“Humble Suds gives the gift of trust to consumers, and we respect the intellect of the person on the other side of a transaction. There’s something beautiful in that.”
Holli Schaub was fed up — and freaked out. After realizing the harmful effects of the chemical cleaners she was using to clean her home, she began making her own natural and toxin-free household cleaners. But that step towards personal health for her and her family blossomed into something much bigger: Humble Suds.
Humble Suds provides an alternative to typical household cleaners by offering multi-purpose plant-based, earth-derived products that are safe for people, pets and the planet. Humble Suds has made its way onto the shelves of many Colorado grocers, and with the help of Holli’s business partner, PR-expert Jennifer Parnell, the Evergreen-based company has expanded into Texas and Illinois.
Starting a business of any kind is difficult. But what’s remarkable about Holli and Jennifer is that they didn’t let their busy lives as moms prevent them from taking action. Inspired by their convictions and desires for a healthier lifestyle, they not only made personal changes, but also extended the same opportunity to others through Humble Suds. Read their story below!
Where did the idea for Humble Suds originate?
Holli Schaub (HS): I was inspired by my three daughters. I was pregnant with my youngest two (twins) and I started doing some research and looking into girls’ health and into how I could best support them physically and emotionally as a mother. I read a number of books, from diet to puberty, and I came away with a more profound understanding of how the physical aspects of our day-to-day lives affect us developmentally. And I remember looking around my home and thinking, “I have to throw everything out!” because it was all scary to me.
So I did just that. I threw everything out. I was strategic in what I brought into my home and I found that cleaning products were the most difficult and the scariest of all the areas I looked into. In my research, I discovered that as consumers, we’re not aware of what’s truly environmentally friendly, what’s safe for human exposure, what’s safe for pet exposure — it’s very murky and largely unregulated. I was angered by everything I saw on the marketplace and by what we were being force-fed as consumers. So I decided to make my own cleaning products, because there truly wasn’t anything on the shelf that I could bring home that was going to do a decent job cleaning my home, without risking my family’s health with toxins.
So I’m making my own cleaners, in my own kitchen, and I’ve got a toddler and twin infants and as you can imagine, it was a little bit crazy. I became frustrated and I started thinking, “Why on earth isn’t somebody else already doing this?”, I was so tired of the time it took to make my own products. That was the moment I decided, if nobody else is doing something about this, then I should.
And that’s how it started. It was a hobby for awhile, I had friends and family that were interested, and I was making everything out of my kitchen. I graduated to selling it at farmer’s markets, and it was around that time that I met Jennifer, and we were surprisingly on the same track. She had been making her own cleaning products for many of the same reasons — she can finish the rest of the story!
Jennifer Parnell (JP): Holli’s not taking enough credit, because during that span she had captured the attention of Natural Grocers and had started distribution in a couple of their stores. I had a background in PR and marketing and I offered to write a press release for her. We started talking and realized how aligned we were on cleaning our homes (we were making our own cleaning products as well!) and the partnership just fell into place.
I had my wake-up call when health issues set off alarms, forcing me to take a hard look at what I was putting into my body and my family’s. As I was cleaning up my diet, I looked at what I was bringing into my home. This was around the time that all the studies on the harmful effects ofBPA came out and how it can disrupt hormones and growth and development, among other scary effects. That’s when the light bulb went off for me. I became frustrated and felt that I needed to take control of the things my family was exposed to. Our homes are where we recharge. But, the products that we were buying were keeping our bodies in such a state of distress, that was nearly impossible. We have been taught that sterilizing our homes with chemical cleaners is the best way to keep our families healthy. In reality, these conventional chemical cleaners are wreaking havoc on our health. So when Holli approached me, I immediately thought “Yes!”. I want to help other moms find a product they can trust so they don’t have to spend a lot of time researching or wondering if it’s going to cause their family harm.
What are some of those “scary” things with traditional household products?
