Making It: Holistic healing with lavender at Purple Elephant

Maker: Tameka Huey-Barkley, owner
Business: Purple Elephant Herbal Commissary, handmade lavender-infused products in Cleveland with a focus on aromatherapy and natural healing remedies

How did you first discover the healing powers of lavender?  

This is a story that, when I share it with people, definitely brings me smiles because it was a healing journey that started everything. I was in a place in my life where I was looking for alternatives to traditional medicine. I wanted to find a holistic way to deal with chronic pain, nausea, anxiety and sleep issues. Through my research, I ran into so many testimonies about lavender and the benefits of lavender. I decided at that point I was going to try making my own lavender essential oil. And then I moved on to say, ‘Wow, this works!’ I was finding that it was really beginning to transform my mind and my heart and my mood. And then I started realizing that a part of me went dormant, and that was my creativity and my ability to make things out of nothing. I realized that I have a skill set that I was able to awaken, and that skill set was to make things that will eliminate chronic pain or reduce the intensity of chronic pain.

Once Tameka Huey-Barkley discovered the healing benefits of lavender, she knew she could use her knowledge to help others. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

What first started out as a hobby for you has now turned into a business. Was it scary to take that leap and decide to start Purple Elephant?

It was scary to start my own business because I wasn't sure what it all entailed. It sounded very good to just go out there and sell products to people. But it takes a lot more than just going out to sell things to people. And I wanted to make sure that what was created by Purple Elephant Herbal Commissary was true to me, and I wanted to share my story with people. When I first started, I just needed to let people know that these products work with aromatherapy, my story was secondary. Now I know that these products work, I believe wholeheartedly in aromatherapy benefits and that using herbs in all forms just creates magic. Now I can share this story and how these same things impacted me.

Huey-Barkley shares her lavender essential oil with a customer at a local farmer's market. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

Imagining there was a lot of research and experimentation to develop all the different products you create. Was that a challenge for you?

It was a lot of research, and still, I'm a lover of information, so I get a high off of reading something about skin health. I found from research that I was on to something that I didn't really see other people doing. I was not just using an essential oil, I was using the herbs and allowing that oil infusion to work. That was a significant amount of research for me. And then also in my aromatherapy course that I took, recognizing why each essential oil that I'm choosing to use has the therapeutic benefit that it does. That allowed me to come back with more measurable anecdotal information, because with aromatherapy, we have to interview you. We ask questions like, ‘How did you feel with this? Is this more uplifting for you? Is this more relaxing for you?’ I know that when I'm talking to people immediately with lavender, if they've never heard of it before, they know that the scent smells good and it still makes them feel calm. So I can show them how aromatherapy is working, and that's the type of research that is not written. You have to see it.

Huey-Barkley demonstrates how easy it is for people to make their own insect repellent with a few simple ingredients. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

When starting your business, did you receive a lot of support from the community?

I received a lot of support from ECDI (Economic Community Development Institute) and the Women's Business Center [at ECDI]. So a lot of coaching was key for my development. Without being part of entrepreneurial cohorts or getting that coaching from those two organizations, I definitely know that I wouldn't be here now. It took me to get that strength in knowledge and business in order for me to be prepared to interact with others that are doing this type of work. And now I’m just ecstatic to have received an invitation from the Women’s Business Center to have a spotlight for my business, because I definitely believe that now is the time for people to know more about Purple Elephant.

One of Purple Elephant's signature products is lavender lemonade, a customer favorite. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

What keeps you going on the difficult days?

What keeps me going is I love what I do, and I love what I do so much that when it was a hobby, I was so excited that things were working and I wanted other people to try it. I wanted other people to believe that what I was doing was really coming from a place of confidence that it works. And I think now my confidence is definitely much stronger in the effectiveness of the product. Anxiety is a powerful, powerful monster, and I know that when I can talk to people about relieving anxiety and opening themselves up to their senses, being connected to their mood and what they think, that's the confidence that I have. After talking to people, I know that I've said something to them that will make them try it, even if it's not a Purple Elephant product. My conversations with them and just naming a few essential oils that can work at least will lead them to say, ‘You know, I'll try it.’

Huey-Barkley pours out samples of her lavender lemonade to share with customers. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

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