Interview with Lauren Padawer of Alaska Glacial Mud Co.
Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Kicking off our Juneau box interviews with Lauren Padawer! She's actually located in Cordova but we found a way to feature her in this box! We chatted about how she got started, her experience on Shark Tank, causes she supports, and more. Let's get into it!
Tell me a bit about yourself, Alaska Glacial Mud Co., and how you got started?
LAUREN PADAWER: The idea for Alaska Glacial Mud Co., in particular, was on a life-changing rafting trip down the Copper River. After an exciting lunch spying on brown bears fishing for wild salmon on the opposite side of the river, my friends and I decided to take a dip in the clear glacial pools. My feet immediately sank into buttery mud and it was a divine sensation. I proceeded to cover my face and body in the silky mud pretending to be a guest at the most wild spa in the world. After washing it off, my skin was soft and glowing. Little did I know that a riverside spa treatment amongst bear tracks and the wild call of eagles would be my future. And that’s when Alaska Glacial Mud Co. began making natural skincare products. The rafting trip was sponsored by the Eyak Preservation Council, a non-profit organization founded by Eyak descendant Dune Lankard. The organization is dedicated to a legacy of cultural and environmental preservation in honor of indigenous Eyak people who have called the Copper River Delta home for thousands of years. The rafting trip instilled a respect and awareness for the Copper River’s bounty and the importance of protecting our planet’s last remaining wild places.
Wow, that sounds amazing. I definitely want to dig more into the organizations that you support later. Can you tell me more about your process? Because obviously, it started with, you know, you dipping your feet in and then, it kind of progressed from there. How did you sort of develop your process initially? And then, how has it evolved, I guess, over time?
LAUREN: Well, those are good questions. Initially, I just started collecting mud from several different river systems that are really close to Cordova that you could call all of them glacial rivers. I think because of my spiritual connection with the Copper and also from the lab results, I decided to work with Copper River mud because of its ease of access, its abundance of glacial sediment and that it's got an extremely diverse mineral profile. So initially, my goal was to, you know, send out samples, learn what minerals were represented in the mud. Compare that to each other and to the information I could find about other muds on the market. And so, I decided to work with Copper River mud in particular. It wasn't a hard decision since there were many more minerals in the Copper River mud. The reason for the high mineral content is that the Copper River drainage is massive. I mean, they're just big numbers that are hard to really visualize, but it's about 69,000 square kilometers or 23 million acres or the size of West Virginia. It deposits 100 million tons of glacial sediment annually.
That's crazy. That's really huge.
LAUREN: Yeah, it's huge. And there are five different mountain ranges that feed into the Copper River. Part of the Talkeetna range, part of the Alaska range, part of the Chugach range, part of the Wrangell -- well, Wrangell and Saint Elias are considered one range, but they're two separate sets of mountains, the Wrangell and Saint Elias. And those different mountains are a result -- some of them are a result of volcanic eruption and some of them are a result of tectonic plates shifting, like earthquakes. And so, the types of rock that get created out of those different movements are all within the Copper River watershed. And basically, glacial mud is glacially ground rock dust. It's mountain that's turned into boulders, that's turned into rocks, that's turned into sand and silt. And it's been ground by glaciers moving over the last 10,000 years. So I kind of like smile when I say, you know, that the mud, it's been in Mother Nature's factory for over 10,000 years. And from there, I guess if I could have just put mud in a jar, I would have done that. But it wasn't quite there in terms of being, you know, extremely sophisticated and competitive with other products. And also, you can't just, you know, mix up something with water and put it on a shelf and expect it to last without any issues for a long time.
Sure, sure. I imagine just convincing people too, right? Like you said, competitive with others. You have to have at least, I imagine, some sort of a similar process behind it. You want to be unique though too of course.
