Tips for Semi-Professional Handmade Soap makers…It’s All In the Nose and A Numbers Game
As I said in Part 1 of this series dedicated to handmade soap and its creators, I do not intend to teach you how to make soap with this series of articles. What I’d like to do is pass on bits of information I have gathered along the soapmaking path that were not written down, or that I had to learn the hard way. I continue to maintain that where you start in the natural soapmaking process makes a huge difference in where you end up. So let’s start it out right and get it right the first time. After all, what we do affects the skin which is the largest organ in our bodies. We might as well treat it right.
Another issue for handcrafted soap makers is that it is difficult to stop doing something once you’ve started doing it. This issue has been especially relevant for me in two areas: the use of fragrance oils and the number of soaps I make.
The Nose Knows
Regarding the use of fragrance oils, you will find it is a tempting, tempting thing to do. Soooo tempting. In fact, if you can resist the lure of all those deliciously-written descriptions of fragrance oils (artificial perfumes to newbys), you are a better woman, man or child than I. You WILL want that wonderful lilac fragrance or you think a berry scent would be marvelous. And, you will find that most other soap makers are offering these products, so if you don’t, you might be at a serious disadvantage at markets and festivals.
I’m not going to suggest you not use fragrance oils in spite of the fact that they are artificial and made from petrochemicals in a laboratory. In fact, I admit to having made a (very) small number of fragrance oil soaps myself.
But what I will suggest is that this is something you think about up front. You need to decide what niche you want to fill. Over the years I have been very tempted, and have often just “had” to try this fragrance oil or that one. But there was always something nagging at me, telling me that for my clients, this is not the best of what I want for them. So very many people are sensitive to fragrance oils, and it feels as though that number is increasing every year. Health is one of my priorities, and I kept coming back to the fact that essential oils are what I want in soaps my customers use.
I now distribute only two soaps with fragrance oils in them, and one of them is because it is from an endangered species. I’ve discontinued all but these over the years, especially as I’ve learned how to blend essential oils, which are made from plant materials. And that is your alternative…essential oils, which are useful for both aromatic and therapeutic qualities. Essential oils are made from the plant material itself, but even here, be careful. You need a good, trustworthy source of essential oils to be sure they are not adulterated.
I admit it does take a while to develop that sixth sense about which essential oils work well, and how to blend them. I’ll try to do a whole separate article on that. But the truth is there is no way to do it except to jump in and try. See what works for you and your clientele, and be proud of what you do.
As a rule, I try to come up with a new combination each spring. This year I developed a luscious “Ginger Lime” soap that everyone loves. Last year it was a special soap developed from my trip to Thailand and visit with my baby granddaughter called “Moment of Happiness.” And before that there was the farmers’ market series using fresh veggies, etc.
Find Your Niche
When I started making handmade natural soap, one of my primary thrusts was health. This had been true in other areas of my life for many years, so it was natural that the goal of making a healthy product was with me from the beginning. I value the aromatherapeutic qualities essential oils bring to my soap. They not only smell better, there is absolutely no doubt that everyone’s bodies react to them much differently than they do to the nice “smell” associated with a fragrance oil.
At markets and festivals, I often have people stop by my booth just to breathe in the air around it, and that’s true even for people who have no intention of buying soap. There are usually other soap makers around, and it is very common for someone to comment how much better my soap smells than anyone else’s. That is usually an opening for me to talk about the value of essential oils, but honestly, few people are interested. If they pick up the soap and it smells really good, they are likely to buy it. If it is scented with a perfume (fragrance oil), they may like it but not in the same way. It’s all in the nose…which is connected to the brain…which recognizes the therapeutic effects of the herbs and plants distilled into these oils.
So — if you’re a beginning soap maker and you suspect you want to make a natural product, learn to work with essential oils. Doing so will also relieve you of the problem that it’s a lot harder to stop making a particular soap (it will be somebody’s favorite) than never to start.
A Numbers Game
The other issue is the number of handmade soaps you make. There are so many wonderful possibilities, and I’m now up between 35 and 40. Since I have a Web site (www.annas-soaps.com) and sell to both individuals and retail establishments, that means that within reason, it is my responsibility to keep in stock in all of the soaps I offer. It takes a month to make a good bar of soap.
Looking back, I suspect it would be much more efficient to settle on a dozen or two really good, all-natural handmade soaps and keep up with them. But of course, that’s hindsight. Could it be done? Most handmade soap makers have a wide offering. Still, I think the concept is worth considering. It would make life much easier for the soap maker to have a smaller number of really good handmade soaps and be able to keep them in stock.