in the workshop

creating duross & langel

the short story of how a seemingly implausible idea has become a philadelphia institution

As we are about to celebrate fifteen years of duross & langel, I was reminded that not everyone is familiar with how the whole thing came-to-be. Made me think that perhaps it’s time to write the basic framework of who we were, are and strive to be. To the best of my recollection, here we go.

2004 was one of those years where I found myself in the hallway. Do you know the saying ‘when one door closes, another door opens?’ Well if this axiom were to be believed then perhaps sometimes we get trapped between the doors in the hallway. No way in or out and we have to patiently wait for another door to open. In the changing fortunes of small business, the Atlas Hair Company was back to being a one chair salon while my 3 year adventure as The Philadelphia Soap Company just closed it’s doors. My gig with American Crew had ended a few years before and nothing was happening in my life, professionally speaking that is. I had fallen in love with James Langel and we were living together. It was financially a lean time, struggling to make ends meet. I had a steady income from my salon business and a little extra coming in from my gig at Joe Grooming. James left a job he hated for something else, though whatever that would be had yet to manifest. One of his goals was to return to school for his MBA. I wanted another go at what I had created with the soap company but differently. I wanted to recreate my idea as a venture that reflected my personal style and esthetic while attempting to be more than cute and soap. I wanted to build amazing formulas that would focus on actual skin care, where the formulations would be a reflection of healthy, natural living. The only way I could see accomplishing this goal while having to pay the bills was to partner with someone. I pitched this idea to James. We could form a business partnership. Something he could do while getting his degree that would also help us grow and pay bills. He would work the front desk making appointments and selling stuff while I cut hair during the day and made product at night. The bargain was struck. 50% of the business and the name duross & langel.

The business grew quickly. I worked a million hours. James went to work for IKEA but kept the books for D&L. By this time we were married and building a life together. Though he offered ideas and feedback, James pretty much kept to his lane. It was my job to build the business and it’s profile. Turns out we made better copy as two married gays who created a concept venture. We were delighted for anything that would get people to notice the shop. Eventually however, as the creator and the face of the company, I got the lion’s share of the press. To be quite honest, my ego never minded. James was a highly competitive husband who liked to “win”. I would happily acquiesce to his requirements in order to maintain a happy marriage but where duross & langel was concerned, not so much. Skip to the end of the end of that story.. I loved my work. I loved my husband. The marriage had run it’s course. At the close I just wanted three things: a divorce, sole custody of the dogs, and the majority share of the company.

If you understand the nature of our business today, it is focused around the product. Sarah and I definitely are a story, but it’s the story of the last thirteen years together working, sacrificing and growing our little enterprise. Sarah is now the one who runs the show while I pretty much stay in my lane and spew ideas. As my business partner and the one who interfaces with all aspects of our clients, Sarah now filters my ideas into something that will possibly work or be left on the mat. It has been an amazing experience to carve out an equal partnership with Sarah, the person I find myself married to in this venture.

duross & langel is a small, local company. We are equally (and proudly) an LGBTQ+ owned and women owned business. This October we will be celebrating 15 years in operation. We formulate and produce quality natural, hand made bath, spa and skin care products. Everything begins in the second floor workshop where recipes and formulas take shape. This working skin care kitchen produces many of the 100% natural handmade items you’ll find in our store. We also employ a local, family run FDA approved lab to produce larger quantities of our formulas, especially things like sulfate-free body wash and shampoos. Our creams and moisturizers are renown for their qualities, and for their rational prices. When you compare our labels to any of the bigger fancy name brands, you might be very surprised at how well we not only measure up, but exceed expectations. Though some products are processed and while we are allowed by law to call them “all-natural” we think that’s cheating. You’ll find that we make things as naturally as can be produced by law for this level of efficacy. Our bags and boxes are made from recycled paper. We have also begun to use compostable plastic-like materials for soap wrap and smaller bags.

When you shop our store, you begin to understand who we are and what it is we are attempting to accomplish. You are welcomed but not sold. We strive to be helpful but most often you’ll find we hang back so that you can experience the shop at your own pace. Always within arms reach, you can ask us to step up or answer any question. Since we make it ourselves, we are happy to share whatever information you require. Though we can be a bit cheeky when faced with the occasional rudeness. We assume most people don’t mean to be rude. Personally, I am a horrible shopper so I strive to be less judgmental of others under these circumstances. No one who is passionate about what they create ever wants to hear “does this stuff really work?”

The most difficult moments for us come when someone asks about our business plan which, truth be told, is a highly inappropriate subject to broach, especially when standing in the middle of our store. “Well don’t you want more stores? I should think you’d want to grow. Don’t you want to be successful? You know what you should do?” It’s the business world equivalent to asking for dick pics. I don’t think people realize how screwed up it is to invade, question and judge the private plans of a small business owner. What we don’t say is that sometimes we are offered massive sums of money to do things that would drastically change the nature of our lives but thus far, VETO. Sarah and I like our lives. We like our vibe. We enjoy the simplicities and complexities of our daily life as is. We make enough money to pay the bills, take care of our staff, travel and put some away. We are focused on improving our daily lives, a commitment to our staff and to our communities. We are intentional about the way we move our lives and the way we run our business. It’s not that we are opposed to expansion, just that we have yet to find the right fit. And the whole point of working for ourselves is to create an environment where the business can be a refection of our lives and our values and do daily what makes us happy. Or so we believe. One of the more sobering things about having been an entrepreneur for the last twenty-five years is seeing how many seemingly successful businesses, some encumbered with anachronistic eighties values and millennial MBAs, while others simply not viable in today’s economy, have gone out of business. Sarah and I do not believe that on our dying day we will be wishing we worked more hours or screwed over anyone so that we could have notoriety and make a bit more coin.

We couldn't be more proud of the world we've created. Though the original idea was mine, whatever success we’ve enjoyed has been a group effort. We are profoundly grateful to everyone who has shopped, supported and worked with us. It’s a fun little store that makes people smile. An improbable concept that is now a local favorite. Let’s enjoy that for a while.

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