LAUREN: Yeah I wanted to be competitive. I didn’t have to convince people that using mud is therapeutic, but I wanted to be unique, sophisticated and professional. I couldn’t just put mud in a mason jar. I mean, there's all kinds of concerns. There's the texture of the product. There's the preservation and shelf stability of the product and incorporating other effective skincare ingredients. And finally protecting your creation or your formulation from being easily replicated. I guess that's why I chose the name Alaska Glacial Mud Co. I mean, it's not the most obscure, elusive or, you know, uniquely branded name. And the goal with that was really to give my company and myself a chance to establish a market presence without being usurped by a company or group that might have deeper pockets. So by naming the company what it was itself I think protected it against some copycats. If I named the company like Royal Glacier Products or something like that, then it would be really easy for, you know, say, you wanted to start harvesting this product. I mean, you could call it glacial mud, glacial silt. And I suppose, you know, it's really possible to do that. But after enough time, you know, having a history with like a website and search results, it would be really hard to market the product any way that wouldn't end up being mutually beneficial for Alaska Glacial Mud Company and another company. So, that's kind of an aside with like being an early stage entrepreneur and trying to figure out what to call it and what to do. And it's not all that interesting, but going back --
It is to me as a business owner. But no, I totally get what you mean.
LAUREN: Yeah. But back to developing the product itself. I suppose at any point in a business, you can dedicate yourself to one particular aspect of the business, whether it's graphic design or marketing or, you know, the financial part. But being a solopreneur, I thought it was most professional and most resourceful to connect with a cosmetic chemist on product formulation. I have a background in science, I studied biology, I took chemistry and physics. And so, you know, understanding the mineral aspects and the geomorphology of the Copper River, that was super interesting to me. And then, understanding that, you know, there's biological issues with putting things in a jar without a preservative. I can understand that. But when it came to like the balance of all the different ingredients in a formula, I reached out to a cosmetic chemist. And so, we teamed up and my goal was to totally replicate the glacial mud as it's found in nature, except in a shelf-stable jar. And I also wanted to boost the formula with ingredients that were known to be protective to the skin and help the skin glow. And so, I did do some botanical extracts of plants that are found in Alaska. And I set out from there. At that point, I was pretty much settled and have made minor changes to the formulation over the years to improve it.
I imagine it's a bit of a trial and error. You know, over time, you sort of perfect the process as you learn what works and what doesn't. And like you said, having a chemist that you can work with, too. I don't know how your process was exactly with that, but like, you know, bouncing ideas off, have been going back and forth, and maybe like, "Oh, this is not quite what I wanted, so let's try this." Yeah, that's super interesting to me and I think that's really cool how that all comes about.
LAUREN: Yeah. I mean, I think that every entrepreneur does sort of spend energy and time or money on things that aren't, you know, as laser-focused or you just didn't know enough and so, you kind of go back and revisit things. But yeah, it was a process. And you know, eventually, when I felt good about things, I went to market with it.
And here you are! That's very cool. I was looking at your Instagram yesterday and I saw you have a lot of really cool photos on there. Do you take those?
LAUREN: I think that I would have to know exactly which ones you're talking about, but there was a series of some photos that I would call like rustic spa fashion photography. I don't know if those are the ones you're referring to.
Those are some of the ones that I was thinking of. I really liked a lot of the ones that were more nature-focused. But yeah, specifically, I guess, if you want to get into the spa photos.
LAUREN: Yeah. I mean, they're all different. And they all come from different sources. There is a particular series of photos that were part of a really magical few days where I brought a friend and photographer from Homer over to Cordova. And I got a couple of models in Cordova and she brought a couple of people with her. And we went to several locations within a couple days and just had a power photography fest. I would say that a lot of them are from that. I also have another friend from Anchorage who's a photographer and videographer who's helped me with some. And, you know, others are just from my adventures. It's just a mix. I would say that they're just from 20 years of living in Cordova.
