Surrounded by rainforest, Angie Flickinger with her dog Togiak beside her, picks spruce tips and drops them into a bucket. Togiak, a large husky mix, sniffs the air, ready to alert Angie to bigger critters. Togiak accompanies her on every foray into the forest and today she’s out harvesting a few spruce tips for a bath soak. Angie’s the owner of Waterbody, an Alaska skincare company that sells bath, body and skincare products inspired by and made with ingredients from Alaska’s wild nature.
Wrangell is not a place you might imagine there’d be a skin care company, but Waterbody is home among the fog and hanging lichen and seaweed carpeted beaches. But why Wrangell? Wrangell Island is small and isolated. Barges arrive once a week, there are water taxis, and the Alaska Marine Highway (when available) sails to nearby island communities. We also rely on Alaska Airlines and small plane services when the weather cooperates. Perhaps, the smallness and isolation are what makes Wrangell a perfect place for a skincare company to be envisioned and then thrive.
Wrangell island receives on average 80 inches of rain a year and an average adult Wrangellite is made up of 60% water.
Angie says that “living in a place like Wrangell cultivates a strong sense of resiliency and equips us to find creative solutions to our challenges.” Angie was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and first arrived in Wrangell in 2010, after graduating with an environmental studies degree and then landing a seasonal job working at Anan Bear Observatory. After the job ended, she never left, making Wrangell her home. Fortunately, when Angie got the idea to experiment with running her own sustainable business, the community supported her. Waterbody is the first business that Angie’s built, though she has experience running a non-profit. “I initially started it as a personal experiment and challenge to see if I had what it takes.” Angie is highly self-motivated and self-driven and her knowledge about skincare formulation and manufacturing has been achieved through coursework and certification. She loves “the endless pathways and opportunities toward building a life of my own design that working for myself offers me. Plus, there’s never a dull moment in entrepreneurship!” Now, Waterbody is a four-person team including two part-time helpers in the workshop and a staff member who works remotely on their marketing.
We are waterbodies: Our skin is 64% water. Our human brains and heart are composed of 73% water. Our muscles and kidneys are 79% water. Even our bones are 31% water.
For Angie, to sustain a business that suits her values and the values of her community, it’s important to develop a relationship with the land she’s living on, Lingít Aaní. “Our coastal temperate rainforest environment is so shaped and connected by water – shrouding the heavily forested mountainsides in mist, blurring the lines between ocean and atmosphere, carving riverbeds and valley bottoms as glaciers retreat, dripping softly through lichen, moss, and muskeg to form streams that spawn salmon and feed whole ecosystems.
She views this relationship, this love for the land and sea, with respect, something she’s learned from Southeast’s Indigenous cultures, the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. Angie weaves the practice of stewardship into her business and daily life. “I follow those cultural examples of relationship to and respect for our natural resources.” She’s committed to the sustainable use of local resources. She was taught to only work with plants that readily grow and reproduce and can be harvested with minimal impact on their surrounding habitat. She also learned to closely monitor and record seasonal harvests, to ensure that resident populations continue to thrive and prosper. Angie stresses that “investing in low-waste packaging design for our products, utilizing plastic-free, compostable, and recyclable materials will reduce our environmental footprint.”
Lingít Aaní, Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage covers 500 miles from north to south and is comprised of 1,000 islands and thousands of inlets and bays.
Waterbody’s workshop is, of course, located near water in downtown Wrangell across from the boatyard and up the street from Reliance Harbor. That’s where you’ll find Angie making a big batch of soap. “Our natural bar soaps are probably our most intensive product to make. I make our soaps in big batches of 240 bars at a time, and it’s a several days to several weeks long process to produce the perfect bar.”
She first weighs and measures all the rich, nourishing butters and oils in a big 13-gallon melting tank. It takes a few hours to reach the correct temperature. Donned in protective gear covering her skin and eyes, Angie weighs, measures, and mixes the lye solution that creates the chemical reaction that transforms the oils into soap. When all the ingredients reach the right temperature, she pours the mixture into a giant pot where its power-mixed until the process of saponification (soap-making) begins and the soap starts to thicken and form. She then pours the pudding-textured mix into a big block mold where it sits and hardens for two days. When the soap transforms into the texture resembling a block of cheddar cheese, it’s ready to cut. Large, 40 lb. soap blocks are sliced into small 5-ounce bars. They’re racked to cure for 6 weeks then they’re boxed up and shipped out to customers.
Wrangell’s wettest season lasts 5 ½ months. It drizzles and sometimes downpours from late August through to February.
Making soap is a time and labor-intensive process, but it’s worth the effort: “The finished bars we create have the richest, most moisturizing and luxurious lather.” Waterbody’s bestselling products are the Mermud Soap and the Deep Blue Sea Bath Soak, both made with locally harvested kelp, as well as the Midnight Bloom Body Butter and Wildflower Facial Oil.
Angie originally named the small operation Gathered and Grown Botanicals. “We eventually outgrew that brand, and I needed a name that better reflected our values and vision. After a year and half of deep behind the scenes foundational brand work, what you now see as Waterbody was born.” She’d been using kelp ingredients and wanted to focus on utilizing the growing mariculture industry in Alaska, so the name change reflects that. She says Alaska’s developing kelp farming industry is providing her a unique opportunity to support sustainable economic development in Southeast Alaska.
More than 40% of the nation’s surface water resources are found in Alaska.
Southeast Alaska’s Indigenous peoples have been using kelp and seaweed for skin and wound care for thousands of years. One old remedy is the use of the sticky inside of the popweed to treat acne. The goose tongue beach plant is used as a mosquito repellant. Waterbody currently
makes three different products featuring Alaskan kelp: Mermud Soap, Deep Blue Sea Bath Soak, and Deep Blue Sea Face Mask. “Seaweed is such an abundant, prolific, and nutrient-dense resource in our coastal landscape that I began researching and experimenting with it in skincare formulations early on in the business” The company acquires kelp from a Southeast Alaskan kelp business that maintains a state harvest permit for harvesting seaweeds and Waterbody holds a non-timber forest products permit for harvesting on state lands.
Making soap and beauty products is not only scientific work, but also gooey. “Kelp and other seaweeds have a mucilaginous quality. Think of that juicy slime that oozes out when you squeeze popweed or bladderwrack seaweed, and the slippery feeling when a seaweed brushes your leg while you’re swimming. The mucilage in kelp contains compounds like those found in aloe, which are soothing and hydrating to the skin.”
Waterbody is the perfect business for someone like Angie, who, along with her dog Togiak, is at home traversing snow-covered alpine trails, picking spruce tips and blueberries, and walking Wrangell’s beaches. “The well of local support, the rich quality of life, and the endlessly beautiful natural surroundings of our community fills up my cup and keeps me motived and inspired to continue growing this business rooted in our small town.” She says that Waterbody would not be the business and the brand that it is if it were located somewhere else. Southeast Alaska’s beauty is what inspires her skincare products. Waterbody is experiential body care, incorporating local ingredients with the intention of nurturing a connection to nature. “We are a brand that celebrates living in this place.”
* Waterbody has a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and recently on TikTok, where Angie shares behind the scenes looks at running a small skincare business in Alaska.
• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.