Mary, Clare and Annie Duggan are actually quite positive.
Lifestinks is the name the sisters and roommates gave to the natural, organic deodorant that they've been making in the basement of their Beverly home since November 2007.
"Nobody does what we are doing," Mary Duggan said.
Lifestinks is sold in 60 stores nationwide. The Duggan sisters' signature product was included in the gift bag for all participants at the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament last year. It's also a favorite of specialty shops such as Merz Apothecary on the North Side and Southtown Health Foods on the South Side.
The powder deodorant was born out of a lousy situation. Annie Duggan became increasingly ill as a young bride in 2000. Doctors struggled with a diagnosis until discovering her body was profoundly allergic to gluten.
That same year, Mary Duggan fell down the icy stairs of her Andersonville apartment. A traumatic brain injury caused slurred speech, short-term memory loss, and chronic head and neck pain.
Annie Duggan enrolled in the Optimum Health Institute in Austin, Texas. The holistic healing center stresses raw food as an alternative to traditional medicine. Annie returned home healthy and ready to share her new raw vegan diet.
"When I picked her up from the airport, she looked immediately different," Mary said. Annie not only lost a dramatic amount of weight, her hair had also changed color and had a never-before-seen curl.
Meanwhile, Mary Duggan began studying the lymphatic system with Dr. Karyn Mitchell. Working with the renowned naturopath, she mastered a form of deep-tissue massage aimed at revitalizing and unclogging lymph nodes, which play a vital role in the body's immune system.
The sisters became roommates after Annie's divorce and turned their home's parlor into the Rose Cottage, a holistic spa. Mary Duggan offered customers her specialized massage. Afterward, folks were treated to a raw meal prepared by Annie Duggan.
To promote their healing house, the Duggan sisters registered for a popular arts and crafts fair at their local parish, St. Barnabas. The coordinator insisted the late entries have a tangible product to sell. Mary Duggan frantically replied that she'd be selling a natural deodorant, though she really hoped to schedule appointments at the Rose Cottage.
"I didn't want to sell deodorant. That was how I got my foot in the door," Mary Duggan said.
The deodorant sold out in hours and was the talk of the fair. The Rose Cottage became an afterthought as the Duggan sisters launched Lifestinks.
Mary Duggan knew from her research that lymph nodes are clustered in the armpit. Frequent use of traditional deodorant can clog these small, vital organs, she said.
As an alternative, Mary Duggan created a deodorant made primarily of sodium bicarbonate — better known as baking soda. This product is found naturally in the American northwest. But most of the baking soda we use is manufactured, which creates an aluminum byproduct.
Lifestinks is aluminum-free. It's also infused with either lavender and tea tree oil or cedarwood oil depending on the variety. This mixture acts as a drying agent and neutralizes odor by relying on sodium bicarbonate's natural antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal properties, Mary Duggan said.
The Duggan sisters' signature product is sold in a reusable, stainless steel decanter. It comes with a nine-month supply of deodorant for $27. A travel size (four-month supply) is also available for $15.
Kate Nelson of Morgan Park used Lifestinks for about a year. She ran out and went back to using traditional deodorant for another year before she returned to her preferred, natural product.
"You know when you use regular, stick deodorant, you feel sort of slimy. I didn't like that," Nelson said.
"We took on another chemical," Mary Duggan said.
The Duggan sisters have already achieved a certain level of success with their products. They are now preparing to take their signature lineup to the next level.
They've been on the verge of a major breakthrough on several occasions. They were on the short list of products for Oprah Winfrey's favorite things before the TV icon closed shop. They just missed the cut for the show "Shark Tank." And they had a brief run on the shelves of Whole Foods Market until a conflict with the grocery chain prompted them to pull away.
At this point, they know it's only a matter of time before their products find their way into health and beauty aisles everywhere. And when that happens, Mary Duggan said she's willing to move the company out of her basement, but not out of her city.
"We hope to stay on the South Side of Chicago," Mary Duggan said.