Sure. It sounds like you have a mix of ones that you've taken and then ones that your photographer friend took. I just find it interesting, you know, as an entrepreneur to -- you know, you wear a lot of hats, but you also can't always do everything yourself. So it's cool kind of learning more about what your mindset was, what should I tackle myself or what can I have someone else help me with or do or what they're willing to do. That kind of like elevates certain things just because, you know, maybe that's not your forte. Like I know my personal forte is not taking pictures. You know, I couldn't take a really well-done professional picture myself. But, you know, it means knowing the right person I think helps a lot. And using your connections in that positive way I think is really cool.
LAUREN: Yeah. Thanks. Some of them, too, are just from influencers, like editorial photos from sending products to different magazines or bloggers or influencers.
Very cool. As far as different customer experiences and feedback that you've had, do you have any favorite ones that really stand out in your mind that you've had over the years?
LAUREN: Like reviews or --
Reviews, if there's a standout one. But I was also just wondering if there was someone that you knew that -- maybe it was somebody like an acquaintance or friend or someone that talked to you directly, like face-to-face and said how much they loved the product or how much it helped them, you know, helped their skin or something like that. Just something that stood out to you that made you feel really good about the progress you were making.
LAUREN: Oh, my gosh. There's been so many little wins along the way. And every time I get positive feedback, it's sort of like a reinforcement. You know, a little like mini boost to continue on the path that I'm on. You know, watching someone, like an aesthetician or a spa director, move jobs to a new spa and then bring the product into the new one when they move, that's always pretty cool. Because yes, it's definitely positive reinforcement that someone who has been exposed to it with a lot of different people, with a lot of different skin concerns is, you know, carrying the torch on to their next place of work. As for reviews, there's probably an aggregated 500 or 600 reviews between, you know, Amazon and our alaskaglacialmud.com website alone. I think for people who are curious about what others have to say, they can search those reviews online. I mean, you can search for reviews on Amazon for different issues, whether it's blemishes or acne or sensitive skin, aging skin, and see what other people have to say because it's a lot more powerful than anything that would, you know, necessarily be in a product description.
For sure. Yeah. You know, I'm sure that's incredibly helpful. And I imagine over time, it kind of shows you that you're on the right path. I guess as you're moving forward with your business and everything. I also noticed while looking at your website, I saw that you were featured in a ton of different magazines like Vogue and the New York Times. How did that all come about? Like did you reach out to them? Did they reach out to you because they found you somehow? How did that come about?
LAUREN: Oh, my gosh. I think it's a big mix. The first big push that the business had, on a PR front, was in 2006 or '07. I want to say, I think before I even launched products. So, you know, the timing wasn't perfect, but I won a rural business competition. I think it was in 2006 with Alaska -- it was called Alaska Marketplace. And it was a rural business competition in Alaska. And I won one of their awards and I also won the People's Choice Award at the show.
Oh, that's awesome.
LAUREN: And there was a writer from the Associated Press that put it out on the Associated Press and it got picked up. I mean, the Internet was around, but I wouldn't say that every publication had capabilities to post what was printed on the internet as well. But as far as I can tell, at the time, it got picked up by a hundred different publications, including The New York Times.
That's so cool.
LAUREN: And so, that was I think the beginning. And I think actually that really helped. I don't know how SEO works completely. But it just seems like more repetition is a positive feedback on search results. So having that appear in all the different publications that were on the internet, that helped the SEO of the business overall. As far as the beauty-specific publications, I think those were primarily a result of going to trade shows. We haven't been to an incredible number. But I think over the last 12 years, we've been to—outside of Alaska, we've been to a few different types of shows. We've been to a natural products trade show, a spa trade show, and a gift show with a beauty section in New York that encompassed a lot of skincare products. And each of those, we've been to a couple of times. So between those three different sectors and journalists that come to those shows, I think that was how that happened. And then, there have been a couple punctuated efforts with PR firms to, you know, put our story out there or submit for editorial calendars. And you know, I think a couple of those, I would attribute to those efforts. But yeah, overall, it's a combination of that original Associated Press article from a business award combined with being seen at trade shows, combined with luck and some punctuated efforts with PR firms.
