The Marriage Ended. The Company Thrived.


In 1995, the couple married and started EO Products in their garage in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. (EO stands for so-called essential oils, which are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants.) In the well-established tradition of hippie entrepreneurs and based on Ms. Griffin-Black’s interest in aromatherapy, they created a collection of four essential-oil mixes (“Relax,” “Refresh,” “Love” and “Calm”) for the holiday gift guide at Bloomingdale’s, where Susan had some professional contacts from her earlier clothing boutique business.


An EO chemist mixes carrot seed extract into a lotion that is part of the company’s new lower-priced line, Everyone. Credit Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times Photo

EO sources its oils directly from producers in Australia, Morocco and China. Credit Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Their instincts — and the unexpected success of those oil mixes — told them there was a market that no one was yet fully exploiting. “We didn’t look at anyone else,” Ms. Griffin-Black said. “We just knew the ingredients we didn’t want to use. My own experience led the way more than the marketplace.” (Though, across the country in rural Maine, another hippie entrepreneur was having a similar epiphany: Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees, was blending her boyfriend’s leftover beeswax into a lip balm.)

The Blacks eventually moved their work space from their garage and acquired HFI Labs, a private label manufacturer with the equipment and technological know-how to enable them to expand their product line. “We were always too small, or didn’t have enough money to partner with other manufacturers to drive innovation,” Mr. Black said. “We weren’t trust fund kids.” They were married for 11 years; during that period they went from working on their own to hiring 35 employees. (Today they have 121.) They have a son, Mark, from Susan’s previous marriage, who is now in a rock band, and a daughter, Lucy, who was born in 1996. The couple share a mutual professional acumen — with Ms. Griffin-Black, 62, being more an Earth mother-type and Mr. Black, 55, the one who keeps a tight, “Shark Tank”-like rein on things — as well as a raft of personal eccentricities.

Ms. Griffin-Black, who was raised Jewish in Pittsburgh, is the dedicated Buddhist with an abiding alchemical passion, mixing and brewing flower and plant essences in tiny glass bottles; she practices hot yoga daily. Brad, who hails from Wilton, Conn., and likes to invoke large concepts, like 19th-century pre-industrialism and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” has abandoned Buddhism for more esoteric spiritual pursuits, like Philippine blood drawing rituals. He’s been known to bungee jump off bridges.

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