In 2006, Alice McGrath started a home based business, named Brighter Morn, where she began making natural skin care products and a variety of other natural products for the home. After some health concerns of her own, Alice began to make lifestyle changes to better her own health.
"When I turned 50, I decided I would start researching some alternative things instead of taking prescriptions. When I was doing my research, I learned that your skin is your biggest organ. What you put on your skin goes immediately into your system," said Alice.
At first, Alice found a retailer in Madrid, Iowa where she could purchase all natural skin care products, but after a couple of years she realized that she could probably make the products herself. And so she began the process of creating an all natural skin care product for herself.
At top, Alice McGrath holding a batch of homemade soap. Above, Ron McGrath, practicing safety precautions, begins the soap making process. Safety precautions are necessary because of the caustic nature of lye. At left, fresh batches of Orange swirl, lemon, Dawn oatmeal and citrus blend soaps. The soap needs to cure in a dark area for about a month.
Today, the Brighter Morn product line is extensive. In addition to homemade bar soaps, she also makes lip balm, whipped shea butter, body power, bath salts, air freshener/body mist, candles, wickless candles, and stick bug repellent. All products are available in a variety of scents or flavors.
Alice is the third child in a family of eleven children and so she had many "guinea pigs" to try out her product. Her co-workers at John Deere, where Alice has since retired from her position as a paralegal, were also willing participants to try out the product. Eventually she had perfected the recipe and decided to sell it so that others could benefit from it too, but she had fun along the way.
"After lots of trial and error and experimenting, I got a couple of recipes that worked every time and people liked them every time. It's just a hobby business and that's what makes it fun. It's not to make tons of money," said Alice.
The name Brighter Morn was chosen in honor to the name of the home that her husband Ron, who was a widower, and his sons lived in when Alice met him. Brighter Morn was the name of the house from a John Wayne moved called "The Quiet Man", and the name seemed to fit her home based business pursuit.
All of the Brighter Morn products are made on the acreage where Alice and Ron have lived since 1980. The acreage, near Buckingham, Iowa, is surrounded by wildflowers and prairie grass and seems to fit the theme of getting closer to nature. Alice has always loved the outdoors and using all natural ingredients in her products is important to her. Most of the products are made in the kitchen, using dedicated blenders, pots, and pans and as Alice describes it, "are made in small batches with joy and simplicity, with reverence and mindfulness toward nature".
"We really do strive to make a very clean and safe product. I don't sell anything that I don't use myself because I made these products for me first," said Alice.
One of her most popular products is the soap bars, which are made from an old fashioned lye soap recipe that has been used for generations. The product is free of any synthetic ingredients and animal byproducts.
"Lye is a very caustic chemical. When you put the lye in the water and mix it with the oils, chemically it changes into soap. Everything we do is precisely measured to the tenth of an ounce and I never deviate from the formula. It works every time because we follow the recipe," said Alice.
The multi-step process takes patience and skill. Ron enjoys helping Alice make the soap and finds the experience very rewarding. After the ingredients are precisely mixed, the soap is poured into molds lined with waxed freezer paper and must be covered and left to rest for a minimum of 24 hours. The chemical process of turning lye into soap takes place during this time and the soap begins to harden. The soap is then cut into bars and must be left in a dark area to dry and cure for about a month. When the soap is ready, Alice takes great care into packaging the soap so that they are attractive and gift ready.
"We always look forward to soap making day. It's a lot of fun for Ron and me. We make soap probably five or six times a year. I use essential oils for the scenting. I do not use fragrance oils because they are manmade and artificially made. The oils I use come from plants or trees," said Alice, who is currently working on perfecting soap for pets.
Many customers report beginning to use the Brighter Morn product after becoming frustrated with the products that are found in many stores. Her customer base has continued to grow over the years.
"They're tired of all of these products from China, they want locally made products, and just for their own use and enjoyment. The most common complaint with other products is dry skin. My soap goes on very creamy and comes off squeaky clean," said Alice, who always loved looking for skin care products that are different and one of a kind.
"The Brighter Morn product is top notch. I never have anybody complain about the products. I try to keep it very simple. I could add all of the Latin words for the ingredients but I don't because I want people to understand exactly what they're getting," said Alice, also reporting that one of first steps during her research was to look at the ingredient label on a product and if she could not pronounce or understand what an ingredient was on the list, that was her first clue that she probably did not want to be using the product.
Brighter Morn is part of the Tama County Economic Development Commission and the 2012 Indie Beauty Network. Alice opens her home to customers who wish to stop by and see how the product is made. She also offers soap making presentations upon request. Please contact Alice for an appointment.
The Brighter Morn product is sold at Barn Happy and Fields of Yoga, both in Cedar Falls. She has many local customers in the Dysart area, Cedar Falls, and Waterloo. She plans to host a booth at the Holiday Market in Dysart on November 10th.More information about Brighter Morn can be seen at www.TamaCountyIowa.org/BrighterMorn, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrighterMorn, and orders can be placed by calling Alice at 319-478-8189, 319-830-9759, or by emailing her at BrighterMorn@IowaTelecom.net.