Reunited couple finds happiness in home-based business and each other.
Photos: Anthony Rao
Living frugally, clean and happy are the main goals for Ken and Alex O’Bright of Fruitland Park.
They found that out serendipitously.
In fact, that’s how most things in their lives have seemed to happen for Ken and Alex, including how their company Belladonna Apothecary came to be, how they ended up together and how they found their perfect home.
“All these things just brought us to this point. It’s like the universe was grooming us and that’s ok, because we are always creating something in some aspect of our lives. Every day is something new,” Alex says.
Ken and Alex married in high school and stayed together for seven years before divorcing.
They both remarried, but after nearly 15 years, she became a widow and he divorced. That’s when they found each other and reconnected.
“I’d been looking for her for 15 years and there were like blinders. I could never find her and then all of the sudden, it was like the universe told me, ‘Ok, here she is.’ It was like kismet,” Ken says. “People at work are like, ‘You remarried your first wife and it’s ok?’ And I tell them it’s better than ok.”
Before founding their ETSY-based shop, Alex worked for the TJX Corporation, traveling the country for 18 years launching openings of Home Goods, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx stores.
One day, during a trip with her boss, she unexpectedly called it quits.
“I was on the road 48 weeks a year. Finally, about three years ago, I was kind of burnt out from traveling. I was never home and I was like, ‘I can’t do it anymore,’ so I told my boss, ‘I’m done,’” Alex says. “It was never a planned thing that I was gonna quit and I was scared to death going from a reliable income every single week to being without that safety net and realizing it’s all on us.”
Ken, who has worked at Disney for 13 years, says: “It came as quite a shock.”
Soon after Alex resigned, the two were shopping together when she came out of a popular beauty-based store with what Ken considered pricey soaps.
It got him thinking, and the universe must have liked his idea, because after frying bacon at home later, he experienced an undeniable “ah-ha” moment.
“As a guy, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I cannot see spending $80 on six bars of soap,’ and that’s what led me to think of reusing and recycling the waste bacon grease I saw sitting there, rendering it down to a cake of lard and researching YouTube on how to make a bar of soap,” says Ken, laughing about how Alex was afraid of trying the first bar of soap he made from bacon grease. She feared she would smell funny. Now, she says she was truly surprised at how well it lathered.
Today, the soaps they sell at Belladonna – some vegan and none bacon – are made from all-natural ingredients, including French lavender, pine tar, patchouli, rose petals, pumpkin, apples, honey, oatmeal, goat’s milk, bayberry, sage, sandalwood, and many more.
In fact, no ingredient is off limits when added to the 7-oil blend Ken perfected.
“Each oil has a different characteristic. It’s all chemistry,” Ken says, explaining that he uses a blend of olive, palm, coconut, almond, sunflower, and castor oils as a base for every batch.
The soaps can be made into any shape and personalized for occasions like bridal showers and weddings, to beautify bathrooms, and more. In all, the art takes patience. Ken mixes the star ingredients for each batch into a 10-pound crate with the oils and some lye. After the mixture solidifies for at least 48 hours, it is cut with mandolin cutter, then cured for 30 days before it is packaged to be sold.
“I have about 30 scents available at all times,” Ken says.
Alex however, had other ideas, hence the second half of their business – handmade jewelry she makes from interesting and unique vintage pieces.
“I don’t like anything new, so I repurpose old things,” Alex says.
Ken adds, “She’s always been creative, making something all the way down to the curtains in our house, and if she doesn’t like something, she changes it.”
On Belladonna’s ETSY site, there are all kinds of jewelry choices, including necklaces made from old belt buckles, kyanite, sea glass and crystals, vintage stained glass, as well as pendants made from wooden ayahuasca mother vine slices from Peru.
Alex also has a patent on her one-of-a-kind “potion-naries” – Boho-inspired charms that feature vintage glass vials wrapped with custom-cut clippings from yellowed pages of antique dictionaries from throughout the world, and filled with complementary substances like rose petals for love, magnetic sand for luck, etc.
The happy couple plan on continuing what they are doing and relying on kismet’s direction, with Ken’s soaps and Alex’s potion-naries as their main products.
“We’re not a basic mold. We don’t fit in a mold. You can’t say, ‘They make soaps and they make unique jewelry,’ because it can expand, it can change in a whim,” Ken says.
Alex says they’ve avoided a storefront to keep prices affordable.
“We keep our overhead low and then our prices can stay reasonable for every income. There’s no reason why if you are lower income and can’t splurge on a special bar of soap. Everyone can buy a bar of soap at the dollar store, but maybe you need that special pick-me-up. The same goes for my jewelry,” Alex says.
She says most of their handcrafted soaps are $7 and all other items range from $5 to $200. Plus, every order includes a small gift and free shipping.
“We may not be the richest at this, but we are beyond happy,” Alex says. “And part of that is making others feel good too.”
If interested, people can browse Belladonna’s product line at etsy.com/shop/BelladonnApothecary or call 352.408.8183.
Ken and Alex also sell at farmers markets and arts and craft fairs throughout Central Florida and at Renninger’s. Select soaps and products can also be found in area shops, including Mia Bella Salon and Spa in Fruitland Park and Love on the Rocks in Mount Dora.