Story by: Susan Fletcher
Photos by: Tessa Harvey
Café Earth, a new line of natural home fragrances and body products, was born out of Erica Buelow’s years of experience as an interior designer, small business owner, and her own spiritual journey. To Erica, Café Earth is the culmination of a professional and personal journey to return to natural simplicity. “Our bodies are so calloused and covered up with synthetics, we don’t really know how we feel,” she said. “Going back to the gifts we receive from the earth, there’s so many resources that can be gathered respectfully and responsibly. They can be regrown and were given to us as a gift to be used in a responsible way.”
These lessons have been years in the making. Hailing from Florida, Erica recalls a story her mother told about giving her a dollhouse at the age of 3. Instead of playing with the dolls, Erica intently and constantly rearranged all of the furniture in the dollhouse, foreshadowing her future career. At 16, Erica moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and studied interior design at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Erica’s interior design program emphasized the psychology of people in their environment and how aesthetics make people feel. “That helped me learn how to connect with people when I’m dealing with such a personal part of their life—which is their home,” she explained. She earned her undergraduate degree in interior design and her graduate degree in business management. During her 9 years in Tennessee, Erica worked for multiple companies—including Yessicks, a large design firm in the Southeast.
Several life-changing events sent Erica on a soul-searching journey to reshape her future. In early 2001, she left Tennessee, traveling with her Great Dane Sidney on a circuitous route through Montana, Washington, and California, trying to find the next steps in life. Over the 2001 holidays, a connection in Denver invited her to Colorado and offered to let her stay in a downtown loft to give her time to figure things out.
Erica arrived in Denver in 2002—in the midst of an economically and emotionally low point in her life and alone in an unfamiliar state. “I woke up one morning crying, and I started praying because I didn’t know what else to do or where to go,” Erica recalled. The answer was just around the corner. That same afternoon, she got a phone call for a job interview at Homestead House Furniture for a sales position. At the interview, the company surprised her by offering her the job of Design Manager instead, which was a much better fit for Erica’s personality. Erica was delighted. “It was an answer to prayer. I dove into the job and loved it.”
On a whim, she moved to Colorado Springs in 2003 and quickly procured a job at Arvada Hardwood. She did design work for John Laing Homes, Pulte, and other local builders. During one particular design appointment, she met the man who would become her future husband. Things seemed to be truly coming together, and Erica decided it was time to fulfill a long-time dream of opening her own retail store with design services.
In November 2011, Erica opened her store Earthen Artisan House in Old Colorado City. She featured local artisans, merchandise from American-made companies, and custom furniture. However, the dream of a storefront was not to last. After 2 ½ years, she decided to close the store, realizing that retail was changing and interior design jobs were paying the bills rather than the storefront. Erica had several loyal, supportive customers, but took note that many others admired the store as inspiration for their own projects, rather than actually purchasing things from her. Unfortunately, simply inspiring others didn’t pay the bills.
Although this seeming failure of a dream might’ve disheartened her, Erica doesn’t see it that way. “Effortless success has made it easy to take people’s ideas and call them our own,” she explained. “It may appear complimentary, but it’s sad. We all do it. There’s work and effort in being original and authentic.” The inherent demands of a small business owner convinced her that it was time to step away. After closing the store, Erica felt like God was telling her to let go of her pride, to focus on her relationship with Him, and to remember to “seek Him first, and everything else will be provided.” During this time, she learned how to balance life, working through her sense of failure and loss.
In the months to follow, Erica returned to an aspect of her original business plan for Earthen Artisan House—an aspect that had long been in her heart: Café Earth, a line of natural body products and home fragrances. “If something has been put in your heart to do, I think it’s important to follow that,” she said. Her first Café Earth products launched in November 2015, which are candles and lip balm. All of her candles are comprised of sustainably processed, 100% Kosher soy wax, with 100% cotton wicks designed to burn cleanly. The lip balms are all natural and scented with essential oils. Erica has plans to introduce scented wax blocks, all natural shave bars for men and women, lotions, soaps, and essential oil roller balls and sprays.
Café Earth merchandise includes three collections: Roots, Reminisce, and Elemental. The names of her individual products are as evocative as the names of her collections. “I’m a very imaginative person,” Erica said. “I love my solitude and sit with my thoughts for hours, and that’s where I create.” Erica imagines a title for her newest scents before she even begins to experiment with combinations of oils to make them. For instance, in her Roots line, which is targeted to men, Erica thought of the names—Cut Lumber, Tamped Tobacco, Worn Leather, and Smoking Gun—then went about mixing fragrances to match what she imagined those scents to be. The Reminisce line features products that invoke the feeling of fall and winter, with spicy and comforting candle scents, such as Cider by the Fire and Snowy Mountain. Her Elemental line features herbal and citrus notes that evoke springtime, like Lavender Mint and Neroli Lime.
For the future, Erica plans to launch four more lines: Lux, coconut based products for mature skin; Nectar, based on honey and beeswax; Sentient, a vegan line; and Café, a line of candles that smell like you could eat them. For now, Erica is starting small, testing the markets, and letting her products develop a life of their own.
Whereas Erica relied on her years of education and experience in her interior design business, she is enjoying learning an entirely new field as she creates her Café Earth merchandise. “It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever done. I get to be creative, but it’s scientific. There’s different math and chemistry and all these fun things that I’m learning to explore…I’m learning as I go, and I’m loving every piece of it.”
Erica encourages her fellow entrepreneurs and business owners to be authentic and courageous in pursuing their original ideas. “Make sure what you are doing is authentic to you. If it is not, you’ll lose passion. Learn you can’t do it all on your own and surround yourself with people you trust. Be willing to accept constructive criticism.” From the wisdom she has learned on her professional and spiritual journey, Erica advised: “It’s not all about me. It’s not all about my ideas or what I want the picture to look like. It’s about who I am serving. If you are not serving someone, you’re just serving yourself.”
Erica is enjoying the new lifestyle that her business offers, the creative process involved in Café Earth, and the opportunities she has to connect with the community again. “I’m happy,” she says, “I love life right now and am grateful. If anything, Café Earth has been a journey to get back to simplicity, back to nature, and the good of the Earth—the gifts we receive daily.”
Customers can purchase Café Earth products online at www.cafearth.com, and also at Camino Massage Therapy, Tattered to Treasured, Rich Designs Home, and Vie Boutique Downtown in Colorado Springs, CO, as well as Mountain Made in Salida, CO.