Sarah Preu was born and raised in Leavenworth, Kansas. Her Native American heritage is the inspiration behind the products she creates through her company, WildCraft Co.
Preu’s lineage is Anishinaabe from the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe.
“We were very much between worlds, having grown up off the rez, learning what we could as we visited here and there,” Preu says. “I have early memories of plants and animals presented as sacred ancestors. I grew up knowing the natural world has its own reality outside of humans: it’s seasonal, it’s cyclical, and we are only to take from it what we need and no more.”
Preu has an English degree from the University of Minnesota. She says her education “prepared me to make almost no money for 10 years in the nonprofit world, working for social justice and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).”
But attending college in Minneapolis also helped shape the future for WildCraft Co.
“I was a poor college kid with an obsession for plant-based skincare and natural fragrance. Being in Minneapolis for school, I haunted the Horst Institute (which is the education branch of Aveda Inc., one of the largest natural and organic cosmetics companies in the world). I watched their ingredient lists and found their counterparts in the plant world and began working with them in my kitchen. I was probably the only 20-year-old with a sustainable, petrochemical free skin care routine in 1998.”
After leaving the nonprofit world, Preu took her technical writing skills to corporate America where she still writes the occasional building proposal on behalf of green and sustainable energy companies. From there, she started a family and continued her research into the plant world and antiquated perfumery methods, herbalism, and ethnobotany, which is the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses.
“Once my youngest child went to elementary school, I had more room in my schedule to begin my herbal studies in earnest with my first year-long herbal apprenticeship in 2012,” Preu says. “I was able to incorporate more local and native herbs into the products I make. That’s where I learned the term ‘wildcrafting,’ though I’d been doing it my whole life.”
WildCraft Co. started as Wild Wash Soap, with Preu creating soaps made with high quality plant oils and therapeutic grade essential oils. Her most popular soap is Lavender Cedar. The combination of cedar and lavender essential oils makes this vegan soap bar great for troubled skin and appealing to both men and women. It’s tinted with a touch of rose clay for “added slip and extra body” and touts ingredients such as saponified olive oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, avocado oil, castor oil, and shea butter.
WildCraft Co. marks the expansion of Wild Wash Soap with products like Summer Mylk, a lightweight, vegan moisturizer with meadowfoam seed oil, cocoa butter, and willow bark infused olive oil and Rose Cardamom Lip Tint, a subtle tint with alkanet root and beet powder for a soft blush and a hint of sweet Rose d’Mai.
What started in the basement of Preu’s Prairie Village home can now be found at craft shows and retail shops all over the country.
“I was making products at 10 p.m. and labeling all night after the kids went to bed, then hustling a vendor booth almost every weekend, hoping to hear back from retailers I loved,” she says.
“Today you can find Wildcraft Co. products carried in several cities from here to the West Coast and this summer, Beauty Brands stores picked up my products for all their (24) locations.”
Preu says Beauty Brands has been “a dream to work with” because their mission is to carry more sustainable brands.
“Vote with your dollar even at the big box stores to show them that there is a customer base that cares about sustainability, about healthy ingredients, and the environment,” she sasy. “They are listening!”
Preu has also been collaborating with curators from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to recreate two perfumes from ancient Egypt for their Queen Nefertari: Eternal Egypt exhibition that opens November 15.
“This is a literal dream come true and I might cry tears of joy when I sniff the perfume in the very galleries I’ve been wandering through, dreamy eyed, since I was in elementary school,” she says.
Preu says her biggest dream is to get single-use plastic out of our showers and bathrooms. By some estimates, one third of un-recycled landfill waste is derived from bath and beauty products.
“That’s astounding,” Preu says. “From day one, I’ve made low-waste or compostable packaging a priority. I just introduced a solid conditioner bar for hair this month. I moved to a sticker-free labeling system for my soaps in 2016. Last year I switched my deodorant packaging to paper push-up tubes and couldn’t be happier with the result.”
Preu handmakes her soaps from scratch so that she can avoid the use of palm oil, which is typically used in most handmade soaps and is responsible for an astounding amount of deforestation and habitat loss in Asia and the Amazon. Her preservatives are minimal and all-natural in any of her water-based products. No carcinogens or petrochemicals are ever used.
“The lineage in my blood has taught me that myth is real, and we only have to ask the plants and animals for support and we will be provided with what we need,” she says. “We were taught that we owed much to that lineage in terms of service and giving back to the native community. I have always been politically active since my childhood in Native causes, most recently as a water protector at Standing Rock, and I support those causes with the sales of my products.”
She has a call for folks to spend their money with Native-owned businesses on Indigenous People’s Day (also known as Columbus Day) this coming Monday, October 14.
“It’s important to advocate for the first people of this land,” she says. “Some Native American-owned local businesses are: Leeway Franks in Lawrence, White Buffalo Trading Co. in Overland Park, Matt Rutledge Lawn and Tree Care. Trust me, we’re still here, from plumbers to dentists to engineers to my big brother who is a member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. But because of the fallout of systemic racism over generations, we are often hiding in plain sight.”
Preu’s philosophy, which she hopes to impart to customers, is “Progress not Perfection” in terms of the eco footprint of your self-care routine. Preu believes if you do a little better, sustainability-wise, every time you purchase or create, it’s a path in the right direction.
Every week, in Preu’s studio at The Bauer in the Crossroads Arts District, Wildcraft Co. moves forward in terms of eco-friendliness.
“That’s why buying from a local maker or microbrand is an ideal scenario,” she says. “They are passionate about their ingredients and you can get all your questions answered.”
You can find WildCraft Co. online and in local stores such as Opal & Gold, Unbakery, and Hand and Land. You can meet Sarah in person and shop her line at The Strawberry Swing’s The 9th Annual Holiday Swing November 30th and December 1st at Union Station.