The Oil Aficionados: Alison and Jay Carroll

The founders of Wonder Valley escaped the city to carve out their own desert oasis—and a cult-favorite brand.
The Oil Aficionados: Alison and Jay Carroll
One could say that Alison and Jay Carroll struck liquid gold when they developed their first olive oil seven years ago. Wonder Valley initially started as a side hustle when Alison left her beloved post at the California Olive Oil Council to follow her husband Jay, an artist and creative director, to Los Angeles. “I remember we coddled together some of our savings and invested in the first harvest together,” says Alison of the brand’s humble beginnings. “We calculated the square footage of our guest bedroom and we're like, ‘Okay, I think we can hold a hundred cases of olive oil in here—let's just see what happens.’ ”They sold out of their signature black bottle (the O.G. product that started it all) within a month. Needless to say, Wonder Valley quickly outgrew the guest room.

Today, the couple calls Joshua Tree home. While they own the El Ray Court Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico and recently opened a Wonder Valley outpost in Marfa, Texas, the pair always comes back to this quiet piece of paradise (complete with an outdoor clawfoot tub) to create. “For me, it's the unobstructed views,” says Alison. “I think having that much horizontal blank canvas does something to your imagination and your heart rate slows down—there's something pretty magical about that.” The unimpeded desert landscape gave their homegrown brand the time and space it truly needed to thrive. After all, success, as Jay notes, is something that can’t be rushed.

The same can be said of a radiant complexion. The couple believes that beauty is a holistic endeavor that begins with nutrition. Naturally, Wonder Valley’s cult-favorite skincare line revolves around olive oil, the cornerstone of a healthy diet and glowing skin. “I don’t think there's anything more powerful than being able to grow one of the ingredients yourself,” says Alison, who regularly “tinkered” with face oils for friends and family before her beauty experiments blossomed into a full-fledged arm of their business. “Having that kind of vitality in all of our skincare products is amazing.”

I think of my complexion as a dashboard. It’s a really strong indicator of what’s going on internally and those warning signs are things to pay mind to.

As for the secret ingredient that continues to energize this dynamic duo on and off the clock? Trust. “We’ve honed our own vernacular around Wonder Valley and we really share a tight vision of what the brand’s voice sounds like and what our visuals look like,” explains Alison.“ We're so entrenched with each other and on the same frequency, so I think we can create from a really deep place that perhaps wouldn't happen if we were just coworkers. I trust his instincts as much as my own—and that's a pretty powerful thing.”

Here, Alison and Jay discuss the products they share, the places they go to recharge, and how they soak away stress in the midst of a pandemic.

Their best business advice: For Jay, cultivating a successful brand requires time. "We were very lucky to be able to go really slow with Wonder Valley. I say that with a lot of awareness because I know this isn't always [possible]. There was no real business plan when we started—it was more about pouring love into something. We just wanted to make and bottle some olive oil. Luckily, the first year, it sold out in a few months. After that, we said, 'All right, now what?' We experimented a lot and started skincare… We just had fun with it and didn't put a lot of pressure on our selves to make it succeed. Luckily, we had other sources of income that were getting us by. We were able to take the time to do it right. By doing everything slowly, we didn't have to take on a lot of debt or partners. We grew Wonder Valley the way we wanted to. We’ve made our fair share of mistakes, but by taking a slower approach, I think we’ve also avoided a lot.”

Their holistic approach to beauty: “My initial mindset around beauty was just to correct problems and focus on flaws, whether they be dark circles, acne, or wrinkles. Now, I think of my complexion as a dashboard. It’s a really strong indicator of what’s going on internally and those warning signs are things to pay mind to,” explains Alison. “I don't just quickly try to throw makeup on [a breakout] or dry it out or change it—I take more of a holistic approach. Sometimes my skin is telling me that I'm running on too much stress and too little sleep, other times I need to adjust my diet. We’ve tried to create nourishing and supportive products through Wonder Valley so that people can get more in touch with what works for them.”

