From Managing the Theatre Stage to Handcrafting French-Inspired Skincare & Candles

Chez Lapin is a Pittsburgh-based small business that specializes in artisanal candles and natural skincare products. Founder Claire Landuyt combines her love for animals, French culture and the arts to create a cruelty-free, eco-conscious brand. Chez Lapin donates a portion of monthly proceeds to Rabbit Wrangles, where Claire also helps to foster rescued rabbits.

Chez Lapin was previously featured in 10 Bunny Owners & Their Bunny-Inspired Businesses.

Featured image photo by Todd Barnett, 2021.


Little Beginnings

Growing up in the Midwest, Claire’s childhood was filled with animals. Having to care for pets with her family at a young age, her upbringing nurtured a strong sense of empathy and compassion for living beings as a whole.

While her love for animals would eventually carry over to her current business, Claire’s education background was very different from her current work as a niche handcrafter. She studied theatre for university, even spending six months in France as part of her course.

During her stay, she was greatly inspired by the country’s culture. In fact, the name “Chez Lapin” (pronounced shay-la-pan) is French for “at the home of rabbits”.

Claire's rabbit, Coriander
Claire’s lapin, Coriander.

“I just fell in love with how they live. Chez Lapin is sort of a branch off of that. Sort of my way of creating that lifestyle here in America, [where] the culture is very work-heavy and the very opposite of how the French view life,” Claire says.

Although her stay in France had a positive, profound impact on her worldview, it was unfortunately marred by skin troubles. She recalls her skin began going through a “horrible phase” during those months.

“I went to the dermatologist in France but everything he prescribed to me was hurting my skin. I had really bad – they called it cystic acne. It hurt so bad.”

“After years of struggling with that and using strong, commercial cleansers and creamers and things … My skin was so messed up. Of course, you try to remedy that by putting makeup on your face, which also messes up your skin over time.”

Several years after her graduation, Claire moved to Pittsburgh to live with her now husband and pursue greater job opportunities for her specialization in theatre.

“I did that for quite a few years and I really enjoyed it. But it was hard to make a sustainable living.” She shares how the industry was often underfunded – and underpaid. Continuing to battle difficult skin issues, she couldn’t afford to keep trying and hoping the next expensive product was the miracle cure.

“I was forced to like, ‘Okay, if I want to have nice, happy skin, I gotta start making my own stuff.”

Harboring a love for crafting and working with her hands, she began researching how people made skincare products. Slowly, she incorporated clays, floral waters and essential oils into her routine, gaining immense knowledge about different natural components in the process.

Chez Lapin skincare pictured: toner, lip salve and facial oil
Chez Lapin’s skincare line

“The key is less is more. By using gentle ingredients, your skin can naturally restore its balance.” She gives an example: “By moisturizing my skin with nut oils, it stopped producing wild amounts of oil to overcompensate for what I was stripping it of.”

“After I started making my own products, people were saying, ‘You know, you could make money out of this on Etsy.’ After that I really realized that, ‘This could work. This can totally work! This can be a job!”

A tough journey of taking skincare matters into her own hands, combined with her love for animals and French culture, formed the foundation of the Chez Lapin brand.

Chez Lapin signboard

The Art of Small Business

Claire attributes her many business skills to her former job as a stage manager in the theatre scene.

“From making sure the talents and actors have proper rehearsal space, or that everything on the stage is ideal and ready for whatever is up next … There are so many hats you wear as a stage manager,” she says.

Indeed, her ability to multi-task and oversee details big and small was essential as a small business owner. As she describes, “There’s a period of time where you’re the only one, so you have to make it all work.”

Chez Lapin farmer's market
Claire interacting with her customers at the Chez Lapin booth

Claire’s theatre background, where there was a huge focus on presentation, helped her translate Chez Lapin’s unique selling points into a solid, visual package. She compares branding and design for business to a “theatre show”.

“It’s how you present your art. In theatre, I’ve worked with a team of professionals on making a beautiful piece of artwork to present to strangers. And that’s so similar to what I do in Chez Lapin,” she explains.

“You have to consider what would people like, how can I present that to people, how do I need to dress when I’m working in order to pull people in … There are so many different things that you have to consider to make it cohesive.”

Chez lapin logo product labels
Product labels; Claire handles production from start to finish.

When the pandemic hit more than a year ago, Claire found herself temporarily laid off from her theatre work and unemployed. However, with Chez Lapin, she sees these unexpected life changes as a blessing in disguise. She also took up online classes, especially those on branding, to up her skills.

“I’ve been able to take Chez Lapin full-time and give it all my energy and effort. It’s been pretty exciting and the following behind the brand has really grown a lot since I focused on presentation. I’m thrilled!”

Chez Lapin farmer's market

Nature’s Inspiration – and Its Challenges

“My favorite place in the world is sitting outside. If it’s in my garden, or walking in the woods, or sitting by the river … That’s my favorite place in the world – just to be sitting outside,” Claire says.

During her time in Toulon, France, she would often “walk a route that had wild lavender growing and lemon trees.” Today, she replicates the unique, bright fragrance in her French Lavender & Lemon Crème candle, so customers can also experience the enchantment of the wonderful scent.

