Business

Iowa City's Whoa Nelli Natural creates natural cleaning products

Mary Paoli of Whoa Nelli prepares soap for her laundry products and scour powder cleaner at her home in Iowa City Friday, June 28, 2019. Paoli sells homemade cleaning products made from simple ingredients and essential oils via her online shop, at the Shop in Iowa City, and at select holiday markets in Johnson and Linn Counties. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Mary Paoli of Whoa Nelli prepares soap for her laundry products and scour powder cleaner at her home in Iowa City Friday, June 28, 2019. Paoli sells homemade cleaning products made from simple ingredients and essential oils via her online shop, at the Shop in Iowa City, and at select holiday markets in Johnson and Linn Counties. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — May Paoli never would have guessed that a bit of cold weather would inspire a new business venture.

While living in Bozeman, Mont., about 10 years ago, Paoli was looking for a way to stay busy during the winter.

“I was a public relations consultant and worked from home,” she said. “Winters in Bozeman are frosty and I had to find things to do so I would leave my house. I saw a natural cleaning program being offered through the community center and I thought it would be something interesting to do.”

It turns out, the class was more than interesting.

“It was actually revolutionary to me,” said Paoli. “Before that class I didn’t know how bad cleaning products were environmentally or health-wise. That class really turned on the light bulb for me.”

She also learned that making your own cleaning products was easy.

“It was like cooking, but even easier,” she recalled. “That sparked something in me, so I learned as much as I could.”

After reading books and blogs, the more imperative it seemed that she start her own natural product business.

And so she did. After some trial and error, she developed a line of cleaning products, including laundry soap, a home scrub, a home scour and an all-purpose spray cleaner.

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Paoli is pleased to be helping to reduce the negative effects of traditional cleaning products with harsh chemicals that are hard on the environment, not safe for children, and contribute to the plastic pollution issues facing our planet.

“When you think about it like that, making natural cleaning products is a pretty important job,” she said.

The name for the company occurred to her while developing her website.

“I made a list of everything that differentiated my products from everything else on the market and when I got to the end of the list I said, ‘whoa, nelli” and it was just right,” Paoli said.

Today, customers can order Whoa Nelli products online, but locals also can purchase products at the Shop in downtown Iowa City — which is starting a zero waste refill discount program — as well as at local markets and maker events.

Paoli is working at expanding to retail locations in Cedar Rapids as well.

Running your own business, especially when you are the sole employee, means wearing all the hats. Paoli takes the product photos, networks with other makers and environmentally conscious business owners and consumers, makes and labels the products, creates e-newsletters, does the taxes and handles all the details of signing up and attending markets among other duties.

“I really enjoy anything related to the creative process most,” she said. “I love product development and trying new ideas, as well as designing packaging and labels,” she added.

“ ... In the meantime, I remind myself that I can only move as fast as I can,” she said. “Some days I want to be farther ahead than I am, but I have to have patience with the evolution of the business.”

Whoa Nelli products come in four scents and Paoli said she is working on an unscented option as customers often have requested it over the years.

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“It’s important to know what’s in the products you use, so I share all everything that is in my products. I keep it simple. I know there are other people who want to use natural product,” she said.

• Know a business that might make for an interesting “My Biz” feature? Let us know via michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

• Owner: Mary Paoli

• Business: Whoa Nelli Natural

• Address: Iowa City

• Phone: (319) 855-1028

• Website: whoanelli.com

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