Like so many modern career paths, Tequesta resident Joanna Schmidt's trajectory contains its share of zigs and zags.
The native of New York's Brooklyn borough earned an education degree from Ohio's Antioch College. Taught underprivileged preschoolers in Boston and tended bar at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Worked as a receptionist in a New York art gallery and an account executive at a sweepstakes house.
At each stop along the way, the mother of two found herself itching to try something new. And then, the body-product bug bit.
"Living in New York, my skin was just horrible. Cracked. Dry," says the 41-year-old. "I wasn't pleased with what was out there. I just knew I could figure something out."
In 2004, a year after the Schmidt family moved to South Florida, Joanna and her husband, Brad, launched Product Body, a line of handmade, heavenly scented sugar scrubs and body lotions.
Beauty editors who tested the products found themselves in a lather.
Real Simple magazine recommended Sugarfoot Sugar Shea Foot Scrub, Hallmark magazine raved about Whipped Shea Butter moisturizer, and Bust magazine called Crush on You scrub, which comes in scents like Lemon Scone and Raspberry Linzer Cookie, "quite possibly the greatest exfoliant known to women."
In late 2008, the Schmidts opened a Product Body store in Jupiter, and although they shuttered the shop after 18 months, their scrubs and soaps are still carried by almost 20 retailers nationwide, including Jupiter's Myo Massage Clinic and Palm Beach's Amici Market, which recently began stocking the newest member of the Product Body family: Absolute Soap.
Hand-formulated by Schmidt in small batches and containing natural ingredients like goat's milk, ground oatmeal and sea salt, Absolute Soap is free of the detergents and animal fats found in so many mass-produced soaps.
Schmidt clearly revels in the blend of chemistry and creativity that goes into made-from-scratch soaps. "It was an addiction, immediately," she says. "As soon as I started, I would dream about making soaps. Most of my inspiration comes from my dreams."
And the results are fairly dreamy: a Citrus Black Pepper exfoliating soap that contains ground coffee. A Fresh Banana Buttermilk face soap made with real fruit. Cubano, a coconut milk soap - spiked with unsweetened cocoa - that smells like espresso, chocolate and vanilla, and a Nice Pear shaving bar that smells like a ripe pear and contains activated charcoal and green tea extract.
Brad, 48, provides administrative support for Product Body and tends its website. The freelance writer and recording engineer - he, too, has worn a few different hats - started one of the first web-design companies in the country in the mid-'90s in New York City, his hometown.
"Listen, I was the last guy on earth to care about any of this stuff," he says. "For me, soap is soap. It's just a tool you use to get clean."
And he believes that's indicative of Absolute Soap's potential for growth. He's sworn off Safeguard and Irish Spring, and "I know that if I have that kind of reaction, other people that don't know about soap will, too," he says.
To that end, the Schmidts are poised to take on what Brad calls "the traditional soap guys," the ones who rely on rendered animal fats and chemicals with hard-to-pronounce names. They'd like to see Sexy Laundry Day soap (which smells of ylang ylang, rosewood and musk) in supermarkets and Red Currant Sea Salt soap in hotels.
After trying on so many job titles, both Schmidts have found one that fits: builders of a body-product empire.
Says Joanna, "All I want to do is make soap and find people who appreciate it."
You can find Absolute Soap at Amici Market,
155 N. County Road in Palm Beach, or online at ProductBody.com.
Prices start at $4.95 for
a 4-ounce bar.