HS: It’s hard to know where to start. I tend to think of bleach as the one of the worst. It’s terrible — it’s a skin irritant, eye irritant, lung irritant. But in addition to bleach, there are an estimated 80,000 industrial chemical compounds used in the U.S. today, and a vast majority of them are completely untested. Any testing that has been done on these chemicals, is done (in my opinion) unethically. Many industrial conglomerates do their own in-house testing to demonstrate safety; it’s rarely done in an independent setting and it’s really the Wild West.
And we see a lot of chemicals with unpronounceable names that cause disruption of fetal development, reproductive harm, thyroid disruption, asthma, cancer, the list goes on. We’re breathing them in, they’re infiltrating the surfaces that we eat and drink from, and they’re all over our bodies. The danger is real.
Doesn’t the government regulate some of these chemicals?
HS: Not really. Cleaning manufacturers are not required to list their ingredients unless an ingredient has been demonstrated to be a dire safety concern. They can leave any other ingredients off the label, and they’re allowed to hide hundreds of ingredients under the umbrella terms “fragrance” and “preservative”.
JP: That was one of the biggest challenges about pursuing a cleaning product — the lack of transparency and the lack of regulation. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act says that they can’t require chemical companies to prove the safety of their products unless the agency itself can show that this product poses a health risk, which the EPA does not have the resources to do.
That lack of regulation is frustrating as a consumer. If something is stamped with government approval, I tend to have an implicit trust in that product.
HS: It is frustrating. As consumers, we just assume that whatever is available to buy off the shelf surely can’t be harmful. An irony too is that a lot of these dangerous chemicals don’t actually disinfect to the extent we’re led to believe. One good example of that are disinfecting wipes – if you read the fine print, many brands don’t perform in killing 99% of all germs and bacteria unless the surface remains saturated for 10 minutes or more. Now when we’re using disinfecting wipes, what are the odds that that’s happening? It’s a hugely misleading claim – you think you’re cleaning your home with a quick wipe-down, but not only is that not happening, you’re depositing additional harmful chemicals onto all your surfaces.
JP: And on a recent test, those wipes are shown to have some the highest number of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released. You may recall a scent that is in the air when you last used a hand wipe. It lingers and is strong. VOCs come from a variety of household products like paints, pesticides and furniture including conventional cleaning products. What most people don’t know is that immediate exposure to harmful VOCs can result in headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, exacerbation of asthma and nausea, while long-term effects can result in damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system, and cancer.
So what ingredients do you use?
HS: We use a lot of ingredients that are found in the average kitchen: olive oil, coconut oil, baking soda, high-quality essential oils. And a majority of our products have 5 or fewer ingredients. Everything is simple and recognizable, so when a customer looks at the label they know what everything is. We hope that’s empowering to consumers.
JP: We also pay close attention to where our ingredients are sourced as well as our packaging materials. We ideally want to source locally if possible, but if that’s not an option, we look to the closest source that has responsible and sustainable production methods. We look at the carbon offset of manufacturing, and we make sure that everything is plant-based and earth-derived. All of our packaging is also reusable. We see a lot of “green” products on the market, and people think that if it’s “green”, it’s ok, but that’s not always the case. It might be better for the environment, but maybe not for your health.
HS: Yes. There’s this concept of “greenwashing” that misleads consumers. There aren’t any regulations for claiming that a product is “green”. You can just say it, so companies use it left and right. My favorite is the term “biodegradable” — it’s meaningless! Everything is biodegradable in some timeline — it might be 6 months or 5,000 years — but we see it and think “oh, that’s good”.
How is Humble Suds unique?
HS: I’d say we really differentiate in that we are radically transparent. We have products in the market that list the ingredients on the front label because we want to be as bold as possible and let people know they can trust us. That trust has been so eroded over the years with greenwashing, and it’s really important to us. Not only are our products delightful to use, but they’re extremely efficient and beautifully simple.
JP: You also can tackle a lot of cleaning tasks with our product. Most of our cleaners are multi-purpose — you can use them on your floors, your kitchen counters, your bathroom. And even though they’re simple formulas, they’re designed with specific intentions. The castile soap acts as a surfactant, which cuts through grease and grime, and we use the ethanol as a natural disinfectant. The pure essential oils we select are naturally antimicrobial. Each tackles select strains of bacteria and viruses differently.
