Motherlove founder, Kathryn Higgins (second from left) is pictured with her daughters and Motherlove co-owners, from left, Zenna Eastwood, Silencia Cox, and Jasmin Cox. Courtesy Motherlove
Motherlove: ‘Doing the right thing for the right reasons’
By Dallas Heltzell — May 5, 2021 From Bizwest.com
FORT COLLINS — Going organic became the thing to do a generation ago, and many budding entrepreneurs tried to capitalize on the trend, especially with health-related product lines. Larger corporations moved in to absorb the market, however, either squeezing out or buying up smaller competitors.
That’s why the journey of one small Larimer County business is all the more remarkable. An idea that started in Kathryn Higgins’ kitchen crockpot now boasts about 30 products, sales in the millions and global reach.
All it took was a little love. Motherlove, that is. The Fort Collins-based company manufactures natural and organic personal-care products, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Its little blue glass bottles are common sights on the shelves of retailers such as Whole Foods, Sprouts and Target.
“My mother started the business when she was pregnant with me by gathering and harvesting herbs that grew in the forest,” said Motherlove chief executive Silencia Cox. “We lived up Rist Canyon, and she’d make some products in mason jars and crockpots in our kitchen for her own pregnancy and birth experience. She was also an educator; she’d do classes on wild and medicinal plants.
“The owner of our local food co-op attended one of her classes,” Cox said. “She was really impressed with the products my mother was making and asked if she would be willing to sell them in her stores.”
Higgins bottled her herbal concoctions with hand-written labels including the slogan “Made With Love” and started selling them at farmers markets and local food co-ops. She’d also send them off with the UPS driver on his weekly drive up the canyon.
Higgins comes from a health-conscious family. Her grandfather and uncle had worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Cox said, “so my mother grew up in a family that was steeped in western medicine. Herbal medicine was more ‘alternative medicine.’ When she first started, picking herbs in the forest and making lotions and potions, they saw it as maybe a little ‘hippie’ medicine. But once we really started to gain popularity with moms who were using it and it was working for them and retailers were taking notice and picking it up, the family was very much in support.
“So for her being from such a medically minded family and community to start using herbal medications, things that have been more traditionally used, was her way of bridging the two worlds.”
Higgins turned her home hobby into Motherlove Herbal Co. in 1990.
“We were niched specifically for pregnancy and breastfeeding, so we worked closely with a lot of maternity retailers — stores like Clothes Pony in downtown Fort Collins that specialized in women’s and children’s clothes,” Cox said. “We really started to gain more traction when we started working with lactation consultants since most of our supplements are to increase breast-milk supply and support breast-feeding moms. And those are our two top-selling products – our line of products to support breast-milk supply and our nipple cream.”
Two years later her products were being sold at Whole Foods when it was just a single store in Austin, Texas. “That’s when the natural/organic food movement really increased,” Cox said.
Demand for Motherlove products led Higgins in 1995 to relocate her operation from her home to a 1,000-square-foot space in Laporte, then in 2014 to its current 17,000-square-foot plant at 1420 Riverside Ave., Suite 114, in Fort Collins. Its body-care products are made there, while its herbal supplements are made offsite by a contract manufacturer.
Higgins retired in 2015, turning the business over to her daughters Silencia and Jasmin Cox and Zenna Eastwood.
Growth has forced some changes, especially how the herbal ingredients are obtained. There’s no more forays into the forest.
“There are a variety of farmers we work closely with to source ingredients,” Silencia Cox said. “We now have all of our herbs certified organic, so in order to obtain organic certification, it has to be an agency overseeing the farm, and they don’t just go out into the forest to make sure there are no pesticides there. Wildcrafting is a great way to gather herbs, but it doesn’t qualify for organic certification. And besides, we go through tens of thousands of pounds of them, so it wouldn’t be sustainable to harvest them anymore.”
Although rates of breastfeeding have been increasing for a decade, she said, “the No. 1 reason mothers say they stop before they want to is because of low milk supply and sore nipples. Different herbs like moringa and fenugreek are widely known to help support breast-milk supply. It’s the same as when you’re not feeling well, you might drink elderberry or echinacea tea to help support the immune system. The plants that are in our products are the active functional herbs.
“It’s the same with the nipple cream,” she said. “All our oils are infused with herbs; it’s not just the lotion, it’s not just moisturizing. It truly is helping soften and heal.”
Motherlove is a certified B Corporation that now employs 22 people, Cox said. “We provide good-paying jobs in the community. We do it in a really sustainable way, by being solar-powered and packaging in glass. We give back a portion of our revenue to local charities.”
The challenge for Motherlove is finding new customers.
“You’re pregnant for nine months, breastfeed a year, do that a couple times in your life and then you move on,” she said, “so we’re constantly having to target a new mom or new user. We primarily do that through our relationship with lactation consultants. They’re the advisers and recommenders. If we have a strong relationship with them, every time they see a new mom, they say, ‘Oh, what you need is this’ — rather than us just out there hoping we get noticed on the shelf.
“The blessing in it is that we’re so niche that we’re experts in our demographic,” she said. “We’re not making soap, lotion, shampoo and something for everybody. We’re making something for a pregnant mom and a breastfeeding mom. So we know what she’s going through. We know the obstacles, we know the types of things she’s looking for. That allows us to focus our messaging and target our products for that specific person. If there’s ever a time in a woman’s life when she’s really going to do research about what’s best or what she should be putting in or on her body, it’s going to be while she’s pregnant.”
Although Motherlove focuses on its core products — the nipple cream, the breast-milk production booster and a salve to soothe pregnant women’s expanding bellies — it occasionally develops a new line, including the morning-sickness blend that hit Whole Foods’ shelves last month.
Structural change is inevitable as well.
“I’m happy to carry on my mom’s legacy, but I couldn’t do it alone,” Cox said. “We have really great other executives in the organization who help drive the business. We’ll continue to lean into other people who know how to run a business. It’ll continue to be family owned, but it may not always be family run.”
Still, she added, “what we’re doing works, and if we can continue to do that, provide good products for women in their time of need, that’s what our mission is and that’s what we’re going to continue to do — slow and steady, doing the right thing for the right reasons.”Motherlove’s best-selling products, Nipple Cream and More Milk Plus, help moms meet their breastfeeding goals. Courtesy Motherlove