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V’Tae: From County Fair to New Look

NEW YORK — It may have taken Belinda Rush-Carville 13 years to get her beauty line from the county fair to 3,000 retailers across the country, but her pace, she believes, was right on track. Now, the founder, owner and president of V’Tae...

V’Tae’s New Naturals Line has been repackaged with soft colored stripes on its labels.

V’Tae’s New Naturals Line has been repackaged with soft colored stripes on its labels.

WWD Staff

NEW YORK — It may have taken Belinda Rush-Carville 13 years to get her beauty line from the county fair to 3,000 retailers across the country, but her pace, she believes, was right on track. Now, the founder, owner and president of V’Tae wants to position her bath, body and home line farther from its homegrown origins. Carville, who is a self-taught fragrance blender, is looking to expand distribution of her 200-stockkeeping unit line, and to take its look more upscale.

V’Tae, a fragrance-forward line of bath and body products, eau de parfum, mists and waters, infuses essential oils to create scents for a multitude of lifestyles. Born in the late Eighties in Carville’s kitchen, V’Tae started as a line of fragrances sold at a local county fair. Her hobby, however, became a business in 1991 when Carville opened a 1,000-square-foot store in her hometown of Nevada City, Calif., called V’Tae, and locals and tourists flocked to smell her wares. While her products are still known for their charming earthy quality, her handmade labels with dizzying graphics have become obsolete.

As part of the redesign, Carville has chosen a high thread-count linen to serve as the new labels for V’Tae bottles and jars, giving them a “crisp look.” Different colored labels, caps and bottles serve to differentiate each of V’Tae’s 11 product categories from the other.

For example, Esoteric, bath and body gels with a spiritual theme, features labels bordered with gold on amber bottles with gold and black sprayers and pumps. New Naturals, bath salts and lotions designed to evoke memories of outdoor scents, has labels with soothing stripes, silver collars and white pumps. Healing, which aims to treat ailments with oils and mists, is packaged in white frosted bottles with silver and white closures.

Products sporting the new packaging will begin appearing in stores and spas across the country in late August, including Arizona’s Canyon Ranch, New Mexico’s Floating World and California’s Burke Williams. The overhaul is costing Carville $125,000, but product prices, which range from $14 for most floral waters and aromatherapy mists to $36 for an eau de parfum, will remain the same.

Carville noted modernizing can be difficult when you operate like a small-time company — all V’Tae packaging, blending, labeling, bottling and shipping is done by hand at a small warehouse adjacent to the store in Nevada City, a town located an hour and a half southwest of Lake Tahoe. To help, Carville has enlisted the local community. For example, an ad in the local paper promoting the sale of V’Tae products with old packaging has attracted hundreds of customers.

Originally, Carville’s store V’Tae was supposed to have served as a small business where the former interior designer could sell her own fragrance concoctions. But the store built a following, and Carville was nudged by customers into taking her products nationwide. To do this she wanted to design a line that would expand upon the eau d’ parfum she created for the store.

“I had become interested in aromatherapy and about magical traditions — the traditional use of fragrance. With this I had to come up with products that would be marketable,” she said.

That year Carville developed a line of mists, gels, bath salts and lotions targeting spiritual themes, such as prosperity, sensuality and stress relief. She said she used as little alcohol as possible in her formulas “because I wanted a soft product.” Carville said her formulas are 50 percent to 90 percent natural whereas competitors’ juices are generally 90 percent alcohol.

The line did well in Nordstrom and niche health food stores like Whole Foods, as well as in gift and specialty stores. Today Carville’s business generates approximately $2 million to $3 million at retail, according to industry sources. Carville said sales grew 25 percent this year versus last year.

Increasing distribution in spas is on her business agenda for 2003, as is coming up with new products to keep her ahead of competitors. “It’s a challenge to play with the big guys when they have big advertising budgets,” Carville said. But V’Tae offers customers something only her company can. “It’s a challenge keeping a product genuine, but with V’Tae you’re getting the real thing, a real piece of the company.”