When North Mankato resident Sydney Johnson discovered that she had a sensitivity to the dye used in her favorite bath bombs, she began looking for other bath bomb brands that didn’t use it. But the dye—Red Dye 40, to be specific—is the most common artificial food coloring used in bath products, and Johnson couldn’t find any other bath bombs that didn’t use it. So, she decided to make her own.
“I found out I can actually make them myself,” she said. “Then I won’t have to break out in hives every time I use a bath bomb. Now I have bath bombs that are good for my skin, and I get to be fun and creative and choose my colors and choose my fragrance.”
From one homemade bath bomb, Johnson eventually grew a thriving business: Le Luxe De Sydney. That’s “Sydney’s Luxury” in French. Slowly but surely, she has expanded her product line of organic bath bombs and built a presence in southern Minnesota. Her success is impressive enough on its own—but it’s even more impressive when you realize that this young entrepreneur isn’t even old enough to drive.
Trial and error
Johnson was 12 years old when she first decided to make her own bath bombs, after she broke out in hives from using a store-bought product. She said she worked with her parents, especially mom Joleen Koenigs, to figure out the right recipe—which took a lot of trial and error.
“In the beginning, it took a long time to get my recipe down,” she said. “We looked all over the internet and tried almost every single one, and none of them worked. They would fizz up when I was trying to mold them, or I’d leave them in the pan overnight and they’d look fine but then in the morning, I’d come back and they’d look more like scones than a bath bombs, or the whole pan would be flat. So, my mom and I developed a new recipe that has all the natural ingredients, is good for your skin and will hold and stick together.”
Her success is impressive enough on its own—but it’s even more impressive when you realize that this young entrepreneur isn’t even old enough to drive.
“They’re hard to make,” Koenigs added. “Everyone thinks they’re so easy, but the recipes online turn out weird. They came out looking like blobs. It took us a long time to find something that actually works but still has good ingredients. We got ideas from online and ended up narrowing them to things we want to use. For example, witch hazel works better than water, and she uses castor oil instead of polysorbate 80 [a synthetic food binder] for the binders.”
Johnson’s recipe includes baking soda, Epsom salts, non-GMO citric acid, organic olive oil, organic castor oil and witch hazel. She can use essential oils or fragrance oils, whichever her customers prefer. In addition, her fragrances are phthalate-free and paraben-free.
Johnson said it takes about 2-5 minutes to make one bomb, while an entire batch (7-9 bombs) takes about half an hour to an hour. First, she mixes the dry ingredients together, then the liquid ingredients, and then the whole concoction. Once everything is mixed, she puts it into her mold.
Johnson orders her essential oils, phthalate-free fragrances, and mica colorant (a mineral she uses for color in place of food dye) online. The rest of the ingredients can be found around the area.
“We have tons of fragrances, and we can order whatever we need,” Koenigs said. “Each fragrance acts a little different with the bath bomb, so sometimes it’s a bit crazy.”
Building a business
When Johnson first started making bath bombs in 2017, she mostly shared them with family members and friends. However, Johnson said she soon started thinking that there could be a larger market for her product.
“We realized that I could actually make a business off of this because [my bath bombs] are natural and don’t have all the chemicals and dyes that other bath bombs do,” she said.
So, Johnson officially started “Le Luxe de Sydney.” The name inspiration came from the French class she was taking. Working alongside her parents and little brother Kyle, she expanded her different fragrances to about 20 with another 20 or so options if people want custom orders. Johnson covers the cost of the materials, and her parents offer their assistance for free, though she is planning to officially hire her brother now that the workload is enough for a second employee.
My business helps me pursue my dreams, because I have time to dance and sing and act. If I was working anywhere else, I wouldn’t have the time that I do.Sydney Johnson
Johnson said it costs less than a dollar to make a single bath bomb, and she sells them for between $5-8. Right now, she mostly sells at vendor shows around the area, as well as in Union Market. She has also sold at events such as MSU-Mankato’s “Big Ideas Challenge” and the student pop-up stores the university sometimes hosts.
Johnson was even asked to sell her products in a salon in the Twin Cities, but the agreement got bogged down by corporate red tape. She said she hopes to introduce her bath bombs to more salons in the area, however, since they’re usually locally run and don’t need corporate approval.
She’s also working on her online presence. Right now, she only has a Facebook page, but she hopes to have a website up and running soon. She also tried selling her products on sites such as Etsy and eBay, but she had trouble connecting with online consumers.
“It’s hard to market something people really want to smell,” Koenigs explained. “We had things on Etsy and eBay, and not a single one sold. Not one. I think that’s largely due to how people want to be able to smell them.”
