I met Mai through a mutual friend and now full time hillbilly, Dennis Whittinghill. Mai tries to live a very clean and natural lifestyle using a wholistic approach to what she puts in and on her body. When you talk to her about your ailments, she listens to what is happening to your body and gives great advice on how to be better and healthier. As part of our adventures in Bergen Lafayette in the Suydam Ave and Communipaw intersection, we sat down with Mai to talk about how she became an urban beekeeper (yes she has apiaries in her backyard) and how she started Primal Feel, a socially and environmentally responsible handcrafted face, hair and body product line.
Tell us about yourself and about your lifestyle.
Mai: I am an urban beekeeper and gardener. I make skin care products using organic plant based oils and butters and pure beeswax from my own beehives. I have a holistic approach to wellness: I believe that we can best heal our bodies inside out. This means eating healthy whole foods and fermented foods high in probiotics, staying hydrated, using herbal remedies, and applying high quality planted based skin care products.
What is your connection with Jersey City?
Mai: I raise honeybees and make some of my products in Jersey City.
How did Primal Feel begin?
Primal Feel started when I had leftover beeswax from harvesting honey. Rather than making candles, which burns away the beeswax, I decided to make skin, hair, and personal care products to get more use out of it.
What was your inspiration?
I started Primal Feel to provide people with a safe alternative to conventional products. Many skin, hair, and personal care products we use contain many harmful ingredients made with synthetic chemicals. With Primal Feel, I want to educate consumers on how they can depart from these products and learn more about a holistic approach to beauty and wellness.
How did you come up with the name?
Primal Feel has more than one meaning. It refers to the return to our primal instincts and to recall a person's first experiences. It is important for us to return to the basics, which are the wholesome ingredients found in nature. When customers use our products I want them to experience the euphoria of being surrounded by nature.
How did you get involved with beekeeping?
I started beekeeping several years ago when I learned that most honey found in supermarkets is not raw or local. The honey comes from other countries where bees are treated with harmful chemicals to deal with pest control and fed high fructose corn syrup or sugar water to maximize honey production. I decided to learn beekeeping and get the hands on experience of keeping honeybees of my own where they can be raised treatment free (without the use of chemicals treatments) and without being sugar fed. My goals are to raise healthy honeybees that can adapt well to our northern climate and be able to pollinate urban areas.
Why do you choose to bee-keep in urban areas?
Honeybees in urban areas have less exposure to chemical treatments such as synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. We do not have many conventional farms or homes with large lawns and gardens where the land is sprayed.
How do you use beeswax in your products?
For skin, hair, and personal care products the honey cappings are used. Honey cappings are the top layer of beeswax that bees produce to seal up the honey that is filled in the cells of honeycomb. When honey is harvested, the top layer of beeswax is removed and rendered for use in Primal Feel products. Then, the honey in the comb is placed in a centripetal honey extractor, which spins out all the honey. Afterwards, the honey runs through a fine mesh strainer to remove any large chunks of beeswax. This is a way to harvest honey and beeswax without the use of heat. Adding heat will pasteurize the honey and destroy many of the enzymes found in raw honey.
Is beeswax in all of your products?
No, we have a small scale apiary so our honeybees produce a limited amount of beeswax. We want to make sure we harvest only when there is a surplus for us to take. Therefore, our products are mostly vegan (using only planted based oils and butters).
How do you create new products?
I create all my products by hand. Making the products is like cooking and baking. There is a lot testing to get the right recipe. I infuse herbs into oils to extract the nutrients. There are serums that made by combining different moisturizing and healing organic plant based oils like sweet almond, castor, grapeseed, jojoba, argan, baobab, and olive oil with pure essential oils.
Your product is all over NJ and NY, how did you get into so many markets, pop up shops, and stores?
Thanks to the social media campaigns by local markets, small businesses and bloggers, I try to vend at as many indoor/outdoor markets and pop ups as possible. I go directly to small businesses around Jersey City and New York City to ask about their interest in carrying my products. I like to support small businesses for consumers to invest in the local community. Each dollar a customer spends will go towards me and my small business. Then those funds will be reinvested back to the community.
What had been the biggest learning?
To stay passionate in what I do. It is normal for startup businesses to experience slow growth since it takes time to learn all the components of running a business. But it’s important to stay focused on the goals. Your attitude will show through to other people, so you have to make sure your heart and mind is in the right place.
What do we have to look forward to? Any collaborations in the future?
Be on the look out for new products in the months to come.
Where can we find you?!
To shop online, read our blog, and find a participating retailer, please visit my website, www.primalfeel.com. You can also sign up for my email newsletter to get updates about new products, details about markets/pop ups and workshops, and check the Events page.