two ingredients- organic vanilla bean and organic coconut pulp. The other product we created for Free People is a luxurious hydrating hair mask. Island Flower Hair Retreat features organic virgin coconut oil infused with fragrant tiare flower (also called monoi), mango butter, shea butter and jasmine absolute. This product can be used quickly in the shower, but my personal love for this hair mask comes from letting it soak into my hair for several hours while I do a facial mask, listen to music and sip tea. It really does feel like a retreat for the hair as well as the spirit.

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If you could only use two products from Plantfolk Apothecary for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?

Without question, Flowers in Her Hair rinse as well as our Violet + the Queen facial elixir. The facial elixir keeps my skin hydrated and purified and I can’t live without it! The floral hair rinse is my favorite Plantfolk product by far. It represents the playful, whimsical nature of the flowers, while also being both ceremonial as well as a truly effective hair care remedy. Pouring an infusion of flowers over my head reminds me of how sweet and beautiful life is!

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in adopting a more holistic approach to his or her routine, but isn’t sure where to start?

A great place to start is by reading ingredients lists on all of your favorite products. That was a huge turning point for me because I realized that I wanted to know exactly what I was putting onto my skin and hair. I would say start trying one new product at a time, like switching your facial moisturizer to an organic facial serum, or swapping your hair spray for a natural one. We are really fortunate because there are so many absolutely amazing organic, small-batch skin and hair care lines sprouting up all over the place! It’s an exciting time to transition to a holistic beauty routine and experimenting with new products is so much fun. It’s really a joyful transition to make and it can be a life-changing one.

What do you think is key to feeling beautiful in your own skin?

Kindling a connection to our bodies as part of the natural world is vital. When we use pure, plant-based products and take the time to show ourselves that kindness and care, we feel more beautiful, more loved and more comfortable in our own skin. Plant-based beauty care works in union with our bodies rather than against it. When we start caring for ourselves, we often feel inspired to be outside more, laugh, dance, explore and open up to the world. We can stop trying to “fix” ourselves and let our own unique lights shine. Stepping onto the path toward feeling beautiful means setting ourselves free and letting our spirits shine.

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Thank you Kate!

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