I attended the annual Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild Conference last weekend. Even though I was there less than two days, it was full of hugs, geekin’ out on soap talk and hours of testing. Because of our recent housing challenges, I had to cut the trip early and fly home before the conference was over but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The learning sessions I attended were all top notch and the laughter in between sessions was heartfelt and supportive.
The speaker highlights of my 36 hours in Indianpolis were Lela Barker and Kevin Dunn. Both have been leaders in the soapmaking industry from slightly different ends of the spectrum. Kevin is completely technical soapmaking and Lela is about the business angle of soap. They were great foils to one another.
Kevin is a college professor that conducts experiments on soapmaking questions every year, using his students to do much of the research. He spoke on the importance of being able to determine the purity of your lye. To do so, he demonstrated how to titrate sodium hydroxide, on stage (!), twice. He also discussed pH in cold process soap and what was possible to achieve with a traditional lye+oil recipe. He was hilarious and had the crowd laughing many times.
Lela from Lucky Break Consulting and Bella Lucce gave a killer session on branding. She is a hilarious speaker (really, her one-liners rival any stand-up comedian) and more importantly, her talk was chock full of helpful information that could be implemented right then and there. She recommended reading the book, “The Fortune Cookie Principle” several times during her talk. Curious about her talk? She has a rock-solid blog here with an entire section on branding + strategy, including a recently published piece on building a press kit.
I had another reason for being at the Guild show; I had applied for the Masters in CP/HP soapmaking certification two years ago … and, once you apply, you only have two years to complete your application. It was now…or never. The actual process of taking the Masters program is insane. Literally, insane. A few soapers at the conference asked why I was doing the certification. It’s a fair question. After 20+ years of making CP soap, in theory, I know what I’m doing just from the overwhelming hands-on, practical experience. But like many people, I love learning new things, challenging myself and attempting what seems impossible. And, impossible this test does at first appear! It includes:
1. A research paper – I submitted my Soap Crafting book for this portion. It fit the bill of expanding and educating the industry.
2. A topical paper – I wrote about labeling laws in the United States and how cosmetic, versus drug, versus soap labeling laws differ.
3. A 3 hour essay test – This had fun questions such as, “How is stearic acid made? What are the grades of stearic acid? How do they differ?” and other such delightful and challenging queries.
4. Seven soap samples + accompanying paperwork – This took months and months and months to do; everything from making my own lye from scratch to mastering the art of making whipped soap, this was by far the most labor intensive part of the test.
The test involved making lye from scratch. The water reacts strongly with the wood ash.
It was a nail biter until the end but at the annual meeting for the Guild, I was awarded my certificate. It felt good to know that two years of labor and effort was for the win.
It was so fun to talk soap for days with soapers from across the country. We talked about everything from business strategy, to social media to recipe formulations. It was gratifying to have so many passionate DIY’ers in one place. My love a soap makes me a little … odd. There’s not a lot of people that want to talk about the nuances of coconut oil melt points and their respective properties in soap (My opinion? 76 and 92 act the same in soap. This is a rather controversial stance in a room full of soapmakers!)
I had a soul-filling, laughter-inducing time at the Annual Soap Guild Conference. I came away inspired and enlivened by all the people I met and hugged. It was awesome…just awesome.