Sapelo Skin Care built on perseverence and trust

Stephanie Duttenhaver and Cindy Edwards pose for a picture on a dock.
Stephanie Duttenhaver (l.) studied business at UGA, while Cindy Edwards (ABJ '86) graduated with a degree in public relations. Together, they co-founded Sapelo Skin Care, an honoree in this year's Bulldog 100 class, named by the UGA Alumni Association. (Photos: courtesy of S. Duttenhaver)

Sapelo Skin Care built on perseverence and trust

March 06, 2024

Congratulations to Cindy Edwards (ABJ ’86) and Stephanie Duttenhaver on being named to this year’s Bulldog 100 honoree list by the UGA Alumni Association. Edwards and Duttenhaver co-founded Sapelo Skin Care, a company based in Savannah that is focused on luxury moisturizers, cleansers and emollients made of bioactive ingredients.

Edwards who graduated with a degree in public relations from Grady College and Duttenhaver, who studied business at UGA, didn’t meet until years after college, but they knew they had a well-balanced partnership that could make things happen. They met while coordinating the Savannah Book Festival, working together on making it a national and international book festival. After their time with the festival concluded, they started looking for projects to pursue.

“We weren’t friends when we started, but we’ve become friends throughout the journey, which has been one of the great blessings of Sapelo Skin Care,” Duttenhaver said.

Duttenhaver and Edwards worked so well together on the Savannah Book Festival, that they decided to go into business together.

In 2012, they researched skin care as a possible project. They started by wondering why, as consumers, there wasn’t a skin care product that could mimic the immune response to damaged skin that does not contain any acids. They started finding answers through their work with physicians and a cosmetic scientist and after numerous trials and formulas, they were ready to launch Sapelo Skin Care in 2015. They branded their product after the natural, hydrating environment near their Savannah homebase.

During those three years trying to bring the product to market and in the nearly ten years since, perseverance and patience have been a few of the keys to success.

“You’ve got to have a plan of how you’re going to get from the first year, to the second year, to the 30th year, and you need to understand that it is not going to be easy to keep it all afloat,” Edwards said. “You also have to be able to budget your time. But, most importantly, you need a good product, a good plan and a lot of stamina.”

Reflecting on her student days at Grady College, Kent Middleton, professor emeritus, and the late Conrad Fink provided lessons that have stayed with her.

“I still look back to Kent Middleton and the communications law class he taught and lessons like the right to privacy and other lessons have withstood the test of time 30 plus years ago,” Edwards said. “And, I remember being scared to death of Fink because he taught us all AP style which changes regularly, buy the basics are still around today.”

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Edwards worked in financial and healthcare public relations before taking time to be a stay-at-home mom. Duttenhaver, who had been energized by group projects in school and knew early on that she wanted to be an entrepreneur, worked in sales and fundraising for nonprofits before Sapleo Skin Care.

At the end of the day, the most important lessons have come from the process, not the classroom.

“You just have to keep going,” Duttenhaver concluded. “You just can’t ever stop. It’s hard being in the luxury business. It’s a tough business.”

Edwards agrees that is challenging, but that is why picking the right business partner is so important.

“We come from completely different points of view on many many things,” Edwards said. “I think that we respect each other’s opinion. It is hard day in and day out and there are days when you think, ‘I can’t do this another day.’ But, if you’ve got a partner who is there to pick you up and say ‘we can do this, we can keep on going,’ it makes a difference. It really helps motivate you and it keeps things in perspective.”

Author: Sarah Freeman,