I've been in a lot of shops and businesses all over Wisconsin in the past year, and everywhere I look, Fern & Nettle is there. This line of all-natural handcrafted skincare is always beautifully packaged, smells absolutely delicious, and is made right here in Milwaukee. I've been dying to chat with the woman behind Fern & Nettle—check out my Q&A with Jenny below, and tune into Instagram for a Fern & Nettle giveaway this week!
My Midwest Is Showing: What's the history of Fern & Nettle?
Jenny Aicher: I was at Old World Wisconsin and saw a soap-making demonstration. I was intrigued and decided to learn to make soap and gift the soap for Christmas. I started the company with a good friend that I have known from our teenage years of going to punk and hardcore shows. We had always talked about starting a business together, so it was a natural progression. However, after about a year, we realized it wasn’t a good fit for our schedules with full time jobs and living a half hour apart. She went on to focus on her career, and I stuck with Fern & Nettle. (She still gets free soap.)
As a child, we had a family pumpkin farming business, so I caught the entrepreneur bug early on around age 5. It was our side hustle to help me and my brother save for college. There were many aspects of it I loathed (and found embarrassing as a kid), but it also taught me a lot about hard work and self-determination.
MMWIS: What are the different aspects of Fern & Nettle that you handle?
JA: I do almost all of it. Recently my husband, James, has taken on more of a role. He helps label the soaps, measure some ingredients, and keep inventory of soaps. He owns his own business as a personal trainer and runs a gym, so his schedule is a little more flexible during the day and can drop off deliveries to local shops. I create the products, packaging, marketing, and book keeping/business-y stuff. I manage the wholesale, consignment, and online sales, as well as applying to various markets.
MMWIS: How did you learn to make your products?
JA: It is different for every product. I initially took some classes on soap making, and then from there it was a lot of trial and error and research. It is still a lot of trial and error and more research.
MMWIS: What's your current favorite Fern & Nettle product?
JA: Only one?? This winter my skin has been so happy using our Nourishing Facial Oil. We spend a lot of time outdoors, and usually my skin takes a beating. This winter my skin is the best it has ever been.
MMWIS: What's your favorite beauty tip?
JA: In my 20s I worked as a makeup artist and tried to convert everyone to believing in a good mascara and filling in their eyebrows. Also, anyone can wear red lips—its about finding the right red and having/faking confidence. Today, I would consider my favorite beauty tip to be working out. Like too many women, I struggle with my self-image. I’ve found being active—lifting weights, running, yoga, backpacking—helps me mentally and emotionally—which in turn helps me to accept and appreciate my physical body and appearance. Find out what helps you feel good about yourself—that’s the best beauty tip.
MMWIS: What is your day job?
JA: My day job is an elementary school teacher at a public Montessori school. I teach 1st-3rd grade with 6-9 year old children. This is my 8th year teaching. I have an AMI diploma from the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee, and a Masters of Education from Loyola.
MMWIS: How do you balance your day job and Fern & Nettle?
JA: Hahaha—good question! It's tough. My husband tries to help out with what he can. I try to save bigger projects like website stuff, product development, ingredient research for summer when I have more time. Although it sometimes feels like having two full-time jobs, it also allows me a creative outlet and connects me to other people in the community. I love teachers, but after awhile I felt like all I was doing was talking about teaching, child behavior, and educational politics. While Fern&Nettle demands sometimes make me feel crazy, they also help me feel sane.
MMWIS: What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own business?
JA: Come up with an organization process early on. Waiting until the week before tax day to sort out a box of receipts is torture. Make connections with others in the community. Reach out to other business owners and help each other. Milwaukee’s maker community is amazing and inclusive.
Some days you will be excited about having your own business, sometimes you’ll wonder what the hell you’re doing, and somedays those days won’t be that far apart.
MMWIS: What are you currently reading? Watching? Listening to?
JA: Reading—children’s books. This month mostly a lot of picture biographies for Women’s History Month. A Magic Tree House book every few weeks. As a school teacher, and juggling that with the business, I struggle to find time to read for pleasure during the school year. I am halfway through My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem and Evicted by Matthew Desmond—hoping to make some progress on spring break.
Listening to—a lot of podcasts. I start my day with Up First and The Daily. When I am making soap, I listen to the Crooked Media podcasts, especially Lovett or Leave It and With Friends Like These. We recently binged on Young Charlie and Missing Richard Simmons. Music-wise, I have been revisiting a lot of the music I listened to in my late teens and early 20s — a lot of emo and some punk. Also, Beyonce and Drake Pandora playlists.
MMWIS: If someone was visiting Wisconsin for the first time, what would you tell them to do first?
JA: Go to Lake Michigan. Regardless of the weather, it is amazing. (Also, my favorite place to go in subzero temps.) Grant Park is always a good choice.
MMWIS: Favorite thing about the Midwest?
JA: I can’t narrow it down to one thing. The cost of living. The people. The seasons. Lake Michigan. Being close to friends and family. I tried to move away once to San Francisco. I loved it there, but came back, and quickly thereafter bought a house. My mortgage payment is less than my rent, and I have extra leftover to travel.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
JA: My accent! My love of cheese, beer, and brats. My Midwestern work ethic. I like to travel all over the country and am quick to strike up a conversation with strangers—especially at National Park visitor’s centers.