And our products are so safe you can don’t even need to wear gloves. In fact, my hands are more moisturized after cleaning with our Scour cleaning paste.
HS: And I’ve used the Revival Wood & Leather Conditioner on my cuticles! It’s exciting that the same products you clean your home with, are safe on your skin or to clean your food. Now we obviously don’t market them that way, but it just goes to say how safe they are.
What was the most challenging part of starting Humble Suds?
HS: That’s a tough question. All of it? I dove into this with no experience and I spent so many years feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing, and having this overwhelming fear that I’m wasting everyone’s time. The confidence part was probably the most difficult, and that’s still an ongoing struggle.
JP: Learning to do it all because it’s just the two of you. Both of us are venturing into new territory every day. And, a big challenge is time! We need a few more hours in a day...maybe 12!
HS: Pushing the button to launch the first-ever humblesuds.com website was terrifying. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I’m so grateful that I have a partner in Jennifer, the fear isn’t as bad now that it’s not just me out there, solo, and I have a lot of respect for leaders who are in that position.
That resonates. Even starting NeedleMover, I know that feeling of vulnerability. I’m obviously helping to share other’s stories, but it’s my voice as well. It’s scary to throw your voice out to the world and not know how it’s going to land and what the reaction is going to be.
Let’s shift to motherhood. How do you balance it all?
HS: For me, the balance wasn’t too much of an issue early on when my kids were younger and I was a stay-at-home mom. But now that the business is growing and so are my kids, it’s harder. Even today, I had to go pick up a sick kid from school, so it’s tricky. I’m finding I need to get up earlier and earlier — I get up at 4am to get as much done as I can. I’ve read it’s the “power hour” and that the most successful people wake at 4am. I don’t have any crazy thoughts that I’m in that group, but it keeps me going!
JP: I recently read a great piece of advice that has helped me. It was “Be where you are,” meaning if you are with your family, focus on them. If you are at work, focus on work. Give your all wherever you are and you will find so much more happiness. We only can do so much, but I’m grateful to be doing something that I love and that helps others too.
What is your advice to moms who want to balance raising a family but also maintain a sense of individuality with their work?
HS: As women, we are natural creators. We have a gift there. It’s cliche to talk about how a cooped-up, stay-at-home mom found this creative outlet and started a business, but that’s exactly what happened. I felt there was a part of me that wasn’t fulfilled. And in Humble Suds, I was able to realize my creative potential, and I felt really good about what I was doing. And while balance is hard to find, what keeps me going is that my children get to watch me do something good and make a change in the world.
JP: Take that first step. Imagining something can go on forever. However, once you make that first move to making it truly happen, it becomes real and a fire is lit. When you are fulfilled, your family will be too. it is ok to feel vulnerable or ill-equipped. It’s normal to feel guilty about putting your attention into a project that is separate from your family. I’ve found that pursuing Humble Suds makes me a better mother and a better person. It was so exciting seeing the surprise and delight on my son’s face when he saw our products on the shelf at a retail location. You could see the pride in his face. Our children benefit from our passions and learn that with a lot of elbow grease, they too can make a difference.
How would you say you move the needle?
HS: I’d say it’s in our empowerment of others. We give the gift of trust to people, and we respect the intellect of the person on the other side of a transaction. I think there’s something beautiful in that.
JP: Yes. We’re empowering people to take control and take charge in their life, knowing that they’re buying something that is safe for their families. We really want to take worry and concern away from customers and give them peace of mind.
Holli lives in Evergreen, Colorado with her husband and three daughters. She is passionate about sharing the goodness of knowledge through her work as co-founder of Humble Suds with as many people as possible to help us all build better lives, communities, and futures. Holli holds an Associates of Science from Lamar College.
Jennifer is a little obsessive about the safety of the products she uses and purchases but all with good intentions. As co-founder of Humble Suds, Jennifer is passionate about empowering others to find peace of mind and happiness in the products they use. When she isn't reading up on a subject or working, Jennifer loves to spend time outside of work with her husband and two children enjoying all of the beauty that Colorado has to offer. She graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelors of Science and a minor in Communications.