We caught up with Issa Dixon, owner of the essential oil company Hollow & Ridge, and here’s what she had to say about making, mixing and turning a passion into a business:
Tell us a little about Hollow & Ridge? Why did you start it? Was there a need that you saw in the market, are you following a personal passion?
I am definitely following a passion. Getting back to my roots at this stage in life has become very important to me. When I am distilling I gain a sense peace and satisfaction. I grew up in rural West Virginia where I was raised with all of this knowledge about the healing properties, which can be found in our natural surroundings. And I had let that knowledge sit dormant for some time. For years I did little to embrace my hippie upbringing. I know now the skills taught to me by my parents, along with some local moon shining “good ol boys”, are treasures not to be wasted. Growing up in a rural environment teaches you patience and the rewards of hard work.
What’s behind the name?
I grew up down a Hollow and was born on a Ridge. Putting the two together felt very natural. My husband helped me put it together and gave me the thumbs up!
How did you get interested in essential oils?
Born and raised in rural West Virginia, I learned to make do with my natural surroundings from a very young age. My parents, along with many others, made a mad rush out of their suburban upbringings in the 60′s to try their hand in homesteading and living off the grid. We had a community of woodworkers, midwives, artists, farmers, mechanics, musicians. teachers and more. I was taught the value of medicinal plants early on. Many times my parents had to use what grew on the farm to heal us kids (and farm animals) of basic ailments. I wanted to make an essential oil blend that not only smells great but also promotes well-being.
Tell us a little about your making process, ingredients you use, how you source them. Any special or unusual tools or equipment you use?
I use a 20-gallon handmade copper still for the lavender that goes into all Hollow & Ridge products. I source my lavender buds from all over. Using a mix of from the East coast, West coast, and France gives my oils a unique quality. Controlling the distillation process ensures the highest quality. For the other ingredients, I have sourced from the best: small, socially responsible distilleries around the world. It is very important that, like me, the farms I work with make their oil from small, single run distillations (meaning plant material gets processed only once). Small batches are key to high quality.
How did you decide on what products to make? Do you have a favorite?
I wanted to start with concentrated oil blends. Experimenting with over 100 oils, matching the therapeutic effects with an excellent scent, making charts from plant data sheets, dousing friends and family with various (good and bad) fragrance blends, and meeting small producers of other high quality oils was very appealing.
A great part of my interest happened through travel. Roadtripping in my 1972 Uhaul camper (aka the egg) with my 11 year old son is my favorite way to visit new places and pick up fresh lavender. Awhile back I was returning from a long trip when I stopped at a small organic run lavender farm in VA. That was the moment for me. That same trip I remember reading a friend’s book on moonshining, and putting the two together. Paired with the knowledge and skills, which were already in place – I found my calling.
My favorite blend is probably Balance (blend 505). This one took the longest. I love the way just the right amount of vetiver and patchouli blended together gives an earthy, yet subtle scent. The rose otto I use adds a special uplifting floral note. It’s a great combination and smells amazing on both men and women.
What inspires you?
It’s more of a “who” than a “what”, I think. All “makers” inspire me. My friends back home in rural WV who continue to teach the next generation the importance of self-sufficiency. My dad inspires me. Despite his physical disabilities, he still comes out to pick weeds from my garden when he comes to PA for a visit. He is constantly telling me I need more worms in my compost. My beautiful stepfather who lives near the same ridge I was born on inspires me. He is a master at finding “sweet spots ” on the 300 acres on which he lives. He can tell you about every tree, bug, and herb on the farm, giving every living thing a place to grow organically. My mentors Dr. Joie Powers and Gabriel Mojay inspire me with the years of knowledge they have in aromatherapy. Lastly, my husband and photographer Trevor Dixon inspires me. He makes art everyday and he makes it look so easy. Putting himself out there on a daily basis gives me confidence to do my own thing.
Tell us a bit about your workspace? Where is it? How’s it set up?
I do all my blending, distillation, and bottling in my home in Narberth Pennsylvania. We renovated a good size room that allows me to have all my herbs, bottles, and pictures in one spot with plenty of room to grow. My still sits smack in the middle of the chaos, allowing me to monitor temperature and oil production closely.
Any music you need to have on or rituals you need to do in order to work?
I have a very old record player that I rock out to while distilling. Everything from Loretta Lynn to Tchaikovsky. I also have a sweet spot for Pantera. Music is a huge part of my life. I feel most at home going to music festivals. Any kind, anywhere.
What’s the best thing about being a small business owner? Biggest challenge?
Small businesses are so important. Without them we would all be living in a unimaginative, non-experimental, boring world. It’s the small guys that give the big guys good ideas. But on the flip side, the challenge is actually being a small business.
Any advice you’d like to give others who are thinking about starting a business?
Patience, research, and education are key. Find a mentor. Don’t forget to breathe.
Are there any new projects you are particularly proud of or currently working on?
I am gearing up for the release of a new face and body tonic. It is made from fresh lavender hydrosol that I procure from lavender buds. There is nothing like freshly distilled lavender hydrosol (water). Shortly after this we will be releasing his and hers lip balm. Just in time for Winter. And I’m so proud to share that soon Hollow & Ridge products will be sold in stores and online at Anthropologie.
What’s on the horizon?
Hopefully a long full life of lavender distillation, new products, and more travel.
To learn more about Issa Dixon and Hollow & Ridge, click here.