Julie Longyear: Creativity as a Question Of Survival
On a gray morning in St. Louis’ Lafayette Square neighborhood, skincare artisan, career vagabond, student of the universe and eternal wanderer Julie Longyear walks into Blissoma Holistic Skincare and Apothecary, a white-walled retail space that has been the largest financial risk of her career.
This morning Longyear’s entourage includes two dogs—one slightly more gregarious than the other—and a black-and-white rabbit named Blossom. She carefully extracts Blossom from a carrying case and deposits her into a playpen, as she does almost every day. A display table nearby permits customers to don a pair of bunny ears and take photos accompanied by a #crueltyfree caption. “When you hold her, you get to absorb the simple life of a bunny for a moment,” says Longyear.
For more than 10 years, Longyear has been mixing recipes, emulsions and herbal infusions from scratch. In the kitchen, which is filled with jars of herbs and pots and pans for mixing, shoppers can see the herbs infusing her elixirs. With all of its cookware and soaking herbs, the room could be mistaken for a chemist’s lab. The venue previously housed a florist, and Longyear makes use of the sizeable refrigerator formerly used to cool budding flowers. It now holds a variety of tinctures and saturated herbs that require refrigeration. Growing up in St. Louis, Longyear spent her days drawing, painting, taking art classes, tie-dying and sewing, and she can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t have a curious, whirring mind. “I knew I wanted to make things. But I never saw myself as a ‘career person.’ I don’t know why—it just wasn’t on my radar. I pictured myself having some land, definitely dogs, maybe gardening and making pottery.”
She kept a sewing machine and piles of fabric in her dorm room in college, where she’d sew custom clothing for friends and classmates. “I became known as the girl that would fix everybody’s pants,” she says. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a studio art degree in ceramics, Longyear moved back home to St. Louis and established a small sewing area in the basement of her parents’ home, where she first began experimenting with essential oils and making candles.
Researching the science of botanicals marked her first foray into the benefits of plant-based extracts. She also began experiencing skin issues in her late 20s. Skincare items—even ones from natural and organic health-food stores—left her skin dry and oily. But with the knowledge she’d gathered from working in the world of essential oils, she came up with recipes for moisturizers, cleansers and toners, adjusting ingredient amounts to land on the perfect ratios.
Three months after she quit a part-time office job and a degree program in art history, Longyear found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Tru, who is now 12. “All of a sudden it was like, bam: motherhood and entrepreneurship. They ran into each other straight from the get-go. It’s always been a juggling act, but I love that she’s grown up literally surrounded by all this.” Two weeks after giving birth, Longyear was working on her website with Tru at her chest, in a sling.
Ten years later, Longyear is surrounded by the fruits of her copious labors: moisturizers blended from the mixtures of tea and baobab and pumpkin-seed oils; serums that smell like plantains; and a line of tealight candles—the first offering that grew into what would become Blissoma.
This story originally appeared in ALIVE Issue 4, 2017. Purchase Issue 4 and become an ALIVE member.