When the warmer weather arrives, Susan Shashok can be found pedaling her cargo e-bike around town delivering jars of skin cream or tubes of lip balm to customers.
Shashok, of East Middlebury, is the owner of Caroline’s Dream, a handcrafted skincare company she runs out of her home on Church Street. She launched the business in 2000 in honor of her paternal grandmother, Caroline, who loved foraging medicinal herbs, baking bread, growing vegetables, and knitting holiday decorations. Caroline, who died when Shashok was 15, valued hard work and was passionate about making everyday things with her hands.
Inspired by her grandmother, Shashok produces face cream, foot cream, lip balm, deodorant, and other products in her modest-sized kitchen. She sells her products online and also has a retail presence at the Middlebury Co-op and Petra Karthaus, a women’s clothing store in Toronto. She also offers her products to CSA members at Middlebury’s Elmer Farm.
Shashok started making skincare in the late 1990s after struggling to find chemical-free products for her sensitive skin.
“My grandmother taught me that something could be fun and beautiful, but it also needs to function,” she says. “I took a class on how to make skincare, and I used what I made, and it worked. My face lost its inflammation, and my acne cleared up. Making it isn’t easy, but it’s been worth it.”
Her products include natural ingredients such as coconut oil, beeswax, distilled water, arrowroot powder, and sweet almond oil. Her best-sellers include Lavender and Geranium Cream, Calendula Cream, Mountain Maple Lip Balm, and Sweet Orange Lip Balm. A biking enthusiast, she also makes skin salves and recovery creams for cyclists.
In her kitchen, Shashok makes batches of 26 jars of skincare cream at a time. The process includes tasks like melting down Vermont beeswax in a double boiler, and adding almond or coconut oils and blending with a hand mixer.
“All the stars have to align for everything to come together. But the joy for me is in the production, and it’s magic when the water and oil come together,” she says. “The set up and clean up in my kitchen are the hardest parts, but my family knows the drill.”
Her family includes her husband, Alan, and sons Nik, who lives in Boston, and Alex, a high school sophomore. Over the years, they’ve helped her with packaging, labeling, and loading up the car for deliveries. “My husband is my biggest fan,” she says with a smile.
Two years ago, Shashok began making deliveries by bike to places like the Middlebury Co-op and customers’ homes around town. She also creates an occasional pop-up shop in Middlebury when the opportunity arises. Earlier this year, she converted her cargo bike to an e-bike to help her make deliveries farther away and to travel more efficiently.
“I want to be environmentally friendly, and I like riding my bike as we are planning to eliminate our second car in the near future. Winter is rough around here, so I’m pretty much a fair-weather bike rider,” she says with an easy laugh. “But for me, it’s all about finding a way to put my business, my love of cycling, and my environmentalism all into one project.”
Caring about Community and the Environment
Shashok grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended the University of Vermont, where she studied food marketing and agri-business at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She moved to East Middlebury in 1993 and was working for the Middlebury Co-op as a spice and herb buyer when she decided to take a skincare-making class at the International Herb Symposium in 1997. After the symposium, she started making skincare for herself and her friends and eventually began Caroline’s Dream.
Not only is Shashok an environmentally conscious entrepreneur, but she’s also civic-minded. She served on the local selectboard for seven years and was recently elected as the new town moderator for Middlebury’s annual Town Meeting—a position recently vacated by Middlebury resident and former Governor Jim Douglas, who served as town moderator for three decades.
“I’m such a direct democracy geek. Even if we disagree, I love the fact that we can get together and talk about it at Town Meeting,” she says. “It’s interesting to be in a room full of people and watch the discussion go back and forth. Everyone is respectful, but opinionated, too. Sometimes feathers get ruffled and all that, but it all gets back down to a place where when we can head back out into the community and work together. It’s amazing, and I think we need more of that. I’m an introvert, but I love the process so much.”
Since moving to Vermont nearly 35 years ago, Shashok says she can’t imagine herself living anyplace else.
“It’s like one big playground with the mountains and the lake, and there are endless possibilities of things do to,” she says. “The cost of living here is high, and you have to sacrifice the money to get the lifestyle you want. But it’s worth it. And I like to be outside—it’s where I recharge.”
-Happy Vermonters is a series of profiles highlighting people living and working in Vermont.