Made in Wilton
“Shop local” has become a powerful retail concept, but in Wilton, “made local” could become one too. In the past few years, several residents have been selling products they make, on an artisanal scale, right here in town.
The tiny Nod Hill Soap shop in downtown Wilton greets visitors with glorious fragrances and a rainbow of pastels. “I live in a house full of boys, so I love things that are girly and pretty,” says owner Catherine Romer. It was 2009 when she reached a crossroads and began thinking about what she wanted to do next. “I had one son in college and one in high school, and wondering, ‘What now?’ I was driving my husband crazy,” she says. “He said ‘Why don’t you make soap?’”
Romer turned to books, websites, blogs, and online videos to learn the craft. One month later, she made her first batch. She started out by giving soaps as gifts to friends, but later moved on to farmer’s markets and holiday boutiques, and grew a following. In 2012, she opened her shop, where she makes and sells her wares. Visitors can purchase products as well as get a sneak peek into her work area. Four years into her venture, Romer says she still looks forward to working every day. “I love making soap,” she says. “Not a week goes by that I don’t get to do that.”
Sometimes a handmade product grows out of necessity, as was the case for Mark Bennett seven years ago when he ran out of the delicious meat rub his brother made. “I decided to make my own; I played around with the ingredients to get a good blend,” he says. “Then I started thinking about how to incorporate organic sourcing.”
He found distributors to supply him with organic ingredients, and Bennett’s Country Rub was born. The business took off when Bennett’s hobby and job overlapped. “My company hosts barbecues as part of South by Southwest in Austin every year,” he says of W2O Group. “I started putting jars of the rub into the gift bags. People loved it.” At last year’s event, Bennett gave out 300 - 400 jars, double the amount from 2012. “One of the best compliments I’ve received was when a former colleague told me my rub transformed dinner at his house.”
Julia Skillin started creating ducttape wallets with her friends several years ago. “Hers were really good,” says her mom, Elisabeth. Her daughter decided to make and sell them to benefit TS Alliance, which raises awareness for Tuberous Sclerosis complex, a genetic disorder; Julia’s sister, Charlotte, was diagnosed with TS at age one.
Since 2010, Julia has hosted annual holiday trunk shows, and sold her products at the Wilton Street Fair and Village Market. She has expanded to include totes and cell-phone pouches, all of which can be seen on her website, dtfun.biz. Now in seventh grade, and busier with school and sports, she still finds time to fill orders, and continues to give half of her proceeds to TS Alliance.
Sometimes, inventing a new product can come about because something is bugging you. Literally. “I was on Nantucket, and noticed it was a buggy,” says Jeffrey Busch, who was vacationing with his friend Nancy Jack. “We started thinking ‘What if we could make something like a natural predator?’” The idea for Nantucket Spider took shape.
As it turned out, Jack had already been tinkering with natural, deet-free repellant ingredients and had concocted a natural formula that had been a hit with friends. She and Busch packaged it as Nantucket Spider, and Wilton retailers embraced it. “Village Market, Wilton Hardware—they helped turn this into a success,” Busch says.
Since their April 2013 launch, they have sold well over 1,000 bottles and have expanded to several more retailers. “People in Fairfield County have been so kind and receptive,” Busch says.