Treat Yourself to a Touch of Simplicity
“It touches me every time I get the opportunity to help someone with something in their lives as sensitive as their face or appearance,” says Betsy Ann Gates, who would rather go by simply Betsy. “It’s that connection you need to create. It’s an art and art is a gift from God.”
Betsy and her husband Renaldo, a former professional basketball player and Cleveland Public Schools teacher, were pulled into the world of pedaling handcrafted, natural soaps, lotions, and bath bombs after Betsy took a class on the subject. She found that soap making came intuitively to her, and began using the time as a means of stress relief and a way to channel her artistic energy into products that unassumingly helped others.
“If you get to know us, you’ll realize we’re a little different. I started selling soap, my husband lost his job, my mother-in-law passed, and we lost our house all in the same month. My husband encouraged me to keep selling soap, and for our anniversary that year we went downtown so I could sell it. When you do something you really love, you don’t work another day in your life,” she says.
Gates progressed from selling at neighborhood parties and before school drop-offs for her five children, to traveling to North Union Farmer’s Market in Shaker Square on Saturdays. Overtime, Simply Betsy Company accumulated quite a following; known for bright, bold colors and scents as well as their innovative products. At just $5, the “Ohio Bar” is probably her most popular, available in scents that change with the season, including cedar wood, cranberry, and even caramel apple.
Truly inventive are Simply Betsy’s felted soaps; organic, vegan soap that is worked into pieces of locally produced felt to create a soft, exfoliating texture, which will leave customers with a reusable scrub pad as the soap is used. Gates’ beauty bars are packed full of essential oils and dried botanicals from nearby farms. Full rose buds, cuts of loofah, as well as shea and cocoa butters make their way into elegantly crafted bars, ingredients visibly trapped inside.
Earthy, organic, fall colors and scents stand out at Simply Betsy Company’s soap showroom located at 17325 Euclid Avenue in the former Cleveland Clinic Administrative Center, purchased this summer by Lance B. Johnson to give the community a center for small businesses’ offices and manufacturing. This year, they placed fourth on the Cleveland Hot List for “Best Gift Shop” and have been featured on New Day Cleveland in addition to other area newscasts.
“We really reinvented ourselves before it was popular to do so. We started the process of deciding that we wanted to create a business before it was chic. We developed Simply Betsy Company to make a difference in the economic development of our city,” Gates reflects on the progress that her company has made in the last year.
Next up is hiring manufacturers and staff to continue out their dreams of widespread distribution for their soap made ethically in Ohio. “That’s incredible to know the people of Cleveland believe in our brand and support what we’re doing. We want to be able to reach out and hire people who are having a hard time finding employment.”
Gates realized the power of working together early on, taking it a step further by joining the Neighborhood Connections program to collaborate with other entrepreneurs in the vicinity. There, she met Rasheed Mitcham of Mo Bite Products, a fellow classmate. Rasheed was also trying to figure out how to get a leg up selling vegan products. The pair have vended at countless outdoor markets, including Gather in Glenville, through the years.
“One of my friends recently came in as an investor. They wanted their New Year’s resolution to be investing in a female-owned company. They dropped some money for us to develop our website,” Gates also mentions. “It has not been easy, because I am not a web designer, but Go Media took our photos, made my logo, and gave us some tips for using search engines like Google,” she adds. In just a few days, Betsy will be launching her new website at www.simplybetsycompany.com, opening up her clientele to a worldwide market place.
It may not always take a village to start a business, but Gates will never forget all of the support that they’ve had from Glenville and the surrounding communities she and Renaldo have called home. “We are what Cleveland is now. To be able to represent that and for people to recognize and believe in what we’re doing, that’s so cool.”