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Couple leaves city life to start new business in the country

A couple in west Rowan County decided to leave the hustle and bustle of city life and start their own business on a farm.

Louis Hess and Guy Bostian own and operate Hessian Studio, which sells handmade products such as wax candles and bar soap. The couple works out of a converted garage on Bostian’s family farm off of Mooresville Road. They started selling their products early this year through their website and at farmers and craft markets around the state.

• • •

Hess and Bostian first met in New York City seven years ago. Hess, originally from upstate New York, was in advertising, working for global agencies, like Y&R, and traveling often.

Bostian, who graduated from West Rowan High School, had lived in New York since the late 1990s, first doing freelance news production for networks like ABC and CBS before joining a production company.

Every since they met, Hess said, they talked about ways to “escape” from the city.

Hess did art design on the side, and he’s always had an interest in essential oils and aromatherapy.

One night, Hess had a dream about a line of candles with Native American names for the moon he’d seen in old Farmers’ Almanacs. He thought about other products he could make, and told Bostian about his idea.

Bostian was ready for something new. He said the routine in New York had gotten old, and that he was “ready to pull my hair out.”

• • •

The product line for Hessian Studios is inspired by items Bostian and Hess have come across on their travels. The business name is a combination of “Hess” and “Bostian.”

Their products include: the Almanac candle collection, bar soap, pine-cone fire starter, bath soaks and mosquito repellent.

“If we bought that stuff, and we like to make it, I’m sure there’s a market for it,” Hess said about why they decided to go into business.

All the products are made with natural ingredients, which Bostian and Hess order or grow in their garden. The pine cones are collected from around the farm. They’re dipped in beeswax and sold by the dozen in little burlap sacks.

“We compete with the squirrels,” Hess said about gathering pine cones.

The soap bars have a shea-butter base with oatmeal mixed in and are blended with essential oils to add fragrances.

The soap base comes in 25-pound blocks, and Bostian cuts it into small cubes that are put into a pitcher and then melted in the microwave. He adds oatmeal and oils before pouring the mix into silicone molds. One batch makes six bars of soap.

The candles, with names like “Snow Moon” and “Sprouting Grass Moon,” are made from a soy wax. The wax is put in a pot, which is then put in a pot of water on a heating plate. The hot water melts the wax, which is allowed to cool before being poured into 7 ounce Weck jars. Hess uses chopsticks to hold the wick in place while he pours the wax.

Everything happens in the studio and the packaging room next to it. The studio also serves as the business office where Hess manages the website, checks email and designs the packaging for the products.

Bostian converted the old garage into the studio. It is small and has an old wood stove for heat. Hess decorated the room, and one of the main features is rocks, which he’s always enjoyed collecting. Framed black and white photographs hang from the walls. A window at the rear of the room looks out on the farm. Sometimes their chickens come by and watch through the window as Bostian and Hess work.

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In March 2013, Bostian came back to Mooresville to help take care of his father, Melvin, who was ill. As his father’s condition worsened, Bostian told Hess he wouldn’t be coming back to New York, and Hess started making plans to move South. Hess arrived in January. But Bostian’s father passed away in April.

• • •

Hess and Bostian said their new life running the business is a relief from the hectic, non-stop lifestyle of New York — where Hess said he was regularly working 16-hour days. “Now when I think about my life … it’s so completely changed,” Hess said.

However, they said getting their business off the ground hasn’t been easy. Spreading the word about Hessian Studio on social media has been a priority. They’ve sent their products to friends in New York and to popular retailers. ZINC in Salisbury carries their items too, and they said the business has been well received at the Salisbury Farmers Market. Most of their orders come through the website, www.hessianstudio.com.

Hess said they’re working to identify their market — not everyone is willing to pay $5 for a bar of soap or $20 for a candle, he said. It’s a luxury niche that they cater to, and their competition is mostly other online retailers, he said.

But with more and more people paying attention to where products are made and who is making them, Hess said there is room for growth. Bostian said customer feedback has been mostly posiive so far.

The couple caught a big break when their business was chosen to be a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made contest. They didn’t win, but Bostian said being a finalist got them a lot of attention, and orders started coming in from around the country.

Hessian Studio doesn’t have a large stock of items, and Bostian and Hess make each product based on demand. If a large order comes in from a retailer, like when Kaufmann-Mercantile ordered 100 jars of mosquito repellent, it can’t always be filled in one shipment.

Having your significant other as a business partner has its up and downs, they said. Arguments happen, but their different skill sets compliment each other, Hess said.

Hess, with his creative imagination, thinks up new products and designs while Bostian’s production background brings order and stability to the business.

• • •

Bostian and Hess said in the next year they want to define their market, and that they’ve enjoyed the first year of owning their own business.

“When you own your own business you’re putting your heart and soul into it,” Hess said.

Bostian said he loves being back home. “I like the slower pace,” he said, “Better quality of life here than in the city.”

They said they’re not sure what will happen with the business in the long term, but Bostian said they “feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

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