I n a backyard in Newhallville, Tammy Chapman grows herbs in raised beds. Sage, mint and rosemary do particularly well in our climate, she says.
Chapman has always grown “a small plot” wherever she lived—using flowerpots, porches, window sills. “It goes way, way back to when I was small. I started gardening when I was really young,” she says. Both sets of grandparents were gardeners, but while those on her maternal side were city dwellers, her great-grandfather on her father’s side “was actually a sharecropper in the South. He paid off his land in 1985, so it’s very recent in my memory,” Chapman says. “My earliest memory is smelling the soil when it warmed up in the spring.”
She remained a hobbyist until her daughter developed the same severe acne that had troubled Chapman in her youth. Experimenting with home remedies from her garden soon led to helping friends and family suffering from eczema or psoriasis.
Now she’s the owner and sole employee of The Glass Jar, a bath and beauty company tailored to more universal needs, which sells in local markets and on Etsy. The product line uses no synthetic preservatives and prioritizes hallmarks of enlightened entrepreneurship: short ingredient lists and complete transparency.
Literally. Of her packaging, Chapman says, “My glasses are clear because I like the idea that my ingredients are visible. I don’t want to hide anything.” She sources most of her materials from either her own backyard or community gardens throughout the city, and she estimates she spends a third of the year doing research. “Skin and hair care is really complicated,” she says. “What I try to focus on is not just the topical solution for a problem, but actually getting down underneath the layers of skin and hair and scalp.” For example, “Everyone wants long luxurious hair, but they’re not really thinking about the fact that the scalp needs to be happy first.”
So she’s got a scalp oil, in addition to serums, salves and butters meant for hair ranging from natural to dreadlocked. Her products are less about individual hair textures, she says, and more about “the underlying layers of what’s happening with your body. And everyone has the same layers. We’re all the same underneath, and that’s why the line works consistently.”
Chapman is in part inspired by a concern for the future, which in this case means doing things the old way. “I used to be a person who went to the store and bought ‘natural’ products, but what was alarming to me was the amount of preservatives used to keep them on the shelf,” she says. “We don’t know what kind of effect these preservatives will have on us long-term, or for future generations. I say, the simpler the better. If you know the source—where your food comes from, where your herbs were grown—you feel more confident, and you have more control over what goes into your body.”
Chapman leads me up to the third floor of the house, where her workspace is. Silver and green bundles of herbs are drying in a basket, and jars of oil sit infusing. Her newest project—a line of skin and beard care products for men, cheerily stamped with cartoon mustaches and inspired by her four sons—is set up in the airy space. Home cleaners and scents are next in The Glass Jar’s queue.
“Just when you think you’re finished,” she says, “you’re never done.”
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.