Got you. Sounds like a three-pronged attack, so to speak, that blew it up.
LAUREN: Yeah. And then, we were on Shark Tank in 2014 and that was just an incredible amount of exposure overall.
I can imagine. That was gonna be my next question actually, was to tell me a bit about that actually. Read my mind.
LAUREN: Well, Shark Tank came about like so many just random solicitations. And I guess as an entrepreneur, you never know who's on the other end of a phone call or email. And it's really easy, and this is what I'm guilty of, to be so overwhelmed with what is on the front burner, that a solicitation can really easily fall on deaf ears. It's a lot easier to push off a solicitation for information than it is to go down a rabbit hole and ignore your other work to find out that it's not really worth your time. So, you know, the advice is just to keep your radar on for diamonds in the rough, I guess. I think with Shark Tank, I followed up on a solicitation-- because I tend to live under a rock living in Cordova -- I hadn’t seen the show. It's really easy to check out from pop culture in rural Alaska. I mean, it's a little bit less easy now with social media. And I'm definitely engaged on a personal and business level. But there's still things that I just, I don't know, that you can kind of miss a little bit. And probably even, you know, in Anchorage, too. It's easy to kind of like check out of the rat race.
Yeah. You're inundated with so much stuff that I feel like, on some level, you kind of have to a little bit because otherwise you're just overwhelmed.
LAUREN: Yeah. And I think too the exposure to media has really evolved. I mean, I'm 41. And when I was a kid, like all the syndicated channels were just publicly available when you turned on the TV. And now, it seems like to get anything, you have to have a subscription. Starting when I was in college and then, after college, I made a conscious decision to not have a TV -- I was just engaged in such a way that the only media I've really watched for the most part over the last 25 years was movies or TV in a hotel room. And then with internet streaming came, Netflix and Amazon Prime, I began, you know, watching series. But I've shied away from the syndicated TV with commercials, not because I was entirely disinterested in it, but because I just didn't subscribe. And I didn't feel that I wanted it badly enough that I was willing to pay for it. So, I think because of that, I sort of cut myself off from a lot of common TV, you know. And so, even something like Shark Tank, it was a few years into it before I had these random people that I might meet say, "Have you heard of Shark Tank? You should go on Shark Tank." And again, like, you know, when you're running a business, there's lots of tasks on the front burner. And it's really easy for people to offer ideas and advice. And it really takes stepping away from what you already have to, you know, add new things on your plate. And so, when people said you should go on Shark Tank, it just seemed like another interesting idea. And it wasn't until I got a call out of the blue from someone who worked for Shark Tank and they told me that they had never had a business from Alaska on the show and that they were interested in learning more. And would I be interested in submitting an application? And it didn't mean that I was going to be accepted, but it just meant because they had that gap, not having an Alaska business, that the application would like land, you know, at the top of the pile kind of thing. So, I set out at that point to watch Shark Tank and learn what the show was about because I hadn't even seen an episode. And it was a really good show. I mean, I went on to watch a lot of them and really enjoyed it as an entrepreneur watching the show. And then, I got to the credits and I saw this guy's name and I was like, wow, this is legit. This is a legitimate solicitation, and I should probably see it through! And one thing led to another. I submitted an application and they were interested in what I had to say. And I think originally, they reached out because I was in Alaska. But ultimately, they got like a much better or perhaps irresistible story. Just yeah, like a solo entrepreneur starting a skincare business and doing it alongside commercial fishing. I mean, I wasn't making a living at this business for the first half of its life. And so, I always had other jobs and one of those jobs was commercial fishing. So, they really got, I don't want to say the full Alaska story because it wasn't absolutely every amazing thing that Alaskans do, but it was...
LAUREN: It was a taste. And I think ultimately, Shark Tank is an entertainment show. And I think that the story I was able to share was a story that was really exciting for a lot of people. I mean, Alaska is drop-dead gorgeous. Like pretty much all you have to do is start like, you know, filming with Alaska as a backdrop. And it's really easy to captivate.
