Preston and Tyler of Sudz by Studz create and sell gorgeous cold process soap, lotion and balms in Sacramento, California. I met Preston at the Central Soapers Workshop last year, where he gave an engaging talk on Instagram and business. I was impressed and inspired by his passion for the industry. Tyler and Preston recently started a clever monthly subscription box called “Soap of the Month,” where customers can receive a bar of limited edition cold process soap. Read the interview with Preston and Tyler below to learn more about their soaping journey and tips for those just starting out. -A.M.
Sudz by Studz’s beautiful Gingerlee soap.
How long have you been soaping for and how did you get started?
As of this month, we’ve been soaping for three years. Our journey as soapmakers started shortly after we took a course on cold process soap making. At the time, Stud Preston was getting ready to graduate with a degree in philosophy and Stud Tyler had just moved back to Sacramento after having been on NBC’s The Voice and living in LA. We found that making soap was an enigmatic process; it combined art and chemistry in the most cathartic way, so we knew it had to become a mainstay in our lives. Consequently, we ordered $200 worth of supplies to start and became super addicted. Our newfound hobby was overrunning our lives, and outgrowing our studio apartment, so we decided to turn it in to a business.
What sort of advice would you give to those soapers just starting their businesses?
Our best piece of advice is to treat your business as a business. That entails creating a business plan, getting your finances in order, developing a solid product line, pricing your products effectively, establishing a concise brand image, getting familiarized with all relevant industry regulations, understanding potential liabilities as well as legal protections, acquiring good insurance, and being willing to work most hours of the day, year round. With respect to soaping, our best advice is to learn the fundamentals of chemistry involved in saponification. If you are not acquainted with lab safety protocol, stoichiometry, or triglycerides to name a few, then we highly recommend getting a proper book on the science of soapmaking. You’ll uncover the underlying nature of soap while reinforcing your mastery of the craft; when you can formulate a complex recipe without the use of a soap calculator, or fully describe, as well as draw, the molecular interactions between your oils and lye, you’ll feel phenomenal!
What is your favorite type of product to make?
Our favorite product to make would have to be cold process soap.
Left to right: Blackberry Sage Swirl Soap, a gorgeous purple and green diagonal layered soap.
What inspires you to create?
There are so many things that we find inspirational, so we will try to answer laconically. As silly as this may sound, a major source of our inspiration comes from each other; we are partners in both business and life, so we rely on one another for a lot of things. Additionally, we draw inspiration to create from nature, traveling, art, music, food and books.
How did you come up with the name for your business?
When we started our business, we wanted to imbue our newfound love for making soap with our personalities. Ultimately, we wanted to establish a brand that clearly, and quickly, delineated who we were and what we were doing. Beyond that, it was imperative that it be catchy, contain alliteration and have syllabic symmetry. After a few days of bouncing around ideas, we found the perfect fit: Sudz By Studz.
A stunning column swirl cold process soap. I love those colors! Check out the Neptune Column Pour Tutorial to see how this technique is done.
I understand you recently started a subscription service! How does that work? Why did you decide to give it a try?
Admittedly, we started our Soap of the Month Sudzcription for very selfish reasons: we wanted free reign to create exclusive soaps that were fun for us and showcased our creativity. In essence, our intention was to provide our customers the luxury of bathing with soap that would traditionally only be found in a soapmaker’s shower, while simultaneously allowing us to do our own thing in the soapery. We recently sent out the first installment to our subscribers and are receiving an overwhelmingly positive response. Currently, our subscribers can sign on for 6 months or 12 months for a onetime fee – shipping included. Then, during the first week of every month, we send the new subscription to our customers. To add our signature as a finishing touch, we wrap each bar of soap in a cigar band of our handmade ebru/marble paper art.
Your Instagram page features lots of lovely photos. What tips do you have for taking product photos on Instagram?
First, begin with your end goal in mind and make sure it is relevant to your brand audience. Ask yourself, “What do I intend to communicate with this photo and how can I best do that?” As with most things in life, once you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to get there. Second, gather everything necessary, whether it is lighting or complementary props, to get the perfect shot. Third, accept what tools you have to work with and make them work for you; we used a cellphone camera for our first two years of business (no shame!). Last, once everything is set up to your liking, take photos and review them to see if they are capturing your desired results. Be prepared to try new orientations, reset props, find different types of lighting, and so on. Once you believe you have the perfect shot, take at least five more frames to ensure you’ve got it. Like making soap, capturing the perfect photo relies on a delicate balance of variables – all of which you have control over if you’re willing to try, make mistakes, and learn from them.
What is your favorite Bramble Berry product and why?
This is a no-brainer for us! Our favorite Bramble Berry product is Champagne Fragrance Oil, hands down. To start, the aroma is beyond rapturous and effervescent; our favorite thing about it is that you can almost taste sparkling bubbles in the back of your throat when you smell it fresh in the bottle. That is to say, it is a full-on sensory experience, whether in the bottle or in soap. Furthermore, in our experience, it blends very well with many other Bramble Berry essentials and fragrances. If you visit us at our soapery, you’ll find that we keep a bottle on hand at all times. Also, we highly recommend any silicone mold from Bramble Berry.
Tell us something unusual or unique about yourself!
We recently received certification as an LGBT owned business enterprise and are male soapmakers. As for Stud Tyler, he is one of six kids in his family, has a penchant for gnomes, and loves to wear bowties. Stud Preston is an only child, the treasurer for our local Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, and is currently preparing to apply for law school.
What are some of your other hobbies and interests?
Art (especially ebru and mixed media), baking, singing, sustainable living, electric vehicles, watching television, playing old school Nintendo, and all things RuPaul + drag queen related.
What is your number one soaping tip?
Find the soaping temperature that works best for you and stick with it. Also, add your FO/EO to your oils before mixing in the lye solution in order to mitigate unnecessary stress to the reaction.
Have you ever experienced a horrible soapy fail? How did you work through it, and what did you learn?
During our first holiday season, we encountered a few soapy fails using some holiday fragrance oils. The first batch accelerated and turned into cement before we could even homogenize the ingredients. The second batch had an oil slick on it after setting up, so we used the Hot Process Hero method to rescue it. Lastly, our initial experience with making beer soap was problematic. Once we added some lye, the beer started overflowing rapidly out of the container. From then on, we made sure to boil the beer before making our lye solution.
What do you love most about creating bath and body products?
Beyond all of the things we’ve mentioned, we love being able to share, as well as use, our bath and body products. Our customers get very personal with our products, which requires a tremendous amount of trust, and we cherish being able to provide them with assurance.