The creek that runs through Stefanie and Stephen McNeely’s eight-acre property in the Piney Woods was the roundabout inspiration behind Moon Rivers Naturals, a Tyler-based apothecary that creates small-batch soaps, oils, and scrubs. “We named our son Rivers, and naming the company after him and the land that inspires us just made perfect sense,” Stefanie says.

The couple officially established Moon Rivers at the end of 2013. It was around their son’s first birthday that Stefanie felt ready to contribute to the family’s income again. (Stephen was managing a local restaurant at the time.) She’d been making soaps for years and became enthralled with the world of natural body-care products. The early years were tough; money was tight, so the couple worked long hours not only making the products but also printing and affixing the labels by hand and hauling the goods to a local farmers’ market each week.

“People were nice enough to buy the stuff, but I wouldn’t say we formed a following,” Stefanie explains. “However, we started laying the foundation, pounding the pavement, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without those lessons.” Now Moon Rivers Naturals is sold at retailers like Madewell, Free People, and West Elm.

Last year, the McNeelys moved production from their homestead to an old building downtown with retail space on the first floor. “We want our customers to see where everything is coming from,” Stefanie says. “And we fell in love with the potential of downtown Tyler and can’t wait to watch this area grow and thrive.”

The McNeelys in their Tyler workshop; a tray of Cedarwood and Turmeric Bar Soap, ready to be packaged ($7 each).Photographs by Jeff Wilson

Q&A with Stefanie and Stephen McNeely

How did you two meet?

Stephen: I am from Hawkins, Texas, and Stefanie is from Florida. We met at a basketball tournament when we were fifteen and sixteen and dated long distance—with a few lapses in judgment on my part—pretty much until we married, at nineteen and twenty.

Was soap a good product to launch the business?

Stefanie: Yes! The clay detox, still one of our best-selling bar soaps, was the first product we made. It’s a combination of organic rolled oats, bentonite clay, Moroccan red clay, and peppermint essential oil. Starting with soaps taught us patience; they are arduous, and making them helped us understand our process when it comes to selecting oils, scents, herbs, and earth for various skin types and the products’ effect on the body.

In just a few years, you have managed to get into stores across the globe. How?

Stefanie: Whole-saling was my first goal after we launched. I wanted to get our products out into the world, and I loved that these shops wanted to support companies like us.

How do you divide and conquer on the workload?

Stefanie: I come up with recipes and work with wholesale accounts while managing the retail area. Stephen does our graphic work and helps brainstorm and organize events. He also makes our soaps and created our new incense line. He’s even earned the nickname Patchouli Jesus in downtown Tyler. It’s a little irreverent, but it fits.

What’s next at the homestead?

Stefanie: We have a little house in the woods, and we are slowly working on expanding our garden. We hope to be able to sustainably grow a lot of the flowers we use in our products. We have some chickens, and hopefully we will get a pig soon!

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