Interviewed by Amber Bushman
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Joanna Misunas, creator and owner of Sojourn Box in Santa Cruz, CA. Sojourn Box is a decorative “Full” or “Taste” size box filled with local, artisan products from some of California’s most popular destinations. Joanna is a perfect example of a local entrepreneur who has created her company with passion and hard work. Here’s her story.
Amber: What was the idea behind starting Sojourn Box?
Joanna: I think it was a culmination of many ideas and concepts that had been brewing in my mind. Many years ago I enjoyed getting Birchbox, which is a box subscription where you get beauty samples. I relished in the concept of box subscriptions from then on and believe the seed was planted then. Many years later when I was in school, I was out for a walk with a friend brainstorming ideas and it just hit me one day, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to get a subscription of local, artisan goods from different areas?” This concept incorporated the fact that I love to travel, try artisan goods and at my truest core, I love celebrating and sharing beautiful and noteworthy things. Whether it be a place to eat, visit, shop or a new product in our local community, I want people to know about it. I love telling people about the Verve, Bantam and Dig Gardens. Not everybody has the time or opportunity to discover what’s in their backyards, let alone people that may be in Brooklyn, Portland or just down in Southern California- they have no idea. So, why not share it. I know the first thing I do when I visit some place new to me, is try to figure out the good restaurants, things to do and see…and am often at a loss when I go to Yelp or when I read local periodicals. It can be overwhelming and a big waste of time that you should be spending enjoying yourself in a new location. That’s what I aimed to target with the box with our Insider’s Guide “Top 5”. I took the ‘Best of the Best’ of Santa Cruz and put it in a handy booklet you can grab and go to enjoy some of the incredible shops, spots in nature, food and events that we have here. It’s definitely an added bonus to the box! Oh…and the musical component where you follow a link provided in the box and get to listen to the “Top 10 Beats” of Santa Cruz showcasing local bands! I like to think the box encompasses all your senses to enjoy a location!
Amber: Once you had the idea for Sojourn Box, how did you ultimately start your business?
Joanna: It was an interesting time in my life because it was right after I made the decision to not return back to acupuncture school, which I had been pursuing for about two years. Once I trusted my choice and knowing the resistance to return was for a reason, the next week I came up with Sojourn Box. From there, it was pure adrenaline. No sleep. No eat. Just focus and tunnel vision. I’ve never felt as driven and passionate about anything in my life, so it was very clear to me that this was something. I knew the first thing I needed was a website, which brought me to the name of Sojourn Box. I tried close to 100 other names, but all other domains were taken. I finally came up with a word that incorporates travel., as sojourn by definition means a temporary stay. I thought that was perfect as that is exactly what I want to offer people…a temporary stay in Santa Cruz and beyond. From there I watched hours of YouTube to learn how to build your own website. I thought, “How hard can this be?” Well, it’s tougher than I anticipated, but learned so much and am proud of what I was able to create. Now I am working with a team to refine certain components, which I am thankful to pass off, as the adrenaline has worn off! Then it was the leap to start calling artisans that I was passionate about, from a certain apothecary , to bakery, and seeing if they were interested in collaborating. I was thrilled when people started saying “Yes!” I still get excited about connecting with artisans and businesses in Santa Cruz and now in Monterey for our second box.
Amber: Have you always considered yourself an entrepreneur?
Joanna: That’s funny you ask, because actually I have. Ever since I was young I had that spirit inside, from having pretend restaurants with mud pies, lemonade stands and even being a ‘Go-Fer’ for the local neighborhood offering help to some of the senior citizens for extra money. As I grew older, it only continued to build, but I never had the method, modality or gumption to follow through with them. This one finally clicked. I thought, “This is something very unique. Nobody else is doing this in this area so why not go for it.” Of course, with the support and encouragement of my husband it’s made all the difference. I truly feel like my life has led up to me being here. Sojourn Box is kind of like me in a box. Everything I love, it’s there in the box.
Amber: What can people expect to receive if they order a box?
