Denali Dreams Interview
Start by telling me a bit about yourself, Denali Dreams, and your journey from
employee to owner?
I always knew I was going to be a business owner, though when I was younger, I didn’t know what business I was going to go into. I started working at Denali Dreams when I was in high school labeling lip balms. Over the years, I continued to work for the two wonderful ladies, Barb and Janie, learning to wrap, cut and groom, make soap and eventually manage the business for them. After 18 years of being in the business, the two were ready to retire and I was in a position where it made sense to take over. I’ve now owned it for five years and I’m so glad it’s what I decided to do. I’ve learned and grown so much and I am excited to see what the next five years have to bring.
What does your day-to-day look like these days?
My day-to-day is always different, especially these days. I think that’s what I like most
about owning a business, you never know what the day will bring. Today I could be a
carpenter building tables and displays, or I could turn into a student brushing up on
trademarks and copyright laws, or I could put on my mad scientist hat (quite possibly my
favorite) and develop a new product recipe. I think that’s what makes being a business
owner so much fun, the learning is constant, and I’m always developing new
The learning and developing new skills aspect is great. Handling all of that can be
overwhelming at times I'm sure. When you have to manage so many things, do
you have any tips on striking a balance?
One of the things I’ve learned over the years of owning the business and especially through the pandemic is being flexible. With things constantly changing, updating, and finding new ways of doing business, being flexible has been key to keeping everything balanced and moving forward.
What's your favorite part of the soap making process? Least favorite?
In broad terms, I love turning simple ingredients into something completely different.
Even after being in the business for 15 years, it still brings amazement when, at the end
of the day, we have a completely different product than when we started. Specifically, I
like watching saponification happen (the process of it turning from a handful of
ingredients into soap). You watch the degrees on the thermometer rise as well as the
color of the soap change from a transparent oil color to a thick opaque mixture as it
My least favorite? I’m not sure I really have one, I even enjoy washing the dishes at the end. There is something therapeutic about the process. Every part of the process is enjoyable because without that step you wouldn’t have the end result of soap.
That makes a lot of sense about all the parts being enjoyable due to their
importance in reaching the end product. As far as soap making methods go, is
there one that's primary or do you experiment with others?
We mainly stick to one process, the cold process method. We have dabbled in liquid
soap before, which is a different process as well as some different ingredients. And as
of recently, we have been experimenting with adding sea salt to the soap making
process which has been a fun learning experience!
I saw a post on your Facebook page where you referenced rebranding. What are
some of your changes and goals regarding that and what does the future look
This has been long in the making. Our business just celebrated 23 years and was born
during an era when graphic design was fairly new to small business owners, especially
here in Alaska. We want to keep the bones of the brand but bring new life into the
design aspects of the brand. A lot of our labels are getting a makeover as well as a
transformation of our logo and fonts. This business was born of a dream, and we want,
through our brand, to encourage people to dream and live their dreams. Whether that’s
planning their once in a lifetime trip to Alaska or finding the best berry patch, we want
people to live their dreams in whatever form that looks like.
Out of all of your products, do you have any particular favorites and why?
I get this question lot, and most of the time I respond with whatever is in my
sink/shower. We have so many scents that by the time I get back around to each one
I’m reminded why I like them all. I do have one that is near and dear to my heart and
it's our signature soap, Denali Dreams. This soap I like to refer to as a blanket in the shower. You know that sensation of being so cold your bones are chilled? Not even a warm beverage or a cozy blanket will warm you up. Well the next best option is a shower, right? When you add the Denali Dream bar in with your shower the spicy notes of the cinnamon, clove, and orange engulf you with warm and you instantly feel like you’ve been wrapped in a blanket. So, if I had to choose, the Denali Dreams bar would be my favorite.
When it comes to new soaps or other products, where does your inspiration
Everywhere. It comes from hikes or trips through Alaska. It comes from customers
we’ve had for years looking for something in particular. It even comes from mistakes
we’ve had in the kitchen. Our Winter Soap was created that way. We accidentally put the
wrong scent in our Dog Wash Soap and through a little bit of tweaking, the Alaska
Winter Soap was born.
It's really awesome how a mistake like that can turn into a new product! It's cool how things work out like that sometimes. When inspiration strikes, is it the kind of thing
where you have to jot down the idea right then and there? What does it look like
going from that initial inspiration to actually starting a new soap?
This all depends on the timing. Typically, we work on new products in the fall, after the rush of the production season. So we spend the year writing down ideas, doing a little research on them and then when fall comes around we can sink our creative brains into developing and designing those new products. There are times we have an idea but
maybe we realize it isn’t something that will fit into our brand so the time we have to
research it is beneficial to make sure it's something that we really want to add.
Speaking of, is there anything new that you're working on that you can tease?
We do have a couple of new items up our sleeves. We’ve had a lot of requests for bath
and body care for babies and we are working on a new product line that caters to their
delicate skin and specific needs. We also have had the pleasure of working with some
peony farms this last summer so we are working on creating some products that
highlight those beautiful flowers.
That's really cool about the peonies. When it comes to something like flowers,
does that change the overall process at all?
Flowers usually don’t change the process, but there are some ingredients like sea salt when added at certain times of the process which can change the process. Or sap from birch trees. We make a custom soap for Kahiltna Birch Works up in Talkeetna. We replace all the water that goes into the soap with sap. When we add the sodium hydroxide it turns the sap (which also has the appearance of water) bright orange like a carrot!
What was it about The Bear Box that made you want to be a part of it?
The mission and values of the Bear Box strongly aligns with what we believe in at
Denali Dreams. We love being apart of the Alaskan locally made scene and having the
opportunity to be part of a business that highlights small local business is one we
definitely wanted to collaborate with.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote and why?
“Companies should be active problem solvers not just focused on maximizing profits.”
I read this on a cup shortly after I bought the business, and it really stuck with me. Maybe it’s my love for problem-solving. Regardless, it’s something as a business owner I think about all the time. There are many situations when there is a cheaper option for a process or ingredient that we could choose. Though there is an option that might be more costly but will improve the customer experience, or help reduce the waste that the business creates. Businesses have the power to be role models and influence change, whether that’s within their own staff, community, or even on a bigger global scale through social media. I strive to run a business that focuses more on being part of the community than focusing on world domination of soap (though everyone should use soap).
Is there anything else that you haven't mentioned yet that you'd like to share?
Thank you for the opportunity to share our products. We love meeting and talking with
the community so if you are ever in the Anchorage area be sure to stop by our shop and
say hi. Also, we love talking about food, it’s a daily conversation, so if you are in need of
a recommendation or also have a food obsession, we will make you hungry.
Thank you Caitlin for doing this interview and for being in our box! If you liked the Buttery Bear lotion bar, you can find more of what Denali Dreams has to offer by checking out their website. You can also connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.