American Provenance experiments with success
From middle school science project to thriving e-commerce company, American Provenance sticks to the formula.
It all started in a chemical fog of body spray. Former middle school science teacher Kyle LaFond kept getting headaches but didn’t understand why until a fateful day next to the lockers. “Two little guys were just absolutely showering themselves with Axe Body Spray, and as I walked by I could feel my throat get tight,” LaFond says. He inspected the can, recognized very few ingredients and designed a science project on the spot. Students brought in personal care items and LaFond helped them formulate replicas using natural ingredients. Over the years, LaFond developed quite a product line — and his family and friends loved it.
“They all said this is really good stuff, you should do something with this,” LaFond says.
He did. In May 2015, LaFond launched American Provenance in his mother’s machine shed on the 110-acre Blue Mounds Township property originally purchased by his great-grandfather as a wedding gift for his grandparents. LaFond started living on the farm after his mother died in 2018 — the same year the business outgrew it. After seeking invaluable help from Michelle Somes-Booher at the Small Business Development Center, graduating from gener8tor’s gBeta accelerator program and raising $500,000 in funding from Wisconsin’s Winnebago Seed Fund and Chicago-based Tru Fragrance & Beauty, LaFond moved operations 10 miles up the road into the Premier Building Solutions business park. That little science project had morphed into a line of all-natural deodorant, body wash, aftershave, pomade, beard balm, beard oil, hand sanitizer and liquid soap. Today it’s a multimillion-dollar company with products in more than 4,000 stores nationwide, with a thriving e-commerce platform and a 2021 deal with Target.com.
“We’re six years in but I really feel like we’re still just getting started,” says LaFond, as he leads me through a tour of the small but mighty facility where, during some pandemic months, sales shifted from 60% online versus brick-and-mortar to 90-95% online. “I think the next three or four years are going to be really, really big here.” The new space was built to help AP scale while still preserving its commitment to hand-melting and hand-pouring all products — including 2,000 deodorants a day. “We’re swimming in them,” laughs one employee as he loads tubes into a new, automated label maker, “but we’re not drowning just yet.”
AP now has two sorely needed loading docks and a dedicated room for testing essential oils and scents, complete with locally roasted coffee beans to sniff as a scent neutralizer between aromas. There’s plenty of wall space to display the tattoo-inspired art that adorns AP products, illustrating clever names like Shotguns & Shenanigans and Pinups & Paramours (the Americana aesthetic was almost entirely driven by creative director Greta Geiger, who has been with the company from the beginning).
“I’m committed to manufacturing our own products in-house for the duration,” LaFond says. “I love the fact that I’m providing good jobs to good people.” Those jobs start above $15 per hour, and employees work just four to four-and-a-half days per week. Corrugated packaging for boxed shipments is locally sourced and 1% of online purchases go to nonprofits like the Foundation for Black Farmers — as well as to environmental organizations to offset the use of plastic tubes. LaFond says all of this — the company values, his work ethic, an ongoing commitment to manufacturing natural products with local people — was first cultivated on his family’s farm.
“My cousin Anna [Landmark of Landmark Creamery in Paoli] says the same thing, that our grandfather was a wonderful steward of the land, such a great example to learn from in terms of not only treating people but treating animals, treating the environment, treating your workspace with pride and dignity,” LaFond says. “There are days out here when it’s really damp and musty, and if you walk into the barn you can almost still smell the tobacco from his pipe.”
Maggie Ginsberg is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.
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