Johanna and Denise are the lovely souls (cousins and best friends) who came together to create laurelbox ~ a curated box of beautiful gifts designed to nourish the aching hearts of those who have suffered a loss.
Tell us about your mornings. How do you greet the day?
Denise: My day starts with 2 little people crawling into our bed before the sun rises and falling back to sleep with us. I cherish this quiet routine. We roll into the beautiful breakfast crazies of "I want a blue cup with a purple straw and a yellow bowl" and then all calms down again with full bellies and my coffee in tow. We have in-house help a few days a week, so those days, I am in the office working otherwise I have found multi-tasking work and "being present to my 2 little girls" is not healthy.
Johanna: I have two boys, so mornings in my house are kinda fast and furious. I am mostly at home with them, and this summer I committed to avoiding multi-tasking. And let me tell you... multitasking is such a temptation when you own your own business! But, I know it's not good for me or my kids if I'm distracted, so I try and segment out my time as much as possible. So, while it's tempting to check in on work first thing, I try and avoid it if I can. I'm also a total coffee addict, and I can't do much until I've got my Chemex pot brewed.
Is there a sanctuary in your life, that makes everything fall into place? Somewhere, something, somehow?
Denise: I have 3 people in my life that are my dearest of best girlfriends. They are safe, honest and bold. When my mind begins to race, my parenting is feeling like a shitshow, my marriage feels like its unraveling, I reach out to these women who encourage me, remind me who I am and help sharpen my tools that I forgot I had. They know my ugly side and they still love me.
Johanna: My sanctuary is my girlfriends. I can't imagine my life without my girls. This makes the difference for me... Friends who don't feed you any BS. Friends who talk to you late at night when your world crumbles. Friends who won't judge you if you want to run away. And friends who will tell you the truth about yourself... the truth that you are doing a great job at this whole life thing and you just need to cut yourself a break.
What is the big dream for what you are creating? For you? For your beloveds? For the planet?
It feels scary to say this out loud, because it's such a big statement. But, we believe that we can change the way people comfort the grieving. We think there is something broken in how our country approaches grief, and that our company can help foster tenderness and compassion for grieving people.
There is immense pressure on people to "go back to normal life" very quickly after a loss, and it can be very damaging to people's hearts. There is also a misconception that grief follows a specific timeline. But grief is extremely individual, and no two people grieve the same. The cultural judgements that surround grief can give you a horrible feeling that you're doing something wrong, when you're not. It breaks our hearts to see that so often grievers experience guilt and shame.
I think that most of the time, women truly want to be a support system for their friends. They just don't know what to say or do. So, our company comes along and says... Let's give hurting people whatever amount of time they need to grieve. Let's remind them that it's ok to grieve on their own terms. Let's help their friends know what to say. So laurelbox focuses on gifts that acknowledge heartache, that encourage women to slow down and process their loss, and remind them that they've got a friend standing firm at their side.
How have you gotten started?
It's been quite the journey over the last year. We put up personal savings to start laurelbox, and we have invested every penny into growing and reaching more hurting women. It's been the most challenging and rewarding thing either of us have ever done. We work round the clock. And every moment is worth it.
What were three big personal breakthroughs & lessons from starting your business?
1. My personal life (Johanna here) was a wreck this year, and at a few specific intervals, I shared some of my struggles. It was scary, but I learned that vulnerability can bring so much healing and community. I would have never shared without laurelbox, and without the bravery and compassion of women in our community.
2. At the beginning, I struggled a lot (Denise here) with the ugly and deep lie that I was inadequate and not the "right person" for this journey. Because I have never walked the trenches of my own deep loss, I felt a lack of credibility. I realize now that tenderness in my heart towards something I haven't personally experienced does not make me inadequate. I remind myself that it would be easy for me to look away from heartache, but I don't. I look towards it and throw my arms open to it. Now I see that the softness in my heart for other pain I haven't personally experienced is my greatest strength.
3. We've also realized that our partnership was divinely appointed. We are cousins and best friends. And the longer we work together, the more we realize how well we compliment each other. We are similar in many ways, but also quite different and our differences elevate the quality of the business. Denise makes sure our gifts look good in person, and Johanna makes sure they look good on your computer screen.
How about three failures?
1. We always fail to some extent when we design a new product. Neither of us have ever worked in product development, so we sometimes have these big visions of how something will work, and the realities of putting a design on an item are more complicated than it seems. But, we laugh about it, drink a glass of wine if we really mess up, and realize that a little money lost on a failure at the start is better than putting out a product that doesn't truly nourish a woman's heart after loss.
2. At the beginning, we made some pretty hysterical mistakes on inventory ordering amounts. One time, we meant to order 5 pounds of sprinkles for our hand poured birthday candles, but we ordered 50 pounds! 50 pounds of sprinkles is a LOT of sprinkles. Another time we got really excited about a great sale on the vintage buttons that we use on our handmade burlap envelopes. But when we checked out, we owed $600 DOLLARS IN BUTTONS. AH! We mostly just laugh about it and pour an extra glass of wine.
3. Last year we had a product, and we woke up one morning to find our social media accounts bombarded overnight people who were upset about the impact of the product on the environment. We had to quickly regroup and decide what we were about and who we were. We stopped selling the product that very morning, and look back at that as a way we further defined ourselves.
Three things we should know about your products.
1. Our products are handmade or small batch. We believe firmly in the idea that women need to feel individually remembered after a loss. We think that handmade or customized items convey the sense of being individually remembered, and it's a huge part of what we do.
2. laurelbox gifts truly nourish your soul after a loss. We spend huge amounts of time and energy making sure that every element of each gift supports hurting women. For example, our herbal teas nourish your body and support your soul after a loss, our jewelry acknowledges who you loved, and our commemorative collection help you remember your loved one on days where grief might be acute.
3. Every laurelbox is customized and hand packed in beautiful premium packaging. We never cut corners. Each laurelbox includes a handmade burlap envelope, a complimentary card, a fresh evergreen clipping, and is tucked beautifully into a kraft paper box. The opening experience is truly special.
What do you need? How can we all support you?
laurelbox is a small mom-owned company, and our funds are very limited. As social media is changing (waaa the instagram algorithm!), it's gotten harder for us to expand. We would love it if you could support us by telling your friends about our company! But truly (and we mean this from the bottom of our hearts), the best thing you can do for laurelbox is love wildly on your hurting friend. Our mission is more important than any item in our shop.
Denise: Denise and her husband live in Ohio where they are raising their two toddlers and their two teens. When Denise isn't putting the perfect touches on laurelbox gifts, she enjoys indulging in guilty pleasures like wearing yoga clothes when she's not working out and sipping wine.
Johanna : Johanna lives in Florida with her husband and two boys. When she is not working on laurelbox, she is gardening, failing at DIY projects, and hanging at the beach. She has a love-hate relationship with her desire to live a natural lifestyle. Mostly because of the cloth diapers. So much is the fault of the cloth diapers.