Organic soapmaker’s journey from caregiver to entrepreneur
By JAKE SMITH
Coeur Voice Writer
When Lori SiJohn’s husband Cliff passed away in 2012 on Christmas Eve, her role as his primary caregiver transitioned into a dedication to heal her community, particularly their skin.
She began Sailor Girl Soap and Supplies, a soap and hygiene supplies business in Plummer, in 2014 after reflecting on the time she spent caring for Cliff, a Vietnam veteran whose skin and body were drastically affected by Agent Orange chemicals.
“It literally just took everything from him — his eyesight, his kidneys, everything. Eventually his body just shut down,” SiJohn said. “For two years, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My world revolved around him.”
She said the medication he took made his skin dry out, and what helped him in his later years was the body butter she made from oils and natural ingredients.
SiJohn said this body butter has been researched and developed into soap, deodorant, body oil and lotion that she sells in Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, St. Maries and on her website.
She said she uses all natural ingredients, only tests the products on her family and refuses to use ingredients like palm oil that are harmful to the environment.
Shaina Nomee, SiJohn’s daughter and business partner, said the business is dedicated to supporting and serving the demographics they identify with, providing an avenue for women, Native Americans, widows and veterans to find a support network.
“It’s been really lovely being able to provide something that everyone needs,” Nomee said. “So, connecting with people through my mom’s story as a widow, and a veteran and also a Native American and also a woman, the biggest part of what we do is my mom shares her story but in turn we also hear the stories of others.”
Nomee said she and her mother identify as Cayuse/Umatilla from Eastern Oregon.
SiJohn said the business’ name memorializes Cliff. He used to call her his “sailor girl,” given that she served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. All the products have a naval theme as well.
Nomee said they honor and serve veterans, given the company’s roots within the U.S. Armed Forces. They intend to employ veterans in the future.
“That was the ultimate goal in the beginning, to provide jobs for United States Armed Forces veterans, and that’s still a goal for us,” Nomee said. “We’ll get there. Not as fast as I’d like, but eventually.”
Their business is growing steadily, with support coming from midtown Coeur d’Alene in Willow Market and Boutique on Fourth Street.
She said aside from placing products in a few Northwest locations, they have shipped website purchases to locations in Canada, Philadelphia and Louisiana.
However, growth is limited to the amount of work they both can put in, Nomee said. She works full-time for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Natural Resource department to support her family. Managing Sailor Girl Soap and Supplies business functions as a side job for Nomee while SiJohn focuses on producing, packaging and labeling all the products.
SiJohn said the business is a family effort, and her grandchildren are becoming motivated to learn about running a business, and they help out where they can.
She lets her grandson test the deodorant, and encourages her granddaughters to learn business practices.
“My granddaughters are 8 and 6, and they’ve already got their gears turning in their brain and I always tell them, ‘Hey! You guys are going to be running Sailor Girl,’” SiJohn said.