“We were just making soap part time, but in October 2018 I attended the Entrepinay summit. I never knew a space like that could be created. I thought it was just like a conference for entrepreneurs — but it was actually a really emotional experience, like a day full of crying! And what I learned was that, because I am a Pinay, I am well-equipped to own a business – more equipped than I thought I was. And that’s when I made the decision to do this full-time.”
Jamie Cardenas and her partner Lucas Ives own and operate Magpie Alchemy, the Sacramento-based personal care boutique whose handmade, all-natural products provide a much-needed response to an industry drenched in synthetic chemicals and methods.
It is a project that grew out of Jamie’s frustrating experiences with industrial, prescribed ointments and remedies for her chronic pain and Eczema.
“I would be prescribed something, and it might work a little bit, but I was having to manage a lot of side effects, and it was like, ‘Is this worth it?’ We really felt like there was a missing piece in western medicine and in researching botanical based skin care — it’s a really sinister industry, the personal care and cosmetic world. These companies aren’t legally required to disclose whats in these products,” Jamie says.
“Just some basic research showed us that a lot of the everyday products you buy from the store are full of chemicals that are bad for you. We wanted to reduce our chemical intake — and found that making our own products was a great way to control that,” Lucas says.
What started as a personal solution quickly grew into a movement, with skin conditions being so prevalent in the Filipino community and supported by diaspora communities’ renewed interest in natural approaches that recall the healing practices of The Philippines.
“Specifically with the Filipino community, eczema and skin conditions are a big thing. So many of us have tried medications, and injections, so our philosophy is really just kind of getting back to the basics — by remembering that consumption of products happens everywhere, and always taking it back to mama earth. We want to create a movement that supports community health, because a lot of people see something like all-natural, hand-crafted skincare as a luxury or a nicety — but it’s really not. It’s all about making those small changes, even in something like soap, that are going to be healthier for you in the long run,” Jamie says.
In this way, Jamie is helping Filipino people rediscover a pride in the natural (and sustainable) approaches to wellness that originate in The Philippines — and is also uncovering her own connections to her ancestors through this work.
“Medicines nowadays are really just synthesized versions of old medicines. So what we are doing at Magpie Alchemy is what our ancestors were doing — and I learned that my grandmother, Grandma Mary, was an expert in plant medicines and herbal remedies and made tinctures, soaps and salves. My Auntie Necie recently posted on Facebook about my grandmother on her birthday, and tagged me in it, and she wrote something like ‘Your grandkids are living your legacy, especially Jamie.’ I asked what that meant, and my cousin Edlynn told me about Grandma Mary’s legacy,” Jamie says.
The significance of lineage to Magpie Alchemy extends beyond their storefront — recently made permanent at the Warehouse Artists Lofts (WAL) Public Market in Sacramento — and to the people that make up their community, not least of all their family.
“One thing we have been mindful of from the start is that it’s not about the bottom line. We are trying to create and support a wellness community. It’s about helping people. So it’s been a great honor to witness Jamie grow and integrate her culture and ancestry as a deep rooted priority in everything she does. Jamie is the face and force behind our company, and the world needs to experience her as she truly is a healer. She has a gift, passed down from her ancestors, and she’s now sharing this gift with the world. It’s so important that she has every opportunity to shine as bright as possible. I also feel it's important that our daughter sees her mother as an amazing creator, healer and entrepreneur, and an example of a bold and brave Pinay,” Lucas says.
“The need for natural products is urgent; it’s not about selling products, it’s about educating people and sharing knowledge. Western medicine failed us, period. So when I talk to clients, I give it to them straight. There is a level of honesty that some other businesses might find jarring, but that’s important to me,” Jamie says.
Imbued with such a clearly articulated mission, Magpie Alchemy enriches the life of their community. Such work is significant in so many ways, not least of all for its ability to connect people with a greater sense of self-worth and well-being – in many ways paying forward the lessons they learned at the Entrepinays Summit in 2018.
“At the summit, I learned that, with this community we’re never alone. We might have fear that maybe something wont work. But you know that behind you there is a wildfire of support and love. I don’t water down my Pinay-ness anymore. I show up with my Pek Pek power shirt, and it’s just a whole new vibe. We feel great, because we know that we’re a part of something bigger than just selling skincare,” Jamie says.
Written by Paul Barrera.