Joanna: I just launched the Santa Cruz Box in late 2014 and I’m now working on expanding our little family of boxes with the Monterey Box. I’m happy to say that currently all the artisans in the Santa Cruz box are set. I do plan on refreshing the contents every 6 months to 1 year, as there are just so many incredible artisans here. I want to share them all! People often ask if they can customize their box and, at this time, it’s not unless it’s for a larger corporate order. People can expect to get a myriad of artisan products from edibles, body products, small prints, and as I mentioned before an insider’s guide to the area. Currently, the Santa Cruz Box contains local hot chocolate made by Mutari. It’s made of stone-ground cacao beans and it’s decadent. Then we have a eucalyptus goat milk by Fish Princess Farms. Super refreshing. Companion Bakeshop, from the Westside, is represented with their incredible gluten-free almond biscotti. There is a phenomenal horseradish mustard from Pantry House. Everything she does it golden. There is a herbal basil-mint lip balm made with coconut oil by UrbApothecary. She has incredible products down the line. Also, a long time local honey from the Soquel hills is included. I actually contributed a little map magnet for the area which people seem to really enjoy too! Of course, last but not least is the small prints that are included from local artists such as Katie Carter, a photographer, and Bridget Henry, a woodblock artist. For Monterey, I’m working with a myriad of artisans, some being Lula’s Chocolates, Monterey Sea Salt Company, Happy Girl Farms and a handful of others. My main objective is to create a nice balance of products in the box and to keep it fresh and on point with what’s happening in the location.
Amber: What type of demographic tends to order the boxes?
Joanna: Due to the fact that I was fortunate enough to have an article written in the Sentinel about what I was doing over last year’s holidays, it definitely gave a big influx into local people supporting this, which was wonderful. I am always happily surprised when I get orders from people across the country. It means people are spreading the word! I was honored to be selected to produce holiday gifts for a handful of local businesses and corporations in Santa Cruz. I love to work with companies to create a customized box for their special event. I would say the primary demographic is women, mid-twenties all the way to late-seventies. I had a woman come out to a show I did who had read about it in the paper. She was so adorable, her name was Cookie and she was so excited about what I was doing. That right there is a reward in itself.
Amber: The design for the box is simplistic, yet unique. How did you come up with it?
Joanna: It was kind of trial and error. It also goes back to the fact that I was meant to create this box. I actually used things I had on hand like pine excelsior that I had saved from a gift I received. I had some raw cotton from jewelry I had gotten in New York. I took all this inspiration and materials and slowly pieced it together. I would step back and eye things, saw what looked right and what didn’t. I played around with colors and adding things on like a little tag so you know it’s made in Santa Cruz. It’s evolved. I’ve always had an artistic side to myself and enjoyed bouts of photography and ceramics, but never followed that calling. So it’s nice that I can nourish a bit of that with Sojourn Box.
Amber: What’s your favorite part about what you do?
Joanna: I would have to say my favorite part is probably meeting with artisans. It took me by surprise how passionate these people are about what they’re doing and how they were so willing to help me succeed. If I succeed, they succeed. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship in the way that we’re really helping each other grow together. I feel like I have a community in a box that I work with. Maybe I work at home alone, but I feel like I have all these people that are apart of it.
Amber: For people that don’t know about Sojourn Box and are interested in purchasing one, what would you like them to know?
Joanna: I want them to know that we have a fully operational website where they can order online and I ship anywhere in the country. We have Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest where they can follow our activity and growth. I want people to know that this is the perfect gift for any holiday. It could be anything from a Mother’s Day gift, housewarming gift, Christmas or Hanukah gift, bridal party gift, or a house sitting gift. It’s great for someone you know who is going to travel to Santa Cruz and someone that is also departing to take home memories of the area. After Monterey, we anticipate by the end of the year to have at least four locations so we can start a quarterly subscription. We eventually want to offer a monthly subscription, so every month you would get a different location to experience ‘A Taste of Local’. We’re looking at marketing the boxes to real estate and hotels, as well as corporations. Although the main focus is e-commerce, we have expanded to select retail stores. Boxes are now available at Mountain Feed and Buttercup Cakes.
To read even more about Sojourn Box go to: http://sojournbox.com