Their glowy skin secret: “I thought our cleanser would be the underdog because there’s still a lot of people who don’t understand the benefits of using an oil, but once you convert someone they're hooked. It has a really thick, honey-like texture, which is the result of an oat protein…Our cleanser really decongests pores without stripping skin of beneficial oils or disrupting your microbiome. It was really hard to get [the formula] to do all of that while staying clean and natural, but we're proud of what we created,” says Alison. “The cleanser is another example of the benefit of time,” adds Jay. “There were a couple of times that we said, ‘Well this is pretty good, we can probably release it to market,’ but we took the time to do it right because we want people to fall in love with these products and use them for a lifetime.”

Liquid error (snippets/article line 215): product form must be given a product View full details

Their daily essentials: “We share a lot of things outside of makeup,” laughs Alison. “We go through the Wonder Valley Oil Cleanser like crazy,” says Jay. “I'll follow up with our serum and sometimes the face oil. I also use our body oil. Both of our routines probably include half a dozen things that we’re testing that aren’t even out yet.” Alison says her skincare must-haves are “pretty much the same,” but she gives her body a boost by dry brushing in the morning and relies on La Tierra Sagrada Salt Spray to coax out her natural waves in the humidity-free desert. “I keep it pretty mild with makeup,” says Alison. “I really like concealer and mascara from Kjaer Weis.” As a finishing touch, she layers perfumes from Sigil with her own essential oil blends. Jay reaches for Yo from RTH.

Their ultimate indulgence: “Visiting Japanese hot springs,” says Alison. “We went to Japan for my birthday last year and we drove all over,” adds Jay.

Her top drugstore discovery: “A mega bag of Epson salt is my drugstore purchase of choice for taking hot baths,” says Alison. “We have a clawfoot tub outside in the desert, so I fill it up and add essential oils. It’s the next best thing to being in Japan.”

Their ride-or-die product: “The black bottle of olive oil is our baby. To me, it’s the heart and soul of WonderValley. I'm just proud that we have an exceptionally delicious product and it changes year to year,” says Alison. “As someone who has made products for many years, you aspire to make something that feels relatively timeless,” explains Jay. “That can be somewhat hard and challenging to do…but I feel like our olive oil looks just as timeless and relevant on a shelf as when we first made it six years ago.”

Wonder Valley Olive Oil

Their most trusted beauty pros: “Stefani[Padilla] from La Tierra Sagrada cuts my hair and I think she's awesome. I get my hair colored at GoodForm Salon in LA. Acupuncture is pretty regular in my life and we both see a holistic doctor,” says Alison. “Once a year, he does a major deep dive on our blood work and assesses our diets and any type of supplements we take,” adds Jay.

Their beauty icons: “I'm a pretty big fan of Isamaya Ffrench because she's just so highly creative,” says Jay. “My old-school icon is actress María Félix. I like that she can do a strong look with her face all done up, a huge hat, a ton of jewelry, and a cigar.” Alison cites Sharon Mrozinski, co-owner of Marston House in Maine. “She's the most fabulous and chic woman. She splits her time between Maine and France. She also drinks kombucha out of champagne flutes.”

Her biggest beauty mistake: “I cut my hair using some blunt kitchen scissors at an Airbnb rental this summer,” says Alison. “Probably not the best idea, but it got the job done.” She’s handing the scissors over to her husband next time: “Jay actually just gave himself a haircut the other day, so I’m getting a Jay haircut next!” Jay admits to having some wild hair color. “Back in the day, I bleached everything,” he laughs. “My look has developed a lot since 1999.”

Their favorite escape: With Alison originally hailing from New Jersey and Jay from Maine, they head East every summer to cool off near the Atlantic Ocean. “We usually escape the desert heat and head to Maine,” says Alison. “Our family tradition is to drive across country.”

Their dream vanity raid: “Kerrilynn Pamer, co-founder and CEO of CAP Beauty,” says Alison. “She's a good friend and CAP is one of our original stockists. Wellness is beauty is kind of their mantra and I think she really lit the match that sparked this whole industry to change in a big way. I just imagine her bathroom is epic and filled with new products that she's testing.” For Jay, it’s actor and filmmaker John Waters. “I want to find the pencil he uses to fill in his mustache and frame it,” he laughs.

Written by Amber Kallor

More Subject:Matter

→ Matter Of Fact

On-Trend Ingredient Glossary

We see pretty packages staking claims all the time. Adjectives like brightening, evening, smoothing, hydrating, plumping, and exfoliating are all great terms, but how do we know these products do those things, and why?

Read more