Shashok makes ‘Caroline’s Dream’ a thriving reality
MIDDLEBURY — Like many teens and young adults, Susan Shashok back in the day found herself in a lengthy battle against acne. With it came an arduous and unfortunately fruitless search for a product to improve her skin condition.
“I tried everything that I could,” recalled Shashok. “It just didn’t work for me. I had to use a lot of harsh chemicals, and it dried out my skin or made it all red.”
She got so frustrated that she decided, around 20 years ago, to take matters into her own hands and create a solution.
“I got to the point where I said, ‘Maybe I can make it myself,’” said Shashok, now 47. “So I went to find out how I could make it for myself, and I did, and it really worked well.”
She had gained a lot of knowledge about herbs and homeopathic remedies as a worker at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. Her all-natural remedy for acne became the first of several skin care products she made in her own kitchen.
“I started making a bunch of things for myself, and then I gave them away to my friends, and then people wanted to buy them,” she said.
And thus, in 2001, “Caroline’s Dream” was born, a business that is fast outgrowing the small kitchen in Shashok’s East Middlebury home. There, she keeps a stock of dedicated pots and pans in which to mix a laundry list of all-natural ingredients into her line of lip balms, salves, cleansers and creams.
Shashok, a Middlebury selectwoman, spends upwards of 25 hours a week making Caroline’s Dream a reality, a cottage industry that she hopes someday will have its own manufacturing facility and workforce.
Caroline’s is named for Shashok’s paternal grandmother.
“Caroline passed along to us her love of medicinal herbs, a strong work ethic and interest in how the Pennsylvania Dutch blended art with function,” Shashok said. “I think she would approve of how I offer very effective products that are easy and pleasant to use.”
For now, she’s keeping the business simple and solo. She has contracts with around 10 stores, primarily in New England and Canada, for which she fills orders. She sources her ingredients carefully, whether it’s beeswax, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, extra virgin olive oil, lavender, or unrefined shea and cocoa butters. All of the botanicals she uses are organic, including the adzuki beans — with the exception of rose petals, which are pesticide and herbicide-free.
“I search out the best sustainable companies I can find,” Shashok said, a philosophy she appreciated whole working for Ben & Jerry’s soon after graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in food marketing and agribusiness.
“There’s no reason business people can’t be socially responsible at the same time,” she said. “I’m willing to spend a little extra for ingredients.”
And she also spends extra for the amber glass jars in which many of her products are sold. Shashok explained that the amber tint shields the product from the sun, thus preventing degradation.
Her product line includes four creams, three for the face, one for the feet; a botanical face cleanser; three lip balms; and two medicinal salves.
The creams include such staple ingredients as calendula, lavender, geranium, sandalwood and peppermint. The salves possesses things like beeswax, comfrey, rosemary and black walnut. Kaolin clay powder, adzuki beans, lavender flowers and rose petals can be found in the cleanser. And the lip balms come in sweet orange, peppermint and “mountain maple” flavors.
Shashok’s products are designed to heal and moisturize skin. She said the salves have proven remedies for fungal conditions, burns and diaper rashes.
When she isn’t filling orders, she’s thinking about new products — such as an all-natural sunscreen that she said will be available next year. She’s also been freelancing, making natural oil products for Brandon-based Vermont Prime Emu Producers.
With her and her husband’s two sons in school, Shashok is looking to expand her business. She is meeting regularly with a small group of fellow, local entrepreneurs who at some point could band together in a common manufacturing facility.
But for now, Shashok will focus on ramping up production in her trusty old kitchen, dutifully filling out orders for a list of stores that includes Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Middlebury Mountaineer, the Rutland Foods Co-op, the Growing Vermont Store at UVM, Art on Main in Bristol, and Petra Karthaus in Toronto, Canada. She also processes online orders through her website.
“I think this is the beginning of something even bigger,” Shashok said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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