Chez Lapin’s other products are similarly inspired by Claire’s nature travels. The Figue & Rose candle was influenced by her trip to a seaside farm in Pietra Liguria, on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. The dewy forests of Western Pennsylvania led to the Cedar Embers candle, which evokes the rustic warmth of a bonfire and its smoky, crackling wood.

Without preservatives and commercial stabilizers (some of which are even toxic to inhale), creating these fully natural, soy wax candles has its set of challenges.

“[The candles] will melt if it’s too hot. Like when it’s in the heat of summer and I have my candles at the farmer’s market. Or if it’s too cold, the soy wax will pull away from the glass jar,” she says.

“It’s almost it has its feelings of its own sometimes. But as long as you have in a safe, temperate, controlled place, it’s the best thing in the world.”

French Lavender & Lemon Creme soy wax candle
The yearly bestseller: French Lavender & Lemon Crème candle

She understands the slight changes in appearance may “look a little weird” to people who are less familiar with all-natural products. However, most customers are already aware of these little compromises and are more than happy to embrace healthier, cleaner and safer alternatives.

Such environmentally-friendly traits don’t stop with the luxury candles, either. Coming from personal experience, Claire does away with drug-like chemicals and sticks with real, herbal ingredients in her skincare products.

“My general rule of thumb is I don’t want to put anything on my skin that I can’t also eat – as crazy as that sounds,” she says with a laugh.

“Your skin absorbs over 70% of what you put on it, so why would you put something on your skin that you don’t want in your body? It’s also one of your biggest organs and it’s an eliminatory organ, meaning that’s how you expel waste through sweat, through your pores.”

This Year’s Project: Lavender Field

From the Chez Lapin lip salve, Blossom+Lavender Natural Toner to Rosie Glow Cleanser, Claire uses lavender frequently in her products. Already beginning to infuse her own oils, growing her own herbal ingredients was the next logical step.

“Half of the time, when I’m working on Chez Lapin, my production studio is actually in the basement of our house, so I don’t see the light of day when I’m working downstairs.”

“It’s unfortunate because I love being outside … So, I thought, “Oh my goodness, how cool and great would it be to grow my own ingredients – my own lavender, mints and roses? I’m in the dirt having fun, I can also incorporate those into my products and make them more unique!”

Lavender field in France
Chez Lapin currently sources lavender from a farm in Roumoules, France (pictured above), but Claire’s starting her own cultivation project this year.

Claire shares that her husband’s parents home was one of her favorite places to find inspiration for her next Chez Lapin creation. Coincidentally, they have some land about two hours outside of Pittsburgh and gracefully offered it for the project.

“I was lucky they have the space and they said, ‘Yeah, build a little lavender field!’ and I was ‘Oh my God! Cool!’ So we did!” she says.

With some help from a kind neighbor who excavated the plot of land, Claire went on to construct the field with her supportive husband, Marc. The two-person toiled over a sizable plot of Pennsylvanian soil with four thousand pounds of pebbles, sand and compost. (Check out a video of the process!)

“We nearly broke our backs for a day,” she laughs. “But it was really fun and we got it up.” If the project is a success, she hopes to further expand the field by three or four times next year.

For The Love of Rabbits

Bunny and dog team, Coriander and Millie
Coriander and Millie

Claire’s bunny, Coriander, is a “foster failure” from Rabbit Wranglers and currently rules over the family’s Fox Red Labrador, Millie.

Claire started volunteering with the rescue when she first moved to Pittsburgh in 2015. Now, she donates a portion of Chez Lapin’s monthly proceeds to the organization and continues to help foster rabbits.

“The best part is getting an animal in that is so fragile and afraid of humans, who had never been touched before, had never been fed good food or had somewhere soft to sleep … And then giving them that and watching them change into a different rabbit because they were given those things is one of the most rewarding things.”

“But when you’re fostering an animal, you fall in love with it inevitably. You see them make so much progress, and to turn around and pass them to someone else [so they can be adopted] is hard.”

“A big part of what I do is obviously for the rabbits,” she adds, regarding her business advocacy for animal welfare. “To remedy and change the life that so many of them have, whether it’s being kept in cages or from animal testing,”

Foster rabbit
Claire and one of her first fosters, Marilyn Bunroe

As Chez Lapin grows, Claire says her biggest objective is “to keep pushing and telling people that how it’s so easy to live and purchase products that are not hurting animals and not hurting the earth.”

“I’m really driving that mission and with that mission in mind, in a few years, my goal is to have a production studio with a small retail store upfront. People can come to visit me online, they can come visit me in person, at our little Chez Lapin home.”

From a stage manager to full-time handcrafter and business owner, Claire reflects, “I sort of laugh whenever I think about it because I don’t know how I ended up here. But at the same time, it’s like all of the signs were leading me here.”

“All of Chez Lapin’s values came together and it has been an honor to contribute towards cruelty-free, environmentally-safe causes.”

Chez lapin product display

Connect with Chez Lapin

All photographs courtesy of Chez Lapin, unless otherwise specified.

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