Krystn Keller was at her wits’ end. Her three-month-old son Elliott had developed eczema that started as red bumps on his face. Within three months, the rash was out of control, and nothing seemed to give him any relief.
Doctors kept telling Krystn and her husband Ryan that he would grow out of it. They prescribed steroid cream that “had a black box label on it that said it caused cancer,” Krystn says.
Even after he was diagnosed with more than 50 food allergies as well as chemical sensitivities, and she changed his diet, itchy redness persisted.
Finally, the Kellers looked at each other and decided: “Let’s make something.”
She sought out the most basic book she could find about soapmaking and watched YouTube videos before making her first batch of a plain but nourishing soap with organic oatmeal. The soap worked wonders for her son.
She shared before-and-after photos of Elliott on Facebook. “His skin so drastically cleared that people were calling and asking about it,” she says. “I never planned on having a business. It just kind of happened.”
After she invented the soap for Elliott, she went on to create a soothing, deeply moisturizing body butter and a salve to apply directly to the rash. “Both have essential oils specifically for relieving the itchiness and pain of eczema,” she says.
Other moms started reaching out to her for suggestions about what to do with their own children’s skin problems. “I started to realize there was a need for this,” she says. “I had to do it. My journey led us to making these products.”
And so, in 2012, Keller Works Naturals was born.
The company now offers 14 different soaps, all handmade with organic ingredients, as well as roll-on essential oil formulas, plus other specialty items such as dry shampoo, beard oil, bath scrub, bug spray and more.
The beautifully colored and textured soaps smell as good as they look. Examples include a Char Bar with active charcoal to draw out impurities; an Elderberry soap that reduces redness; Daily Grind Coffee soap that’s made with Mobile’s own Carpe Diem coffee to help smooth cellulite; and Ginger-Turmeric to reduce inflammation.
“We try to make everything with a purpose,” she says.
Elliott, now 7, has his name emblazoned on a whole line of eczema care products. His younger brother, Oliver, 5, likes the products, too. Their teachers compliment the boys on how good they smell. And Ryan, a musician working on his doctorate in instructional design, creates all the graphics and helps Krystn with marketing.
Elliott’s soap changed her son’s life by clearing up his eczema, but it also changed the course of Krystn’s. She and her husband, both natives of Mobile, were living in Birmingham when Elliott was born. Krystn had been studying philosophy at UAB in Birmingham, with the intention of going to law school. But when the family moved back to Mobile, she switched her major to business because she realized she already had a career in Keller Works, the small business she’d inadvertently started.
When Whole Foods Market first opened in Mobile in 2015, Krystn attended a vendor fair for local business owners who were interested in selling their products in the store. After her brief presentation, she was shocked to learn that the company wanted to display Keller Works items in its beauty section. “It blew my mind,” she says. “I didn’t expect an answer right away.”
After making her products at home in an outside storage unit and using a bedroom for curing soap for the past six years, Krystn recently leased a 1,500-square-foot space for a full-fledged production facility. Soon, she will take over the 3,000-square-foot space next door to accommodate the orders she expects to receive from Whole Foods.
A year ago, she hired Christi Corfee as the production manager – “one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. Christi makes soap four days a week, three “loaves” at a time. The loaves have to cure for four to eight weeks, depending on their ingredients, then they’re displayed on the shelves in the Keller Works showroom or shipped to Whole Foods and several other vendors in the Mobile area.
The relationship with Whole Foods has been key to the company’s success, Krystn says. “They spawned all this,” she says, adding that the eco-friendly market, which was acquired by Amazon last year, has been “super-supportive and encouraging.”
At present, Keller Works is available in the Mobile, Montgomery and Mountain Brook locations of Whole Foods in Alabama. In the next few months, Krystn hopes to have her products in all six Alabama stores, and she plans to expand to all 40 stores in the Southeast by the end of 2019.
“Our goal right now is to get in more Whole Foods stores,” she says. “It’s a bit of a process to make that happen.”