Growing and expanding
Johnson sells three sizes of bath bombs: “sample” size (the smallest), medium and large. She said her busiest times of year are during the winter holidays and Mother’s Day. She usually has about 20 scents available for her bath bombs, though she can create custom orders as well. Johnson said her most popular scents include Persephone’s Pomegranate, Sunrise, Stress Relief, French Lavender, Sweetpea, Pineapple, Blue Hawaii and April Mist. During the holidays, she creates an additional four holiday-themed scents. She also sells “Absence,” a colorless and odorless bath bomb for people who just want the bubble experience.
“There’s nothing in it, no fragrance and no color, just a bath bomb in its purest form,” Koenigs explained. “It’s like a bubble, and you’ll have the benefit of the essential oil but you don’t have any scent.”
Johnson used to also make soy candles and bath salts, but she said she moved away from them because they require a lot more work and, in the case of the candles, are much heavier to lug around to vendor shows. Right now, she’s looking into creating shower bombs, since many people prefer showers to baths—if she can find a good recipe.
“It’ll take a lot of testing to figure that out, to make sure we’re getting something that does what it’s supposed to do,” Koenigs added.
However Johnson decides to move forward with her business, her main focus is simply moving forward —running the business even after she graduates high school and starts the next part of her life. She said she’s grateful for the ways it has helped her save money while giving her the flexibility job-wise to still pursue other interests, such as dance and theater.
“My bath bomb business has been a great way to earn money,” she said. “It’s not just being a teenager and going shopping, but in the future, it could potentially help me pay for college. My business helps me pursue my dreams, because I have time to dance and sing and act. If I was working anywhere else, I wouldn’t have the time that I do. I don’t think I’d try to create a huge bath bomb empire, but hopefully I can keep going with this.”
Getting to know Sydney
- Who: Sydney Johnson
- Lives in: North Mankato
- School: Minnesota Connections Academy
- Year: Freshman
- Hobbies: Dancing, singing, acting, makeup artistry
- Favorite bath bomb scent: Sunrise (“a really sweet, almost fruity smelling one”) or Stress Relief (mint eucalyptus)
- Facebook page: Le Luxe de Sydney
Her true passion
While Sydney enjoys making bath bombs and running her business, her true passion is dance. She has been dancing for 13 years and a member of the Dance Conservatory of Southern Minnesota for the last 10 years. Her dance styles include ballet, lyrical, jazz, tap and hip hop. In March, she will be performing as a guest artist in “It Takes Two,” the annual dance showcase at Riverfront Performing Arts.
“I really like dance because it’s a way of self-expression through movement, and you’re able to tell a story through your dancing,” she said. “It’s a great way to channel your emotion and make other people feel something.”
Sydney said she plans to continue dancing after she graduates, with plans to study theater and dance at MSU-Mankato. She hopes to eventually become a professional dancer.
It runs in the family
Both of Johnson’s parents own businesses. Joleen Koenigs owns Primerica Financial Services in Mankato, while her husband, Richard Koenigs, owns All Star Cast Frameworks, also in Mankato.
“I’m not surprised she wanted to do something with selling [her bath bombs], because our family is very business-minded,” Joleen Koenigs said. “We want her to pursue her goals and dreams, and business is part of it. We’re very, very proud of her, because she is a self-starter, she understands deadlines, [and] she understands what it takes to get a job done—all the parts that go into it. She’s very, very involved with all of that. We’re glad that it allows her the freedom to pursue the things she likes, but she can still make money. I think it’ll help her in the future, no matter what that holds for her. Learning business skills is an incredible skill set to have for your future.”
One Million Cups
Johnson had the unique chance to receive advice and feedback about her business from area professionals when she presented at 1 Million Cups. 1 Million Cups is a free program designed to educate and inspire entrepreneurs around the country, with more than 160 communities—including Mankato—involved.
Mankato hosts a weekly 1MC-Mankato event that brings together entrepreneurs and the Mankato area community. During these meetings, area entrepreneurs or companies give six-minute presentations about their services, and then they receive about 20 minutes worth of advice and networking from the audience, which is full of area professionals and industry experts.
Johnson was invited to participate in December 2019, sharing a brief presentation of Le Luxe de Sydney.
“I was a little nervous before, just because it was a presentation, [but] afterwards, I felt great,” she said. “I was asked a lot of good questions, like how do I want to grow my business and what the community can do to help.”
Not only did Johnson receive helpful business advice, she also made new connections—including with Profinium Inc., which ordered more than 100 bath bombs as Christmas presents for its employees that year. Other businesses also reached out to her about creating strategic partnerships in the future if she wants to grow, such as finding ways to sell her products in more salons, as well as even discussing the option of automation.