Step outside. *laughs*
For sure. You know, that's super cool. It's cool that they reached out to you. And then, like you said, having a let up because they specifically said, "Yeah, we don't have an Alaska business." I'm sure they get tons of stuff all the time from people contacting them. So when they're specifically reaching out to you and talking about it being, you know, "We'd like an Alaska business", that gives you a pretty good shot. And then the exposure too. Like you said, it's, you know, a popular national TV show. That's pretty awesome.
LAUREN: Yes, it was. It was pretty amazing.
You know, from what I've seen, you've got a bunch of different products. I imagine it's the kind of thing where you've kind of grown your product line over time as you decided, you know, what you want to add or just different ideas? Do you have a particular product that's a favorite of yours?
LAUREN: Actually, I mean, not to diminish what you said, but we really don't have a lot of products. We have been somewhat specializing over the years with a mud mask and soap bar. And then, the different products that you see are a variation on those and some accessories that go with them.
Ah, I got it.
LAUREN: And when you asked what my favorite is, it's really hard to say because I try to do things that I find that are really basic, like essential and functional. So, I use all the products. And I really could wax poetic on almost anything. But I guess, you know, favorite, like at the very top, I might say that the soap is a favorite because it's something I use every day. It's something I feel is a necessity. I don't want to leave it out of my travel bag. And I love it. But there's other things that are in my travel bag, too, when I travel, including an exfoliating bath mitt that we don't manufacture, but we carry it because it's such a great companion for our products and the mud mask, which is like our signature original product.
Nice. When I asked that I figured that's probably gonna be hard to narrow down. And like you said, when you, you know, make something like this, you're the one creating everything, it makes sense that you'd be used to having it around all of the time.
Going back a little bit, you started mentioning it earlier, kind of getting into it a little bit, but as far as a portion of your sales going to different things like wilderness preservation, habitat restoration, environmental education stuff. Are there particular, specific organizations that you're really a big fan of that you can tell us about or is it a little bit more broad than that?
LAUREN: No, it's really specific. We donate to organizations that work within the Copper River Watershed. And I do list the organizations on our website. There's a section called Giving Back.
Ah, okay. I must have overlooked that.
LAUREN: From time to time, we support community causes or organizations outside of those four. We tend to support organizations based in Cordova and periodically, outside of Cordova. Philosophically, I want to be there to sort of be like a net positive result for the Copper River watershed, which was the original inspiration for the company. And that's where, you know, our raw material comes from. And it's incredibly abundant. And for all intents and purposes, it's sustainable. As a resource, I don't even know how you classify it. I mean, there's 100 million tons of sediment that get deposited annually on the Copper River Delta and the amount that we harvest would be like a drop in the bucket. I mean, it's really a drop in the bucket, in a very, very large bucket. Maybe a drop in a pool. But I think there's just an inextricable link for me between Cordova and the resources of the Copper River and protecting it as a highly sustainable ecosystem. So the organizations that we support: I guess, first and foremost, we support wild salmon habitat, both preservation and restoration. So there's one organization called the Eyak Preservation Council that works as -- the goal is to preserve land in the name of the Eyak people who are the indigenous people that call this strip of coast in Alaska home for, I don't know, the last 3,500 years, at least as far as research goes. And they migrated a little bit up the Copper River. They were primarily based on the Copper River Delta, but they're most closely related to the Ahtna people, which are the
indigenous people that inhabited most of the Copper River watershed. So yeah, the goal is to leave a, you know, legacy of preservation in the name of the Eyak people, basically. I mean, this is probably more information than you want. But it arose out of a lot of devastation that happened after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Ironically, after that happened, there was a lot of logging that took place and there was the beginning development of some mining on the Eastern Copper River Delta. And those still continue to be threats. So this organization, you know, basically works on abating a lot of projects that pose a threat to disrupting the sustainability of those ecosystems including legal defense when necessary. The other organizations aren't in a political space, where they have the latitude to defend situations legally if need be. Another organization that's working on habitat and is more related to restoration is the Copper River Watershed Project. They're an organization that works upriver and downriver. And they have worked to catalog countless anadromous streams that weren't part of the state's register and do projects to improve fish passage. And the other big thing that they do is they do a lot of community engagement in terms of workshops for all ages, volunteer projects, including all ages. And specifically, they do a lot of classroom work. They team up with the schools to do science with kids. And actually, they even have education programs for pre-K. So they're incredibly involved in the community from like pre-K to adults and engaging the community on being conscientious about their impact on fish passage and working on improving fish passage. Another organization is the Prince William Sound Science Center. And I would say that the main reason we support them is because of their education work. So along with the Copper River watershed, they're working to do education with people of all ages about the resources. And then, the last one is Wrangell Mountain Center which is based out of McCarthy and it uses the landscape of the Wrangell and the Copper River to connect with people on a spiritual level using art and education, to connect people with the watershed and the land. So, we try to support legal defense, environmental education, land preservation, habitat restoration.
