Soapalya has some unique soap designs and indie style. After discovering her on Etsy a few months ago, I bought some goodies and liked her formulas as well as the look of her soap. We’re lucky that Alex has agreed to do an interview with us! We’re celebrating my husband’s birthday this weekend so expect some fun photos of the party and his gift later tonight.
Tell us how you got into soapmaking as a hobby?
I’m a life-long *maker* of things. Curiosity about how something is made runs neck and neck with the need to meet the challenge of actually learning how to do it. I have a love for color, pattern and design that finds expression through sewing, painting, stained glass, weaving, handmade paper, and, now, soap!
Finding my way into making soap really began out of an urgent necessity mixed with genuine curiosity. The necessity was a sensitivity to commercial detergents, soaps, and shampoos. I spent too many years and way too much money trying product after product with no relief. I bought my first bar of handmade soap while on vacation one summer. That was the beginning of the end of my using commercial products. Once I found relief in the form of a handmade cold-processed olive oil soap the intense curiosity began. I wanted to know *how*!
I began with research and read everything I could find on the subject. I spent the better part of a year just reading about how to make cold process soaps. I bought books, took notes, searched the Internet, scoured the libraries. I’ll admit I was intimidated at the thought of tackling something that seemed so far beyond my abilities. The terminology was intimidating. How can you really understand “trace” if you’ve never seen it? Then there’s “saponification!” There’s a word to intimidate! I would have loved to have had an experienced teacher to walk me through the things I didn’t understand, but, I didn’t find one. So, I broke it down into little bites of information that I could process.
The biggest thing that bugged me was the multitude of essential oils available to me….way too many choices! I wanted to try them all! I decided to keep it simple by starting with fragrance favorites. As my skills have developed I’ve ventured into using essential oils based on their specific therapeutic benefits. Making soap was never really a hobby. I’ve had fun, for sure, but I always knew that once I began it was going to become a major part of my life. I need what handmade soap has to offer and I want it to be customized to my specific needs.
At what point did you decide to make it into a business? Was there a trigger point?
For the longest time I was just having fun with the idea that I could actually make soap for myself. It still pleases me very much when I realize I’m actually capable of doing this! I found myself to be quite content just finally having something to use on my face, hair and body that didn’t make me itch! I wasn’t asking for more that that. I enjoy giving my handmade soap as gifts and I still do give away a lot of soap! It never occurred to me that I could sell it! As friends and family used the soap I started getting some feedback – very positive feedback! And so it began. A little here, a little there. On a very small scale I had found myself a market, and, to my surprise, I was the supplier!
What other methods do you use to sell besides Etsy? I initially opened an Etsy shop, Necessities, for my artwork and hand sewn items. It took a while before I entertained the thought of even trying to sell my soap online. I’m still learning the business end of this and too much too fast is not something I want. For now, I’m good at the pace I have going! I’ve started the groundwork for a website and have made that one of my goals for the new year.
I see you sell a Hemp Soap Saver; do you crochet the saver yourself?
With all of the weaving I’ve done on my loom I’ve collected a massive variety of threads and yarns. I recently came across a spool of 100% hemp twine I had used on a woven project. Hemp is a fabulous natural fiber with some really wonderful qualities. One of the best is its natural resistance to mold. I had wanted a unique soap saver for myself and for my shop, so, I grabbed my crochet hook and eventually came up with a design I really like. I used the first one myself to work the *bugs* out of it. The final design is now for sale in my shop! Unlike cotton, it dries out quickly and is both durable and soft.
Your Blowing in the Breeze soap looks complex! Tell us more about it.
One of the newest soap creations in my shop is called “blowing in the breeze”. Before I make a new soap I need to have some idea of what it is going to look like. I tend to have difficulty just making a plain bar of soap! I will start out with intentions to just keep it simple, but, I never keep to the plan. All of those years of stained glass, weaving and art seem to show up in the bars of soap! My husband just laughs at me. He says that I really just can’t help it! Soap is another art form, isn’t it? “Blowing in the Breeze” is just the weaver and stained glass artist peeping out!
My favorite bar of soap, at the moment, is one made with rose clay and scented with Somali Rose (goes by that name). I love anything with rose clay in it…creamy, creamy! Somali Rose, the fragrance, is just wonderful!
The Twilight soap is what attracted me to your store; tell us a bit about the look and feel – how you came up with the color and design.
“Twilight” is a boar of soap that was fun to make. I like to paint and trying to blend all of the colors was a lot like painting (but it kills me to have to wait until the next day to see the finished product!). Mixing the colors is crazy fun….working fast before the soap gets too thick. It was a challenge with a very pretty result! I have a friend that wanted a more *manly* fragrance. The sandalwood and patchouli blend gives it the fragrance and the blending of those colors, especially the black, makes it look less girly than a lot of the soaps I have!
Any plans for 2008 that you want to share? Line expansions, new methods of selling, all of that fun stuff!
Like all of us trying to build a small business, I have some long term goals that I’ll keep under my hat for now! Short term goals include building up my product line and website. I have a good friend that is a handmade soap convert. I’m hoping that she might become my business partner in the future. She and I both tend to be drawn to the more therapeutic advantages of handmade products. It takes an enormous amount of time to develop not only the product line but also the appropriate labeling and packaging for the products. At the moment, it’s just me running the show! I have found a chemist whose brain I can pick when I get to a point where I need to know more. I try very hard to be informed as much as I can about everything in the products I make. I learn something new everyday, but, sometimes I still feel it is all just a little overwhelming! After all of this time I still see myself as a *student* ! I don’t think I’ll ever learn it all, and, truthfully, that’s what makes all of this soap making so much fun!
I’m definitely hoping to do some more interviews. I have a great one in progress right now that has such detailed answers that I’m going to make it a two-part interview.
I agree – it is very generous of our soapmaker interviewees to give so freely of their time and information.
Teresa (was ShadesOfGrey) says
I really enjoyed reading this interview. I like to see what others are doing out there in the creative world, and seeing their journey makes me constantly re-evaluate my own journey…not to mention I’ve found some great products to buy through these interviews. Thanks!
What a great interview.
I would love to see many more interviews on a regular basis.
I love hearing how people got started making soap and body products.
Thanks for posting AM, and thanks Alex for being willing to share details of how you soap! Its a great help = )
Joanna Schmidt says
She is so honest and humble. Nice interview. Thanks, AM.
Thanks! It’s always interesting to see what makes other soapers tick!