Taos might not be famous as a hotbed of business startups, but that doesn’t mean young entrepreneurs aren’t here, working to build businesses from scratch that also build up the local economy. Meet Jacquelene Brisson-Stahl, founder and owner of Bison Star Naturals, a burgeoning company specializing in artistic and locally made soaps.
Brisson-Stahl actually grew up around the commerce of soap because her dad was in the business. “I always wanted him to have his own business,” she said, ”something that wasn’t so corporate.”
Brisson-Stahl knew she wanted to own a business that was satisfying and could earn her a living. She also knew that her father’s guidance and years of experience could prove invaluable.
She created Bison Star Naturals, making “soap with a twist.”
Each bar is made with glycerine, coconut and safflower oil, and a variety of essential oils. Brisson-Stahl even collects by hand wild sage, rose and mint, which she incorporates into the soap as an exfoliant and “for the natural colors they create.”
“Each bar is actually a piece of Taos,” she said.
Brisson-Stahl began visiting Taos off and on seven years ago with her now-fiancé, Angelo McHorse, of Taos Pueblo. After finishing up their degrees two years ago, the two moved to Taos full time. And in less than a month, Bison Star Naturals will celebrate one year of being in business.
The business name was an unintentional gift from a very young niece who couldn’t quite pronounce her last name, Brisson-Stahl. “How do you say it,” her niece asked her, “Bison Star?”
Her soaps are currently sold at a number of shops around Taos, including Cid’s Food Market, the Millicent Rogers Museum Gift Shop, and the Farmhouse Café. Locals and tourists alike can also find Brisson-Stahl and her soaps on Wednesdays, from 10 a.m to 5 p.m., at the Red Willow Farmers Market at Taos Pueblo as well as Sunday morning on the Plaza at the Taos Farmers Market.
Brisson-Stahl said she wasn’t necessarily expecting to be accepted as a vendor, being the sole employee of a new business. But she was accepted and says, “it’s a dream come true to sell at the farmers market.” Now she has the opportunity to sell her soaps to hundreds of people every week from May through October.
“I’m blown away with the support the people in Taos have given me,” Brisson-Stahl said.
“Every bar of soap truly allowed my business to grow, because I put all the money back into the business,” she said.
Bison Star Naturals has survived many of the challenges facing first-time entrepreneurs. “It was a challenge to do everything myself,” she said, “but it was also fulfilling, because now I know that I can get the job done.”
Brisson-Stahl found all of her accounts by going into the community and following up on word-of-mouth suggestions. And where there were weaknesses in her business, like certain accounting and tax issues, she sought out the people here in town who could help her past those hurdles.
With the financial successes of the past year, Brisson-Stahl was recently able to hire her first employee, a student at University of New Mexico-Taos.
“It’s fun for me to hire other young people,” she said, explaining just how rewarding and exciting it is to work with other young entrepreneurs. What starts out as one project, she elaborated, can become an incubator for a younger, more innovative business culture.
Brisson-Star has designed her business around that collaborative spirit as much as she has local, sustainable ingredients. “It’s an awesome feeling to support other business through practices of my own,” she said. What herbs and flowers Brisson-Stahl doesn’t collect herself, she buys from other vendors at the farmers market. This funnels a portion of her revenue directly back into the local economy.
And her collaborations with local artists transform each bar into something more aesthetically engaging than simply fragrant soap. Maye Torres, a sculptor and painter based in Carson, helped create the clay mockups for what has become her signature bar, which is imprinted with a bison and a single star. Lillian Thibodeau, a ceramic potter in Arroyo Seco, makes soap dishes that Brisson-Stahl sells as part of a gift basket.
Brisson-Stahl is even extending her community-oriented business model into her next phase of growth on the internet. She is launching a completely new website, designed by a local web developer. The most expansive feature will be the option for online ordering.
“One of the biggest prides of my business,” she said, “is when when someone buys a bar of soap as a gift for a loved one and that giving makes them happy, too!”
“I want to live life to be happy and make other people happy,” she said.
As Brisson-Stahl’s business grows, so will her life here in Taos. She is getting married later this month on the birthday of her grandmother, who died last year. When asked if Taos would be home for the foreseeable future, her answer was an enthusiastic “of course!” With her energy, persistence, and commitment to the community, Bison Star Naturals has plenty of room to grow.
You can find her new online website and store at bisonstarnaturals.com