Alana Rivera, Founder, Etta+Billie
If you say “soap in San Francisco,” the first words out of someone’s mouth is always “Etta and Billie.” The long-time body, home, and soap brand have been brewing, molding, and melting since the early days of “makerhood” in the Bay Area. So much so, that Alana Rivera (the founder of Etta+Billie) herself has expanded the brand to every corner of the country and now going international in various small businesses. Though, Alana Rivera hasn’t forgotten her roots, still making her magic in the first studio she began the business in. We caught up with Alana during a normal day at the office in Bayview.
Etta + Billie, the names of both your grandmothers, how did their essence influence you as a maker and businesswoman?
They both were very strong-willed, vivacious ladies. I think their sense of adventure and doing things their own way rubbed off on me.
From inception, the brand has always stuck to incredibly natural products, how has the process evolved since day 1?
As you mentioned, I have been fiercely committed to natural ingredients from the beginning and that focus has always affected our decisions from ingredients to packaging to the kind of paper towels we buy. The creation process is very similar to my original methods, we just use more tools (bigger pots, more trays, etc) and have upped our batch sizes but I’m still really hardcore about our ingredients.
And you haven’t strayed away from the brand’s mission, collaboration and innovation, what have been some growing pains and how did you overcome these? Or if you have?
So many growing pains! Each year brings its challenges because that’s an innate part of growth. I try to approach each new challenge with our mission and core beliefs in mind that sustainable business is possible and that we’re helping folks take better showers with better ingredients. The biggest growing pains have often been around meeting demands and making the business run more efficiently. When I can’t figure these things out on my own (which happens a lot) I often reach out to my network of business friends or tap experts to help. Know when I need to ask for help and who to ask has been one of the best lessons I’ve learned after being in business so long.
You had a joke about how your grandmother wanted 1MIL of your company for using her name, can she still hold you to that?
Ha! Yep, grandma Billie was a bit of a firecracker, she sadly passed away a few years ago after battling dementia but I can guarantee that she would hold me to it if she were still alive!
Lets talk about the process of collaboration, you’ve had smash hits with collabs like Ritual Coffee / Craftsman & Wolves—explain to us how do these come about?
I love collaborations! So many of them seem to happen very naturally. Either I meet someone at an event (the case with Eileen Rinaldi from Ritual Coffee or Mark Overbay from Big Spoon Roasters) or someone wants to carry our products and then we somehow start brainstorming products we could create with each other. It’s one of my favorite things to do and gives me the opportunity to peek in on someone else’s process. The products themselves are sometimes based on something the other maker already creates (like the Lemon Pistachio Donut from Dynamo Donuts) or we come up with something completely new.
What’s one dream collaborator you’d like to work with in the food industry or not?
I can’t pick just one! I’d love to work with Dick Taylor chocolates, David Chang (have you seen Ugly Delicious-so addictive), and the foodie-focused lifestyle brand Pyknic.
Is there a dream product you’d want to develop for Etta + Billie longterm? What would that look like?
There are so many products I’ve dreamed up! Right now, I want to do a natural deodorant, our scents would be so great and it’s the type of product that is part of someone’s everyday routine. If you asked me in a year, I might have something completely different in mind.