Meet the Maker: Barnaby Black
Thanks to the Winter Fir Lodge Spray giving our artificial Christmas tree an authentic feel, the holiday spirit was more vibrant in my home. Craftly teamed up with Barnaby Black to feature this home fragrance in our December 2016 "Wild" subscription box. The freshness of its ingredients was clear.
Through this interview, you'll discover Mathew Sabatino's (founder of Barnaby Black) genuine love for the outdoors, his company, and the experiences he helps create for his customers. You'll see how entrepreneurship can start one way and lead you to another path, seeing how change can be good.
Hi Mat! Tell us about Barnaby Black, its name, and the people behind it.
Barnaby Black (BB) started as an outdoor-inspired graphic tee line that, after many years of grinding it out, became a small but full collection of higher end, functional outdoor menswear. For me it was always about the outdoors and nature and connecting to it in some fashion or another. The clothing I wore was what I wore to endure the elements or to garner to a specific type of wilderness i.e. the mountains, the desert, etc.
As with the natural world and the wilderness BB was an ever evolving brand mostly based on my own, personal evolutions in the last 15 years. I've rolled with the punches, especially within the fashion industry and when it got a little too expensive to keep up with the large demand of developing new, fresh fashion concepts, I started to move my efforts into keeping the brand alive.
My wife actually suggested I make soap because she felt I’d love the very nature of it. That was the start of my wildcrafting days. Without diminishing all of the help I've had over the years from very supportive friends and family, I've basically been a one man show. I'm the late night tinkerer and mad scientist, self made naturalist/botanist, rogue graphic designer, wary businessman. But it’s all easy when you love every little nuance of what you do.
What brought you to starting from a clothing brand and expanding to skin care? How was that transition?
From the day I made my first hard soap bars things for BB started to turn the corner. It opened my product to a larger audience. Once I started to experiment and formulate I realized the potential and scope of what I could do now. Yet once I started to make things like smoked lavender and clove soap and realized anyone could do the same so I needed to get deeper, more immersed into things and for me that was making my own essential oils.
I wanted pure nature in a bottle. I wanted things that you couldn’t get out there in the world from supply houses. I want pitch pine and coulter pine oils, atlantic white cedar leaf, desert lavender. You just can't find these things so I went to the source and got them myself. Once I found my place in this craft the transition was easy. Again it was that whole thing your father told you growing up, "Find something you love to do and you won't work a day in your life".
Has your lifestyle changed since the business began? How do you sustain a work-life balance?
The only major change has been managing a small business in trying times. It’s a roller coaster ride for sure. The going out into nature, hiking, camping, etc. to get the plant material has become an integral part of my daily work but I embrace that change.
The great part of what I do is I can maintain my family life while harvesting. I grab friends all the time to come with. When my son gets old enough I can't wait to take him out and teach him the way of the woods. My father did that for me so that tradition and that on-going chain reaction is something I live to do as part of my lifestyle.
The funny thing is even though I am a brand and brands rely so much on image, my brand in and of itself is the lifestyle. The image of a burly, plaid wearing guy going out into the woods to make products isn't an image at all.
What is the most breathtaking outdoor adventure you’ve ever experienced so far? How was it special?
Oh jeez!!!!! I fall in love with nature everyday. There are many. The ones that stand out the most to me are when I'm reminded of how small I am out there in the wilderness. That always takes my breath away. Usually that comes with discovery. Finding new things, plants, places. I’ll never forget my first time seeing a Redwood in California. It takes my breath away just thinking about them.
What is one winter camping tip, in the snowy mountains, you’d share to a newbie?
Tell us about the Winter Fir Lodge Spray we featured in our December box.
The simple approach for winter fir is getting people to have their homes smell like the real deal fir that’s in them. There are companies making holiday scents that have not one note similar to the real thing. They are romantic notions of such real plants, but I always wonder if that actually works against the environment.
Most people will say pine when they smell my fir sprays. It’s years of conditioning by commercial fragrance companies. It’s a funny thing. There’s one out there on the market now called fraser fir and although it smells nice, it’s just not fraser fir. That’s a huge part of why I make these as well. To educate. Not about the aromatic properties of fraser fir because in the end it’s not too important to your nose but consider that the fraser fir is critically endangered in the wild. That is a big deal to me.
Yes, I want your home to smell like fresh cut fir, but I also want you to realize some things about our diminishing wilderness places. There needs to more of a connection there. Something transcendent from just the holiday season. Every year the formula for the spray has changed. It all depends on where I am or what I find that year.
On the east coast we have two firs, one of which is critically endangered. The west coast has a handful more. They all have their own signature scents. The experimenting is minimal on this one. It all comes down to the time I am infusing. You get fresher, cleaner, more green notes the less time it’s soaking in organic alcohol. Then I mix a blend of pines, cedars, firs and spruces. The one I did for Craftly was amazing. It had this peppery note that I loved. Not something I usually have gotten with other batches.
What is your brand philosophy?
My philosophy is always honesty, to myself and to my customers. Nature does not lie. My products are pure from the source. I am not a businessman nor do I try to portray something I am not. I only got this far in business because I was my true self and truthful. The passion, motivation, grit, and all that good stuff follows soon after because it’s real.
What has been the biggest challenge in running Barnaby Black?
How does my brand speak to people in a sea of other great products? When I talk about my stuff people get it but when it’s on a shelf somewhere how does it attract people because my brand is all about the story of my process. So many brands use the words organic and wildcrafted and that makes it even harder for me.
There’s “wild crafted” and then there's “wildcrafted” that you yourself actually wildcraft. It’s been a challenge to get that across without me actually there. With that said it’s also the same thing that keeps me fresh and unique. As I mentioned, no one out there is using Atlantic cedar leaf, pitch pine, red spruce, mountain illicium, funeral sage, santa lucia fir because you have to make it yourself if you want it.
What else would you like to share to our subscribers about your brand?
I just want people to know that above all what I do comes from my unbreakable love for our natural world. It’s a struggle everyday, both a sad one and an angry one, to see what is going on with the planet and the general disposition of how people treat it.
For me, it’s about education. It’s hard not to come off preachy, but we don't have time anymore to wonder about this. We all must take action and work harder to be more careful with our daily routines, and how they affect our environmental issues. The saddest thought to me is to one day I have to explain to my son that he can't hug a redwood tree because they are just not there anymore.
*Images c/o of Barnaby Black
About the author
Stepfanie is fond of inspirational stories from ordinary yet intriguing humans. She's curious about the people around her. You can find her retreating in the quiet outdoors or experimenting with DIY crafts or trying not to make a fool out of herself on insta stories. She is the Content & Community Manager at Craftly.