Women in business: Selina Naturally

SALT CITY: From left to right, Selina, Maya and Carla bring three generations of salt-seeking to their Arden facility. Photo by Kat McReynolds

This article is part of the 19th annual women in business series by Mountain Xpress. See the full story here.

Selina and Carla: Salt of the earth

Selina Naturally’s mission: “To provide a whole, high-mineral sea salt with the best quality possible and to make Asheville a ‘salt city.’”

When she was 20, Selina Delangre gave birth to a son with cerebral palsy and began her quest for natural health solutions. In the ’80s and ’90s, information about alternative health was harder to find, and many doctors actively resisted that approach. So Selina started doing her own research, and her findings were often featured in the newsletter of her father-in-law’s sea salt company.

In 1994, several years after Selina’s divorce, her father-in-law passed away. Despite having no prior business experience, she bought out her ex-husband’s share and rebranded the company as Selina Naturally.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she says about those early years, when she built the business while bringing her son, Dominique, to work. “I was like the woman picking up the car off her child.” Dominique died in 2007 at age 28.

Meanwhile, the male-dominated industry triggered insecurities that the new businesswoman tried to assuage via books and webinars. But professors tended to deal in abstract knowledge, not practical solutions.

And outside the classroom, Selina’s pleas for emotional support as a single mom were sometimes misinterpreted. Even well-intentioned men were inclined to be romantic “knights in shining armor” rather than the sympathetic listeners she needed.

“It was a lonely place,” she recalls. These challenges, however, ultimately fortified Selina’s faith in God, and with time and experience, she’s transitioned from “autopilot survival mode” to “intentional, strategic mode.” Happily, the hands-on experience that Selina once sought is exactly what her daughter Carla is getting now.

As a youngster, Carla started helping out at trade shows, and she has since worked in every single department, including shipping, production, salt cleaning, sales, events and human resources. She now heads up product branding, a legal effort to defend the company’s intellectual property rights.

Carla, too, remembers her mom’s transition into the executive sphere as a difficult time. “When my grandfather died and she stepped up, it was like a whole whirlwind. I had one mom one day and then a completely different mom another day,” says Carla, who took on many of the homemaker roles that Selina had excelled at before time became such a finite resource. “I saw how much it took away from the family moments that we used to have.”

Now, Carla brings her own toddler to the Arden facility when she’s not working from home. But for Selina and Carla, shifting their relationship back to purely mother-daughter mode “isn’t easy. We don’t know when to turn it off and when to turn it on,” Selina reveals.

Carla, meanwhile, says her status as the boss’s daughter has prompted peer reactions ranging from ingratiation to misjudgments and mistreatment. “What I’ve learned is, the more professional the person is, the less of an issue I am to them, which is really refreshing,” she reports.

For her part, Selina — whose niece Stephanie and children Theresa, Carlos and Colette have also taken on roles within the company — feels it’s time to let her offspring “hurt or fall when they need to,” rather than “being the rescuer.” “It’s a little challenging,” Selina concedes, but she doesn’t want a cushioned reality to become a disadvantage for her family members.

Carla, however, believes she’s finally ready to “take the baton on a more professional level.” Part of her resistance to assuming a leadership role, Carla now feels, may have been tied to the motherly responsibilities she felt obligated to take on as a young adult. “I didn’t resent my mom or family, but I resented that lifestyle.”

And if Carla now sees her job at Selina Naturally as a career, she hopes her other passions — animals in particular — will remain fulfilling hobbies. “The inner turmoil of not knowing what my path is aside from the family business has always been challenging,” the new mom reveals, “and now that I have a daughter of my own, I want her to have her own path.”

Selina openly acknowledges that the family dynamic has probably hindered her company’s business efficiency. But it was worth it to gain extra time together and be able to watch her children learn and grow. “I would not want to give up the joy and the perks for any more revenue,” she affirms.

“My mom has done an incredible job juggling what she’s juggled,” says Carla, given their unique family history and how her mother had to quickly acquire business acumen. “My admiration has never left: She’s the most incredible person I’ve ever met.”

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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