Three sisters from the Yukon-Kuskokwim region have started an innovative company that draws on traditional Yup'ik/Cup'ik knowledge of the area to create high-end skin-care products using tundra plants. ArXotica, based in Bethel, is poised to take advantage of a new trend in the beauty products industry--the use of northern botanicals in natural skin care products. Tundra plants and berries, recently discovered to contain natural anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, have traditionally been used for skin care by northern peoples around the world. A recent Time Magazine article called Arctic berries "the miracle medicine du jour in the fast-paced world of skin care."
OFF TO GOOD START
"We were lucky in our timing, but that's going to push us, too," said Cika Sparck. Cika, whose background is in graphic design, is in charge of advertising and design for ArXotica. Amy Sparck Dobmeier, a communications specialist at Calista Corp., handles networking within the state. ArXotica President Michelle Sparck, who holds a degree in international affairs, is managing negotiations with a manufacturer overseas and will be handling the ins and outs of competing in the global marketplace. Amy lives in Eagle River, while Michelle and Cika divide their time between the East Coast and Bethel. The Sparck triplets, who are half Cup'ik and half Jewish, remember helping their family harvest berries and plants every summer near the village of Chevak.
"We were taught that you don't leave until the buckets are full," said Amy. This emphasis on hard work, family responsibility and connection to the land carries over into their business philosophy today. Last summer, the Sparcks were back on the tundra again, this time gathering wormwood for the first of ArXotica's formulations. They were careful not to let their activities encroach on traditional gathering practices in the area. "Merging subsistence-related activity with for-profit venture--that's unusual," Michelle said. "We made sure we talked to regional Native leaders to make sure there was a comfort level before we pursued it."
Wormwood, or ciagg'luk, is traditionally used by Alaska Natives as a topical treatment for skin inflammations, as well as a tea to treat colds and flu. Currently, ArXotica is concentrating on getting the science to back up anecdotal evidence and...