All Aboard! Meet the Captain and Founder of a Leading Ethical Beauty Brand
Intro and Interview by: Holly-Noelle Haworth
Feature Image: Heather Moore
All other images by: Captain Blankenship
One of the things I prioritize most in the beauty brands I shop from is their ability to incorporate ethically-sourced, natural ingredients into each of their products, and that’s because I view properly nourishing and caring for my skin and hair as a method of self-care. As a woman in business, I also love supporting woman-owned and -run companies. And that’s why I’ve become totally obsessed with Captain Blankenship, the beauty brand founded by Jana Blankenship. Here I chat with Jana about how she grew her business from making products in her personal kitchen to a leading beauty brand and how she carves out time both for herself and her family.
What is your educational background? Do you find that your education was valuable? If so, how? What do you wish you learned more of while in school?
I went to college at Cornell University and got two degrees, one in art and one in art history/religious studies. I also got a Master’s in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts. I definitely think that my background in the arts has deeply informed my practice. When I started my company, I thought of myself as a curator of scents and experiences, and I still do. The palette of plant-based ingredients I get to work with is rich and sensorial. All of the packaging has scanned watercolor washes I made and the logo came from my hand. If I could do it again, I definitely would have taken chemistry and business classes, but I have definitely learned by diving in head first.
Could you walk us through your career from your first job to what you do now? Would you say you were on a clear path in terms of your career?
Post-college, I worked in the arts, both in museum and galleries for many years and then went back for an MA in Curatorial Practice. I worked as a curator at a contemporary art space in San Francisco and started growing Captain Blankenship as a hobby in my kitchen. When [my husband and I] moved from San Francisco to the Hudson Valley in 2012 and I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, the path became clear to me. I realized I couldn’t and didn’t want to try to have a day job, run a business on the side, and raise a family. I chose to pour my energy into growing Captain Blankenship and my family and I never looked back.
Wow, so you used to be an art curator. Could you talk more specifically about what you do now?
I run Captain Blankenship and am a mama to Mila (5.5 years) and Caspian (3 years). My passion is developing new products and getting to work on all the creative aspects of the company when I can. I try as best I can to balance work, family, and my own needs. Family comes first, and I am grateful that I can make my own schedule around what my kids needs. Sometimes it means I need to work late at night or early in the morning, but I am so thankful it is up to me.
Can you tell us more about the Captain Blankenship brand?
Our motto at Captain Blankenship is “beauty wild with nature.” We create clean beauty products made from the best plant-based ingredients that are ethically sourced, gentle, and effective. Captain Blankenship has a focus on haircare while our Sailor by Captain Blankenship line is skincare and grooming. We came from the ocean and I feel my best fresh from the sea, as so many sea-based ingredients like seaweed and sea salt are highly beneficial for skin and hair.
I am obsessed with your company’s branding—love the focus on the sea. What elements are at the core of your brand, and how did you come up with the branding?
Thank you! Well it wasn’t very well thought and mostly intuitive. My husband’s last name is Blankenship and I absolutely loved it and still do. When we got married, a friend joked I was going to be the Captain of the Blankenship. When I started the company, I didn’t consider any other names—that was it. I love to draw and just started doodling the logo to the company and found one that stuck. All the backgrounds for the packaging are scanned watercolors I made, as is the seaweed border. It was so fun to work on. The ocean has always been one of my main sources of inspiration and wonder. It is where we come from. Life developed from a one-celled organism in the ocean into this wild world we live in now. The core elements in Captain Blankenship are plant-based ingredients, including organic essential oils and organic seaweed extracts.
Does your company have a social mission?
Yes, we are a B Corp, which means we are a public benefit corporation driven by passion and social responsibility. We are also 1% Percent for the Planet, meaning we donate 1% of our annual sales to environmental organizations. Social and environmental responsibility is at the heart of Captain Blankenship. We have always used recyclable glass packaging for our products and are always looking for ways to innovate with sustainable packaging. We are also looking for ways to source our ingredients directly from cooperatives or farmers as a way to support and honor their work. We recently started sourcing our fair trade, organic shea butter from a women’s cooperative in Uganda and are so excited about that partnership.
“The core elements in Captain Blankenship are plant-based ingredients, including organic essential oils and organic seaweed extracts.”
What do you think is unique about your company?
I think the beauty of the sensuous plant-based ingredients, as well as the experiential essential oil-based scents. I always say you will find the oceans, forests, and fields in every bottle. The products are also easy and effortless to us, nothing high maintenance about them. I also think it is my unwillingness to compromise. I see as many companies scale, they start to lose sight of their values. We have an extensive list of what you will never find in our products, including petrochemicals and synthetic fragrance.
How can women incorporate Captain Blankenship products into their daily beauty rituals?
Easily! We make your essentials for skin care products (gel cleanser, oil-based cleanser, toner, moisturizer, mask, spot treatment), for body care (deodorant, body cream) and for hair care (shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, hair oil, sea salt hair spray, dry shampoo). We also make essential oil-based room and body sprays for your space and spirit. All these products are easy to integrate into your life and highly effective. I am wild for scent and all the gentle, essential oil-based scents are experiential and uplifting. My hope is always that these products bring joy to people’s days.
