Posted on November 27, 2011
When severe back pain confined her to bed for half a year, April Leffingwell didn’t while away the hours feeling sorry for herself. Instead, the bubbly blonde turned a longtime hobby into a thriving small business.
Leffingwell’s bath-and-body line, Shea Chic, has attracted a loyal following since it launched 18 months ago. Earlier this year, her products even made it into the coveted swag bags at the Emmys, and just weeks ago Shea Chic was featured in the talent suite at the American Music Awards.
“My little company saved me,” says Leffingwell, whose admittedly “high-energy” lifestyle did not jibe with lying around all day.
Shea Chic started as a distraction from relentless pain. Leffingwell, who used to work in radio, had always loved making soap, so she placed a few orders for top-shelf ingredients like shea butter and sweet almond oil. “Whenever I’d get a delivery, I’d be so excited to get out of bed,” she recalls. “It takes about two hours to make a batch of soap, and during those two hours, I’d only be focused on that.”
Leffingwell started giving samples to friends and neighbors, who raved about the luxuriously scented soaps. “They’d come back looking for more,” she says. “It’s kind of like ice cream. Their eyes light up and they have a smile on their faces. Except they know that after they try it they’re not going to gain weight!”
Even better, they’re not going to be slathering themselves with chemicals. The entire Shea Chic line, which ranges from soaps and creams to bath bombs and San Diego-themed candles, is made from all-natural ingredients — no phthalates or other potentially hazardous additives. Shea butter, an ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree, is the not-so-secret key ingredient. “It does amazing things for your skin,” raves Leffingwell.
As her customer base grew quickly — and globally — Leffingwell set up shop in her garage, where she still makes every product by hand. In mid-November, she and her mom, Bobbi Rohn — who came out of retirement to help out her daughter — had taken over every room as they prepared custom-scented products (cutely called “AMA-zing”) for the American Music Awards.
While most of the Shea Chic business is conducted online, Leffingwell hopes to expand into wholesaling soon, but you’d be selling this entrepreneur short if you thought she’d stop there.
“My long-term goal is that everyone who visits San Diego leaves with some Shea Chic,” she says with a confident smile. sheachic.com Annamaria Stephens
Photography by Bob Stefanko