Asia Luna is truly a home-based business that started as a hobby in 2004 and has grown to nearly a full-time operation. Co-owners Maria Crespo and Paul Pitman run this business from their Philmont base, with a little help from their friends.
By Jacqlleline LaChance
Walking into the unassuming yellow house on Church Street in Philmont on a wintry Sunday morning is a feast for the senses. The aroma of bergamot, sage, lavender and oak moss waft across the kitchen and into the dining room where three women are cutting, wrapping and labeling bars of Asia Luna soaps. In a tiny room off the kitchen, Asia Luna co-owner Paul Pitman is mixing olive, palm and coconut oils with essential oils in a gigantic commercial mixer, rescued from a restaurant that was going out of business. Company co-owner Maria Crespo directs the operation two rooms away quietly but with purpose. The petite, dark-haired Crespo silently flits between the couple’s front room, which contains the business’s inventory, back into the dining room where her friends Pat Wrightsman of Chatham and Judy Fenoff of Ghent sip tea and chat as they wrap soaps with banana leaf paper from Thailand.
Asia Luna is truly a home-based business that started as a hobby in 2004 and has grown to nearly a full-time operation. The company got its wings after Chatham soap-maker Cynthia Mayer of Cynthia’s Soaps decided to give up her business and move onto other things. Crespo loved and missed the soap so much she decided to try and make her own to fill the void. After reading everything they could find about soap-making and consulting Mayer for advice, the couple launched Asia Luna -literally in the kitchen of their home. With four small children and full-time jobs of their own, the couple experimented with soap making at night once the children were in bed. Partially because that was the only free time they had to work on the hobby and also because soap making requires using lye, a caustic solution that is not child-safe. Right from the start, Pitman said he enjoyed mixing different essential oils, designing the molds and cutting tools to create the soaps. “He’s the engineer,” said Crespo of her husband’s role in the operation. ” It’s all mixed in with the day to day life with four kids, jobs and dogs,” said Pitman with a laugh.
The couple’s tiny laundry room off the kitchen is now the production area; the kitchen, dining room and front room serve as the rest of the operation’s “headquarters.” Over the years, their four children – Leah, Teza, Naomi and Anders – have all played parts in either mixing the essential oils, naming a soap or helping to distribute the products. Asia Luna is actually one of the children’s former classmates’ names. “We were trying to figure out what to name the business and nothing clicked,” said Crespo. “My daughter brought home her class picture and she was naming the kids in the picture and she pointed to a girl by the name of Asia Luna. We asked the parents if it was okay to use her name and they said yes. That was it,” she said.
Their children have been involved in the business in different capacities over the years. When daughter Naomi was 9 years old she wanted a soap scent that reminded her of a fairy and gnome-filled forest so she mixed sage, oak moss, bergamot and lavender to create “Gnomi,” which is also her nickname. Asia Luna’s latest scent, “Calypso’ was named by a little girl who smelled the orange, ginger, comfrey root and patchouli soap at a farmer’s market and suggested the name. ” It reminded her of the tropics,” said Crespo. The flowers and herbs used in Asia Luna’s soaps are all locally grown, as well. Coming up with the names of the soaps and mixing the essential oils is one of the best parts of creating the products, said Pitman. A neighbor who is sensitive to essential oil scents was the inspiration of the soap “Joanne,” named in her honor and made unscented with goat’s milk, local honey and oatmeal. “Oberon’ is made with local calendula flowers and offers earthy aromas of oak moss and patchouli combined with lavender, which is an anti-inflammatory for skin, effective in healing eczema and acne.
Friends Wrightsman and Fenoff help out with various aspects of the business from packaging to selling at craft fairs and markets. “We barter their labor with soap’ said Crespo with a laugh. The three women were chatting as they wrapped and labeled soaps on a recent Sunday morning, gathered around the dining room table. “It’s like a version of a quilting circle,” said Wrightsman. “Maria’s a good cook and it’s a really nice social process’ Crespo agreed. “They are my CEOs;’ she said. Both Crespo and Pitman are from the Midwest originally, meeting as art students at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. Crespo, who studied painting and photography, was the first to move east, heading to Manhattan and later a job at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Pitman soon followed, landing a job as an assistant to a contemporary painter. The two came north when the artist bought an estate in Claverack, eventually buying a house in Philmont and starting their family.
Asia Luna started as a soap business but has expanded to a more extensive line of all natural bath and body products including bar and liquid soaps, sugar and salt body scrubs, essential oil mist sprays, body butter, lip balm, massage oil candles, soy candles, silk lavender eye pillows, a seasonal scented comb and a new foot cream. The Chinese wooden comb comes with a bottle of hair oil, which contains essential oils of clary sage, lavender, rosemary, patchouli, sandalwood and jasmine with jojoba. The comb absorbs the oils and conditions the hair as it is used. The eye pillows are filled with flaxseed and enhanced with lavender essential oil designed to eliminate stress and reduce or eliminate headaches. The spa candle is used for ambiance and aromatherapy, using African shea butter, soy wax, coconut and palm oils, jojoba oil, apricot kernel, avocado and safflower oils and essential oils. The spa candle is burned and the warm, melted oil is applied as a massage oil. Asia Luna sells an allnatural insect repellent spray, which deters bugs and ticks and is made with essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint,white thyme, basil and tea tree.
One of Asia Luna’s bestsellers is a giant bubble kit designed by Pitman as a marketing ploy to draw attention to their booth at craft fairs. It was such a huge hit that they started selling the kits which contain a bubble concentrate mixed with water and hand-made bubble wands that create “bubbles the size of a VW Volkswagen;’ said Pitman with a laugh. The couple sells the products at farmer’s markets and craft fairs, its website, asialuna.com and at retail stores. Maggie Calhoun, proprietor of Great Finds gift shop in Valatie, encouraged Crespo to venture into the retail market and was the first one to carry Asia Luna products in her store. Asia Luna is also available at the Chatham Real Food Co-op, Hawthorne Valley Farm Store in Ghent, the Hillsdale General Store in Hillsdale, Aija in Norfolk, Connecticut, Williams & Sons General Store in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, Mystic River Acupuncture in Groton, Connecticut, Berkshire Co-op and One Mercantile in Great Barrington. Asia Luna participates in the Copake-Hillsdale, Kinderhook, Philmont and Wednesday Hudson farmers markets. They can be reached at 672-4959.