Melissa of Hallowell Soap Works has built a name for herself in the soaping community with her gorgeous products. Melissa creates a wide range of stunning items, including cold process soap, lip balms, bath bombs and more. In particular, Hallowell Soap Works is known for their signature “strong arm swirl.” The swirl features a pronounced wave-like swirl that resembles a flexing arm. It’s absolutely beautiful! Learn more about Melissa and her soapy business in the interview below. -A.M.
Melissa’s beautiful and unique “strong arm swirl” in the Tall, Dark & Handsome cold process soap.
How long have you been soaping for and how did you get started?
I started making soap less than a year ago, and fell in love instantly with the process. I couldn’t stop watching YouTube videos, reading Soap Queen blog posts, or purchasing everything I needed to make (what seemed) like every type of soap possible. Despite my business education, I am a creative person at heart. The process of choosing fragrances, colors, and oils felt like the perfect balance of science and art. Initially it became very overwhelming, and so I had to set limitations on what I could expect of myself.
What sort of advice would you give to those soapers just starting their businesses?
My number one piece of advice for anyone going into any business is to stay out of debt. I have been able to become successful and grow my business quickly because I have turned every dollar of profit back into my business. If you are thinking of getting into the soap industry, just be honest with yourself and be realistic. Know that there will be late nights managing your website, phone calls, long drives to visit potential wholesale accounts, and many other time consuming activities that are not nearly as much fun as making soap. My second piece of advice is to have a business plan. Running a business without one does not mean you will fail; however, having a plan on paper will not only keep you focused on your potential goals, but it will also allow you to check your progress along the way and see where you may need improvement.
I love the clean lines and contrast of Hallowell Soap Works’ Acme Acne Blast soap.
What is your favorite type of product to make?
I would have to be honest and say that this changes on a daily basis, and it has to do more with the negatives about each different product. Soap making produces a LOT of soapy dishes, while lip balm and solid perfume making is tedious at times. I do have a written schedule that I try and stick to based on my wholesale client needs, and the orders off of my website. I try to keep it varied on a daily basis to keep the art fresh and new, but at times I find myself dreading making another batch of one of our best sellers when I would rather be testing something new.
What inspires you to create?
I am inspired mostly by nature, whether it has to do with finding new fragrances that mimic time I have enjoyed outside, or finding colors that will naturally go together. One of our limited edition batches (SeaScape) that sold out within a few days of putting it on our website was inspired by a scuba diving trip. Sometimes I look to nature for ingredients that will give me a desired effect in my soap. We have a large wholesaler overseas in the Middle East who was looking for a soap that would whiten skin and balance out age spots naturally. I did some research and we came up with a soap using the awesome power of papayas to give her a product to sell to her client base. Another example is our Mother In Laws Miracle, which I created specifically with my mother in law in mind. She is highly allergic to many ingredients found in cosmetics, even natural ingredients such as soy and oatmeal. I created this recipe that has no fragrance, no colorants, and contains only pureed cooked carrots along with beta carotene in powder form, along with our gentle oil blend for her needs.
How did you come up with the name for your business?
Our name is pretty simple, and is a reflection of our amazing community, Hallowell, Maine.
Hallowell’s signature “strong arm swirl” technique. I love how this swirl looks!
You use so many techniques and designs in your creations. What’s your favorite soapy design?
My absolute favorite design is our strong arm – or mustache – swirl. The first time I produced a batch with our signature look, it was an accident. After that, I practiced the technique more until I had it down to a science….mostly. For a successful strong arm, a lot of factors come into play, including the thickness of your trace, the amount of colors you are using, and the height of your pour.
Your Instagram page features lots of lovely photos. What tips do you have for taking product photos on Instagram?
Our photos are taken in a room that has almost 180° of lighting. Also, we take photos only on days that are grey…too much sun produces unwanted shadows and whitewashed colors. I also try to follow simple photography rules when it comes to taking pictures, such as the rule of thirds maintaining balance.
What is your favorite Bramble Berry product and why?
I could not choose just one Bramble Berry product, so I am going to say the best part of the company is the customer service. I have always been able to get in touch with a real live person if I have had an issue, and the issue has always been solved. All of BB products are of the highest quality, and have been thoroughly tested using the same processes the customers are going to use. If I was allowed to pick a second product, I would say it would have to be SoapQueen.com. I cannot describe how valuable a resource this has been for me, whether it is coming up with new recipes, designs, or even troubleshooting issues.
Tell us something unusual or unique about yourself!
I am a mother to 3 boys, and I am married to my best friend. My undergraduate degree is in marketing, and I studied business in grad school as well. I’m not sure how unique or interesting those facts are, but I have realized that many soapers have sons….wondering if this has to do with how dirty they all are.
Hallowell’s stunning French Provincial Lavender Soap made with vegan ingredients.
What are some of your other hobbies and interests?
My other hobbies include knitting, scuba diving, alpine skiing, and reading. I’m sad to say I don’t always have time to fit these in, and when I do find the time I am usually too tired (too many nights I have fallen asleep with a book on my face). I am also a long distance runner with 4 half marathons and 1 full marathon under my belt, along with countless 5k’s, 10k’s and 15k’s.
What is your number one soaping tip?
Always remember to have enough materials on hand that will meet your needs, and have backups of your necessary tools. The last bit comes from personal experience of a late night soaping adventure when my stick blender broke while blending a 10 pound batch. I now have two of everything that is vital to the soaping process on hand.
Have you ever experienced a horrible soapy fail? How did you work through it, and what did you learn?
Oh goodness, I could fill pages on my soapy fails. Too much fragrance, too much color, forgetting to discount the water when adding in a veggie/fruit. My last fail had to do with a new stick blender (see #11). When I replaced the broken blender, I didn’t realize the new one had a different speed/wattage, which messed up our first batch with it. As most soapers (including myself) have recipe books, I also try to keep track of what led to a soapy fail. Most of the time there is an explanation, and when you become aware of it you are that much less likely to make the same mistake again.
What do you love most about creating bath and body products?
I would have to say the best part of this business is being able to turn a passion of an art into a usable product that is not only valued and appreciated by our customer base, but also a product that I am confident in using on my family – full well knowing all of what went into it.