The ocean lies about 15 miles from Marnie Jackson’s Nicasio farm but it’s a fixture in her daily ruminations as she tends to her sheep and rabbits. In particular, she considers how we humans are destroying it through particles of plastic and the choices we make at the grocery store.
As a mother of two, including a son currently studying marine biology, Ms. Jackson had the next generation in mind when she established Black Mountain Beauty, an environmentally-conscious supplier of handmade bars of shampoo and conditioner and cosmetics. Her mission is to create a zero-waste beauty line of organic and cruelty-free products featuring biodegradable or refillable packaging.
“The whole thing is I’m making products that your grandmother would have used—no chemicals, additives or cruelty to animals—using stuff found in your kitchen,” she said inside her kitchen-turned laboratory. “For instance, they used lanolin oil from sheep’s wool as the basis for all lotions.”
Her website currently offers about a dozen beauty products that ditch one-use plastic packaging. Her highlighter and sugar scrub come in small mason jars and her shampoo and conditioner comes in bars wrapped in recycled paper cut out in the shape of a heart.
Most of her ingredients are sourced from her 100-acre Black Mountain Farm, where she lives with her husband, Witt, and teenage daughter, Ellie Rose. Ms. Jackson is also a fiber farmer who creates clothing from the Wenslydale sheep and Angora rabbits she raises.
Just about every product in the Black Mountain Beauty line features coconut oil—one of the few ingredients she has to outsource, and she buys it from Trader Joe’s. The shampoo bars combine coconut, olive and jojoba oils into a smooth mix while the conditioner is created with rapeseed, coconut butter and coconut oil.
Her customers so far have been friends and family, and they’ve conveyed their compliments. A surfer in Bolinas told her the bar shampoo takes the frizz out of her hair and her husband said it has bested Head & Shoulders for his dandruff. And since the products are bars and not liquids, they’re ideal for traveling.
“If friends ask for something, I’ll try to make it,” she said. “I’ll play around with ingredients and find out what works.”
Ms. Jackson sold out of bars at the craft fair at the Marin Civic Center this past holiday season, and taught a crafts class about soaps at Mostly Natives Nursey in Point Reyes Station (where bars are available). She said she is considering opening up her home for more classes in the future.
She modeled her business after the British company Lush, which makes natural hair and beauty products using only vegetarian or vegan recipes, and sometimes refers to the boutique company Chagrin Valley Soap for ingredient ideas. She’s not planning on any scaling up to the sizes of these other companies, however.
“I don’t know if I want to mass produce because I’m really into local,” she said. “If I can change 10 family’s lives by having bar shampoo over bottle shampoo, that’s my goal. I always tell people if you don’t like my stuff, buy from these other companies. I don’t see it as competition, but cooperation. The goal is less plastic, not to make money, and to make people think twice.”
The hyper-local focus behind Black Mountain Beauty has its origin in Ms. Jackson’s early childhood. She was born in White Bear Lake, Minn. but her family soon relocated to the coastal town of Arenzano in northwest Italy, where they lived among century-old farms. She said everyone knew each other’s names, and the lifestyle left a lasting impression.
Back in the States, she attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she received a degree in psychology and a master’s in special education. She took a job working at a school in Menlo Park and worked for five years as a special-needs teacher for the County of San Mateo.
But upon turning 40 years old, Ms. Jackson grew wearying of living in the suburbs and the family arrived in Nicasio 13 years ago. “I wanted to live in a place like in Italy, where everyone knows everyone,” she said.
She hit the farm running and established a group of women called the Homesteaders, where neighbors joined together to help each other with chores—“jobs that are better with a group,” she said. “Like the olden days, when making a quilt: you need 10 women to help you.” The Homesteaders caught wild beehives, made things like shoes, butchered turkeys and canned tomatoes and jams. Her guiding philosophy is that prosperity is achieved through togetherness.
“We need to shop, act and think locally,” she said. “When it all goes down—let’s say, like what happened in the North Bay fires—if you don’t have a relationship with your neighbors, you don’t have anything.”
To learn more about Marnie Jackson’s beauty line, visit blackmountainbeauty.net.