What do you hope women feel when using your products?
I hope our products become an anchor in your beauty ritual. I hope they bring a joyful moment of pause, a feeling of connection to the power of nature, and an experience of its beauty.
Being a business owner is, undoubtedly, tough. What does your day-to-day look like?
I wake up with my kids in the morning, usually around 7am. I try to meditate for a few minutes often with my son sitting on my lap. I have breakfast with them and get them off to school. I head to my office, which is only 10 minutes away on country roads. I spend from roughly 9.30am to 3pm Monday to Thursday in my office with my amazing team of eight women. Days are full of phone calls or emails. It’s usually all hands on deck, but we always make time for lunch (which we alternate making). On Fridays, I work from home. In the afternoon, after the kids get home from school, I spend time with them. It ranges from taking my daughter to art and dance classes, pushing them in the stroller to run or walk our beloved Siberian Husky, or playing outside at the playground or in our yard. I make dinner, bathe them, and put them to asleep. Then, I usually fall asleep myself unless there is work I need to get done. Being a mama has definitely changed the way I work. I am protective of my time with my family, so it means I have to be highly efficient at work. I don’t deliberate over things like I used to—I just trust my instincts and go.
What was the most valuable thing you were told before starting your own company? Did you have a mentor or did you jump in on your own?
I actually think the most valuable thing is that I wasn’t told what it’s like to run a business. Everyone was so supportive on my decision to start a business and no one warned me how crazy it is to actually run a business! I think if I had known, I wouldn’t have ever started a business and, in the end, I am so grateful I did. I studied natural perfumery with Mandy Aftel, and she is my mentor and a dear friend. She is a teacher, perfumer, author, and museum founder. I am continually inspired by her and the integrity and passion with which she runs her business and leads her life.
What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome as a business owner?
I would say it has definitely been trying to scale the business with integrity. I have definitely made so many mistakes and learned so many lessons, and I am always sharing them in case it can help others. The company started in my kitchen and no one can really prepare you when you need to change from producing something in small batches to thousands of units. It is very hard to find a great manufacturing partner and a big production mistake can really damage your company’s profits and reputation. Luckily, we recently found an amazing, certified organic manufacturing partner who we love to work with and can scale with.
…and the greatest reward?
The biggest reward is getting to hear from and connect with customers who love our products and support us. It makes it all worthwhile.
Is there anything your customers can look forward to in the near future?
We are re-launching our Mer-Mane Shampoo and Conditioner this May. They are an incredible duo that gently cleanses and conditions hair and adds texture naturally. They are such a delight to use and they truly give you your best hair. The packaging is made from 100% recycled ocean-bound plastic. We launched them first in 2016, but have revised the formulas to make them even more beautiful and effective. Plus they smell wildly delicious, you will want to eat them!
I also wrote a book called Wild Beauty that will be coming out in July. It is a personal and practical guide to clean beauty full of anecdotes, tips, and recipes to help you integrate plant-based ingredients into your beauty and wellness rituals. It contains 45 easy-to-make recipes for perfumes, room sprays, skin care, body care, and hair care, as well as tonics and teas for health. It is a passionate and engaging immersion into the sensuous and life-altering power of wild beauty.
As a business owner, it can be hard to carve out time for self-care. How do you ensure your priorities stay aligned? Do you have any self-care tips for our readers that have helped you remain balanced?
It sure is. I need to take time for myself everyday, but am understanding if it isn’t as much as I [hoped for] or if it gets interrupted. I have to carve out time every day to run, walk, or hike with my husky and I really look forward to that time. I carve time outside and we live in a beautiful place, with forests, mountains, and waterfalls. I also try to spend a little time meditating when I first wake up. I find I feel so much more peaceful and productive going into my day if I give myself some time to relax and breathe before jumping in.
How do you measure success? Do you think women can “have it all”?
Success is definitely a state of mind and everyone measures it differently. To me, it goes hand in hand with confidence, happiness, and feeling passionate about your path. Women can definitely have it all. It is trusting yourself and your intuition to make the right decisions for you, your family, and for the world. The world needs you to be yourself!
If you could tell your younger self one thing right now, what would it be?
I would say, don’t take yourself or life so seriously.
“To me, [success] goes hand in hand with confidence, happiness, and feeling passionate about your path.”
Describe yourself in three words. Creative Silly Mama
Drink of choice? Ginger lemon turmeric honey tea or a glass of red wine
Favorite cuisine? I love Italian food.
Motto, mantra, or phrase you tell yourself on the daily? I remind myself to stay connected and remember we are all a part of everything else.
Favorite beach on Earth? Agate Beach in West Marin and the rocky beaches of my childhood to adult summers in Sorrento, Maine.
Book you’ve read more than once? Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
Role model? My mom and grandmothers. They were/are fiercely independent women that built their lives around family, passion, and the pursuit of knowledge.
Favorite girl power movie? As the mom of a young girl, I love Moana. Also, Beyonce’s Lemonade is a must.
Song you can’t stop belting out in the car? I love listening to the Grateful Dead in the car and singing along, since the words are so beautiful and it calms me down. (I am not a big fan of driving.) Also…anything by David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac.