Natural Vitality by Ashley Shaw
Associate Editor, Southern Lady Magazine
Less than a decade ago, Stephanie Duttenhaver and Cindy Edwards of Savannah-based Sapelo Skin Care found themselves face-to-face with a chemist assuring them that their budding business venture was futile. “He looked us in the eye for an entire year and said, ‘Ladies, you can’t afford to make this product,’” says Stephanie, who along with Cindy, was determined to develop a high-quality line of age-reserving skin care products unlike anything else available at the time.
When Cindy and Stephanie first-teamed up in 2012 as board members of the Savannah Book Festival, they were both soon-to-be empty nesters. Not only did they share a passion for volunteer work, but they also bonded quickly over their interest in finding an anti-aging regimen that differed from products and procedures saturating the marketplace, such as retinoids, lasers, and chemical peels. “All of these skin care strategies come down to one thing: They damage the skin, requiring your immune system, your own natural healing process, to come to the rescue and rejuvenate new skin collagen and elastin,” Stephanie says. Surrounded by the festival’s crowd of book-lovers, Cindy and Stephanie shook hands on the deal. “Right then and there, we decided, let’s go investigate and see what we can do,” says Stephanie.
At that point, neither woman had an extensive scientific background, but both of their husbands are physicians who were eager to help develop the gentle, revolutionary formula their wives sought. “We went back to the Southern philosophy that we are all taught to really care for the things we treasure,” says Cindy. “You would never use harsh abrasives on your silver or your pearls; you gently take care of them to make them last and enhance their beauty. So why in the world would we do that to our complexions? It’s a good dose of Southern common sense that certainly got us started.”
For three years, the duo researched and worked tirelessly alongside their husbands, plus a cosmetic scientist and that same local chemist who had warmed them of the cost. Finally, they found their perfect combination of ingredients to mimic the body’s response to popular yet damage-causing techniques. Their products contain a superior dose of powerful bioactive peptides and no fillers or parabens.
Also, setting Sapelo Skin Care products apart, the addition of distinctly Southern-inspired ingredients such as magnolia oil and gardenia stem cells imbues the line with special homage to the founders’ heritage. Exquisite packaging, designed in collaboration with Savannah designer Emily McCarthy and New York graphics company DISC, encapsulates the beauty of the Georgia marshland.
“The color of the marsh at certain times of the day is a pale, opaque sea green, usually in the shade of the trees, so it was just the right color for us,” says Stephanie. “And we knew we wanted something like a crest or monogram because of how much we love our monograms here in the South.” Framed by the box’s gold trim is a gilded, crown-topped emblem composed of cattails, reeds, seashells, flowers, and intertwining S’s. Equally apropos, the packaging’s interior bears a replica of an antique gardenia engraving and includes the company’s mantra: “Modern skin care inherited from the South.”
Derived from a state-protected barrier island off Georgia’s coast, the name of the business encapsulates the founders’ mission to challenge contradictory skin care dogmas: “Our regimen was inspired by [the island’s] beauty and by the ebb and flow of the twice-a-day tides that cleanse, bring nutrients, and restore the natural habitat of this unique part of the world,” says Stephanie.
Already available in spas and select retailers across the country, Sapelo Skin Care currently offers creams, serums, cleansers, and masks, with several new products in the works. “Together we have created something that we are so proud of,” says Cindy. It’s the truest sense of showing [our children] what persistence is.”
Cindy and Stephanie agree that finding balance between their entrepreneurial pursuit and their personal lives has been a challenge. “Balance is hard to find when we’re trying to get to where we want to go, and we’re not 30 years old,“ says Stephanie. “There’s more of a sense of urgency, but we have the stamina and we’re going to do it.” In addition to their tenacious hard work, plenty of laughter has infused their partnership. “This has been so much fun for us, and it’s great to realize that at this age and stage [of life] you can still learn new things,” says Cindy. “I feel like I’m on an incredible adventure.”