mud dollars and scents
Image: Jeff Clark

Most men—even Portland men—say “body butter” about as often as “wine spritzer.” But Billy Taylor, who owns the candle and body-care company Pacifica with his wife, Brook Harvey-Taylor, loves those B-words. When Pacifica introduced scented body butters in 2004, business grew 50 percent over two years. (What is body butter? Think lotion crossed with softened margarine.)

The body-butter boom—if you will—is only part of Pacifica’s recent surge. The Portland company distributes to more than 3,000 stores nationwide (including Whole Foods, Sephora, and Fred Meyer outlets) and employs 80-plus. After 2010 sales jumped almost 25 percent over ’09, Pacifica aims to double revenue within the next three years. A new skin-care line launches later this year.

Heady stuff for a company founded on credit cards, with the couple’s home kitchen acting as both lab and factory.

Brook became fascinated by scents after reading Tom Robbins’s novel Jitterbug Perfume at age 16. By the early ’90s, the Montana native was working with a Eugene aromatherapist, and met Billy, then a documentary sports filmmaker. The aromatherapist left town in 1993—but gave her protégée her essential oils. Brook made her first batch of candles on the stove, and the couple hauled them to a San Francisco trade show.

“When we came back, we had over $80,000 in orders and no factory,” Billy says. “We just bootstrapped it.”
Since then, Pacifica’s founders have relied on their own nimble instincts. When Brook wanted to branch into perfumes in 2007, industry insiders warned that consumers don’t buy body scents from home-fragrance companies. “But every fragrance I developed, I wanted to wear,” she says. “So we just ignored the advice, and got a great response.”

"We had over $80,000 in orders and no factory."—Billy Taylor

In March 2009, Pacifica body products hit the shelves in 270 Sephoras across the country. “Sephora really gave us a place to introduce things,” says Billy, who manages Pacifica’s business side. “And they’re brutally honest about what works.”

That includes top-selling scents like Hawaiian Ruby Guava and Tahitian Gardenia—a far cry from earlier, earthier tones like Mexican Cocoa. But trends change, and Brook and Billy move with them, sometimes literally: the surf lovers relocated to Santa Barbara in 2005. But they left Pacifica’s headquarters—and manufacturing—in industrial Northwest Portland.

“We have great employees,” Brook says. “Why mess with a good thing?”