Around here, we always say, “There’s something for everyone at the Philly Bike Expo.” With the inclusion of new-this-year exhibitor Apothecary Muse, we most certainly expand on that concept. Owner, artisan, and botanical wizard Eryn Hughes handcrafts organic, plant based, sustainably sourced (and packaged) soaps and skin care products specifically for the outdoor adventurer. I asked her some questions about her unusual entry to our roster. Here are her answers:
PBE What made you decide to try your hand at making that first batch of soap?
EH While I was in college, I was in the pre-law track studying political philosophy at UC Berkeley but working nights as a DJ and sound engineer to pay for my living expenses. I found I was struggling to stay awake in my classes and needed more sensory stimulation, so I filled in my schedule with art classes so I could stay on campus until my night shift. By the time I was nearing graduation, I had completed a double major and was dabbling in combining materials to expand the sensory experience. Hardware store meets art store meets (kitchen) laboratory = soap.
PBE Are there other art form(s) that you’ve worked in before (or while) making skin care products?
EH Before studying fine art formally, I considered myself a painter and preferred making large, textured oil paintings featuring mountainous landscapes. I was able to continue that through college, but left all my work and materials in storage at a good friend’s house when I moved to Pittsburgh, thinking I would move back sooner than later. After awhile, I realized that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon and hired a graduate student to remove the canvases from their stretcher bars and ship to Pittsburgh. In the meantime, the house of the friend where my work was stored had flooded while he was serving a very conflicting military conscription in his home country. That’s legit and the physical state of my art is unimportant in comparison. Current access and the status of my previous artwork remains unknown, but I have found even greater meaningfulness making adventure skincare products that have an ephemeral life.
PBE What’s your favorite part of the process?
EH Learning and sharing are super exciting for me. Right now, I like comparing the chemical changes in my material applications. For example: anthocyanin is the chemical name for the blueish color found in plants, but using it in cold process soap-making tends to alter the pH enough to make it temporarily shift to purple and then reddish pink as it becomes less basic and cures, so I try to anticipate such changes when I “paint landscapes” into my soap. I want the sensory experience to strike up a conversation.
PBE Where did you get your training? Are you mostly self-taught?
EH While it was still a hobby, I was self-taught until it outgrew demand from friends and family. I wanted to increase my expertise of materials and pursued formal training with the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild, Sage Mountain Herbal School and Aromahead to establish safe, professional practices. Whenever I want to create a new product, I head outdoors to identify a gap or problem requiring attention and then conduct research and testing of materials and packaging until it satisfies my criteria in sustainability.
PBE What’s your favorite outdoor adventure?
EH Hands down, it’s mountain biking. It is always an adventure getting there, finding new routes and learning new skills, but the trails offered a steeper learning curve and their advocacy is inherent. Never having a driver’s license means that I wouldn’t get to experience the outdoors if I didn’t ride there and I want to remove barriers to the outdoors for other people. In addition to volunteering in trail stewardship several times a month, I continue to integrate my outdoor advocacy with my business by donating relevant product to fellow trail stewards and sponsoring Ambassadors who are emphasizing diversity in the outdoors.
PBE Do you listen to music while you work? What kind?
EH YES. I often find that having all my senses engaged helps me to problem solve while I am making anything. When I was DJing, I enjoyed working with a female hip hop crew, and the more obscure dark jungle and grime. I have a mixcloud account with a couple of my late 90s DJ Muse mixes. I also have a playlist of newer songs that I’ve been listening to when I’m making soap, that connect me more with the moment, politically and creatively.
PBE What made you choose Pittsburgh or did it choose you?
EH Although I grew up in New York, lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California; I moved to the small city of Pittsburgh in 2009 to provide some health and financial support to my family. I’ll be scoping out living potential in Philadelphia while I am visiting for the Philly Bike Expo, so I invite attendees to introduce themselves and tell me where I can ride, eat vegan foods and get a good cup of coffee.