This is the first article in a seven-part series interviewing independent small business owners in the apothecary space.
I initially learned of Pearl+ at the end of 2015, right before I moved to Portland from New York. I stayed one night at the Ace Hotel in Midtown and splurged on room service, their fully-stocked mini-bar, and a bottle of Thé Noir 29 from Le Labo’s neighboring boutique downstairs. Apparently I thought I was Beyoncé.
Before bidding New York and my hotel room farewell, I noticed a small sliver of charcoal soap dangling from the bathroom faucet in my room: a smooth, marbleized bar with infinitesimal, glittery flecks of pearl. As a beautiful object with equally beautiful results, I’ve been a fan ever since.
Fast forward, seven months later, I caught up with one half of Pearl+, Janet Jay, to speak at length about her previous life in the skincare industry, ancient Chinese beauty secrets, and realizing a vision that helped her and her family build a creative space for healthy living, supporting the fine arts, and establishing a community of like-minded thinkers.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how Studio J/Pearl+ was founded?
I’m from New York. My career in NYC was in product development and marketing for the DVF and Estée Lauder. Studio J was founded when my husband [John Jay], and I moved to Portland, Oregon. We had always worked on projects together and wanted to have a space where we could continue to do this.
I had always wanted to develop a product inspired by my grandmother and aunts who used crush pearl in their beauty products. It’s a mineral that they ingested and took topically for good skin. When I returned to Portland from six years of living in Japan, I developed Pearl+ Luxury Soaps. The soaps incorporate both ingredients of crushed pearl and activated charcoal.
How do you typically start your day?
The start of my mornings are different everyday. I’m not a morning person, so I’m usually rushing. My day typically starts with a sweet wake up nudge from my cat. Sometimes my days are about the soaps, other days are about wellness concepts, or art events—it varies; no two days are exactly the same.
How many people make up your production team at Pearl+ and what are their roles?
I have a studio manager, full-time freelance designer, art assistant, and usually three or four production assistants. Our soaps are made off-site and then sent to us here in Portland for cutting, packaging, and shipment.
What type of projects are you working on currently?
We are currently concepting products and a wellness/beauty space inspired by traditional Chinese medicine. We are also assisting to bring an artist residency program from Japan to Portland called, End of Summer. This program is ongoing for the month of August. There are seven artists and guest lecturers coming and working out of Yale Union Center for Contemporary Arts.
How did you and your husband decide what type of events would take place at Studio J? Is this an ever-evolving list?
This happens quite organically. We are very fortunate to be able to support the events and projects we are passionate about. They are all related to creativity, friends, and helping [the] community. There is an evolving list, but in a small way, some organizations we continue to help on a regular basis.
What are the bigger challenges faced in running your own company?
Figuring out how to spend more time doing the things you love. Being true to yourself and your vision. Success is determined not only by numbers, but the passion and guts to put something out there that is unique, and an expression of who you are.
“Success is determined not only by numbers, but the passion and guts to put something out there that is unique, and an expression of who you are.”
What would be your absolute dream project?
Every project we do is a dream project! Recently, we helped concept an exhibt at the Portland Art Museum called, The Ride. The show was a collection of images from the archives of Paige Powell on the incredible art scene during the early 80s in NYC.
Can you share some of the major influences/influencers of your work? Also, where do you find your inspiration?
Travel is always the biggest inspiration. People and places open your mind to dream, wonder, and [develop] new ideas.
Seeing other’s perspectives can make things seem fresh and relevant again. My own history and family who believed wellness and beauty was relative to daily preventative care. Our friend, Alex Calderwood, who believed in Pearl+, and had a true creative vision like so few. Because of him, Pearl+ Soaps are in all the Ace Hotels throughout the U.S.
What does your success criteria look like for the future of Pearl+? What’s next for the line and for Studio J?
For the studio, we hope to continue to create in many areas, whether it be new products, concepts for events, and ways to help support other like-minded creatives. For Pearl+, there may possibly be new products, but the direction might take us to other concepts of wellness and beauty.
What’s your favorite brand right now?
Can’t name one.
I hear you’re a big tea drinker. Bagged or loose-leaf?
V-neck or crew neck?
Kim K. or Taylor Swift?
Tokyo or New York City?
What are your top three favorite scents at the moment?
Burning wood, fresh peaches, and roses.
Big thanks to Janet Jay and her Studio Manager, Lucy, for their graciousness and warm hospitality during my Studio J visit. And to learn more about Pearl+ or to purchase an amazing bar for your own beauty regimen, please visit Pearl+ online or visit an Ace Hotel near you.