That's awesome. You know, you talking about it earlier and then, you just going over everything and breaking it down, I can definitely tell how passionate you are about it. I really love the idea of educating the young and upcoming generation in particular.
LAUREN: Yeah. In whatever small way, through philanthropic support and through volunteer actions, we can, you know, act locally to support this region of Alaska.
So what was it specifically about The Bear Box, when we reached out to you, that made you ultimately want to be a part of it?
LAUREN: I mean, what's not to love about highlighting companies that people might not find otherwise, that are representative of the different areas and resources of our state and the talent of the people here?!
I concur. I'd be tooting my own horn, our own horn a little bit, but I absolutely agree. That's really what I think drove LeeAnna to start the company, and then leading with that idea when bringing the rest of us on board. There are so many cool businesses and some that are more known and some that are less known and some that are just up and coming and everything. And you know, that was just one of those things where it's been the driving force behind everything that we've been doing and in starting it in the first place.
Last question that I want to end on, is there anything else in particular that maybe we haven't touched on that you'd like to mention or any words of wisdom that you have for everyone or maybe like an inspirational quote that you've always found that's helped you a lot over the years? Just anything that you'd like to share.
LAUREN: Oh, goodness.
Sorry. That's a lot. *laughs*
LAUREN: Yeah. That's a lot. I think one thing I haven't touched on is that I've been wanting to expand the product line for a number of years. And the way that I wanted to expand it, like the direction I wanted to expand it in was not necessarily mud in particular, but glacial minerals in general. And so, in early 2020, we're going to be launching four more products to round out a complete facial care regimen. We will introduce a cleanser, toner, serum, and cream. And they're all made with glacial water. And we're incorporating Alaska mushrooms and berries, as well as commonly used skincare ingredients like resveratrol and hyaluronic acid. And I'm really excited about it. They're going to be really innovative and really gorgeous and really effective products. We’re working with a Korean-Alaskan cosmetic chemist so it will be K-beauty meets AK-beauty!
That's incredibly exciting!
LAUREN: Yes. I'm in the middle of a big expansion right now, both with product launch and building a factory here in Cordova.
Oh, wow. Nice.
LAUREN: It is really exciting. Yeah, I'm getting a bunch of manufacturing equipment for tasks I have previously outsourced. So kind of bringing some things back home which I feel really good about. I’m a little scared about borrowing lots of money, getting in over my head and failing, but no one really got anywhere by being fearful, you know. And I think it's important to calculate risk and identify, you know, what potential pitfalls there might be in any endeavor you do. It's important to just sort of embrace your fear and evaluate the risks and go for it.
It's pretty amazing what we can do when we take at least one step versus not taking a step at all. I love that. Well, I guess on that note, we can go ahead and wrap up. I just want to say that I really appreciate you taking the time, Lauren. Really happy to have you in this month's box.
LAUREN: Thank you very much, Chad.