Growing up in the Midwest, alumna Briana Wiles always had an interest in plants. But it was during her time at Western Colorado University when she began to match a plant’s bloom with its benefit. As her passion for plants has grown, the entrepreneur has written two books, established two stores and launched an online business, all in a short five years, all fueled by her time spent at Western.
A Blossoming Interest
Wiles is originally from Michigan and came to Western with her now-husband, who studied business and later earned his Master’s in Environmental Management. Wiles, on the other hand, devoted her time to learning about plant biology and flora. Under the watchful eye of biology professor Robin Bingham, Wiles began to study the names of plants found locally and to learn how each plant could be utilized to its fullest.
“Briana was interested in edible and medicinal plants,” said Bingham. “I think anyone with a passion for plants finds the details of plant biology fascinating—that describes Briana. I remember her as being a very engaged and enthusiastic student in all the botany courses she took from me.”
Learning the Regional Flora
“It was my flora class which taught me all the plants around this area,” Wiles said. “And the botany class taught me all the words to identify plants—from that information we teach an online course.”
From her love for botany grew her business, beginning with one farmer’s market booth—and then two—serving both ends of the Gunnison Valley. She sold dried herbs, tinctures and other natural products crafted from locally sourced plants.
Sales were beyond what she imagined. She took that money and invested in to her first brick and mortar store — Rooted Apothecary in Crested Butte — in 2016. The store sells salves, remedies, teas, tinctures, essential oils, elixirs and skin care products made in the same manner as her farmer’s market products.
“It was such a success in such a short span of time,” she said. “We decided it was a great business idea.”
Continuing to Grow
Two years later, Wiles established a second location on North Main Street in Gunnison, tapping into a different market than that found in Crested Butte. Out of that Main Street store, Wiles has established online classes, a manufacturing area for her products and a shipping center for her latest endeavor—an online store. If she wasn’t busy enough, Wiles has written two books, “Mountain West Foraging” and “Mountain States Medicinal Plants,” which share with readers much of the information she has accumulated.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, almost one in two businesses fail within the first five years. But Wiles is bucking the trend. She even has her sights set on further expansion, such as a third location outside the Gunnison Valley. She credits her husband and staff as key components to her success, combined with a great idea.
“You have to find your niche,” Wiles said. “It was my little passion project that turned into a successful business plan.”
Discover Your Passion
Interested in learning more about plant biology, ecosystems and regional resources? Check out the biology program at Western.
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit: Chris Rourke