Soap making

Thinking outside the booth

24 August, 2016 0 comments Leave a comment

harvest green entryA while back, my husband asked me where I wanted to take my soap making in the future, and I responded that I would like to teach.  Earlier this year at market, I had the pleasure of meeting a lifestyle director for a local sustainable-living community near my home.  We met a few weeks later for a tour of the community and a quick put-our-heads-together meeting where we came up with two dates during the summer for workshops to be held in one of the model homes.

The day before our meeting, I had literally just returned from the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild’s annual conference.  For 4 days, I listened to industry experts talk about everything from branding to growing my business to the art itself.  The conference was motivating and inspiring with a double-shot of you can totally do this!  So, when it came to planning two workshops – ppssshhh – I got this.  No problem.

harvest green homesEvery evening for two weeks before the big day, I planned.  I wrote outlines, I wrote lists of resources, I formulated recipes, I shopped for materials, I gathered supplies, I tested the recipes, and finally I packed everything neatly in crates and absolutely panicked.  Terrified doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling.  What if they didn’t like me?  What if I was terrible at it?  What if they hated the recipe?  What if I was never invited back there again?  I wasn’t sleeping well and I spent pretty much every waking hour thinking about the first workshop.

The day of the first workshop, my husband was heading in another direction.  He had to go set up one of our regular markets, and I pulled myself together, put on a dress, and went to lead the Sachets & Sugar Scrub workshop.  Of the 15 residents confirmed for the workshop, 4 attended.  It was the perfect size.  The ladies sat at table and we went through the outline, talking about oils, butters, essential oils, and the benefits of using a scrub regularly.  We worked through the recipe and the ladies did a fantastic job.  They asked great questions and got really creative with blending essential oils.  And, as the morning went on, I became more relaxed and comfortable.  Everyone had a great time and has enjoyed using the sugar scrub they made for themselves.


harvest green resident with her soapWhen it came time to plan the second workshop, Melt & Pour Soap making, I wasn’t as nervous.  I went through the same procedure – outline, list of resources, gathering materials, packing up.  This time, we were expecting 18 participants.  All 18 attended and it was an extremely full kitchen.  I provided the soap base, additives, essential oils, mica colorants, and all the goodies that go along with the project, such as spoons, pipettes, molds, etc.

soap making workshop at harvest greenWhen it was time to get started, I held my outline in my hand and started shaking.  Trust me, when your hand is shaking from nerves, so is your voice.  Public speaking isn’t an area where I have a lot of experience.  And picturing people in their underwear just doesn’t do it for me.  So, the first few sentences were dicey.  I started to walk around the room while I was talking, and then I realized, hey – these folks are looking to me for guidance and you bet I’m going to give it to them.  Over the next hour and a half, we made soap.  In all honestly, I learned way more from them that morning than they did from me.  The level of creativity was mind-blowing.  Everyone finished up, we took some photos and they filed out to go on with the rest of their day.

couple at harvest green soap making workshopWhen it was all over, I was standing in the kitchen of a half million-dollar model home after 18 people, including children, went through a soap making workshop and I laughed out loud.  It looked like we rode a soap making wrecking ball through there.  I was so tickled that the residents had so much fun and it showed.  Thank the Lord for paper towels, 409, and stick vacuums.

I’ve been invited back to lead another workshop a little closer to the Holidays and I’m not nervous at all.  In fact, I can’t wait.

Back soon,
Monica

Lessons

07 November, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment

Tomorrow is our one-year anniversary. It’s been an incredible year. We’re so grateful to you and for you. Last November, we joined the Farmers Market on Grand Parkway in Katy, Texas. We had zero experience selling our products on the “open market,” but we wanted to give it a shot. We were nervous—very nervous. We were welcomed with open arms, kindness, sound advice, and helpful hands. We’ll be forever grateful to Cheryl & John for giving us the opportunity to join their market family.

Over the past 6 months, we’ve joined two more weekly markets, and have participated in 13 arts & crafts shows this year. We were scheduled to participate in 3 more shows between now and the end of the year, but we cancelled. Yep, that’s right, we cancelled.

One of the lessons we’ve learned this year is that building and nurturing relationships is one of—if not the most important aspect of being a small business owner. You see, in Katy on Saturday mornings, we spend time with our friends & market family. When we’re away from market on Saturday mornings, we don’t get to see our friends & family. We enjoy meeting vendors, hosts, and customers at shows, but it’s not the same for us. We’re happiest when we see the same friendly faces every week. We love it when friendomers (like that? friends/customers) stop by to chat, say hi, shoot the breeze, talk about the weather, or whatever comes up. I even adore the life-long friends that stop by on Saturday mornings to ask if I make goat’s milk soap, even though I’ve told them week after week that I don’t. I’m just happy to see them, and they always stop to chat, give hugs (and tell me how wonderful goat’s milk soap is).

Making money is nice, don’t get me wrong. But, if we’re not happy doing it then, to us, the money isn’t worth it. We’re not unhappy, but we know where we belong. We feel good there. We have friends & family there, and we miss them. It’s time to go home.

Our second year will be very different. We’ll re-think, re-organize, and re-structure in January when we have a little more down time. Meanwhile, we hope you’ll come see us on Saturday mornings at Farmers Market on Grand Parkway in Katy, together with our market family – John, Dick, Kaye, Chris, Kevin, Al, Janice, the perfect Sweet 7, Carlos, Maria, Dr. Lucy, Charlene & Floyd, Paul, and all the other artists, farmers, bakers, customers, friends, kiddos, and pups. We love it all.

Back soon,
Monica

Evolution

05 August, 2015 2 comments Leave a comment

My soaping addiction, er…journey, began with simple curiosity.  I don’t remember exactly how I became curious about soaping, but I did and I managed to find a supplier who gladly sold me a soap making kit.  Everything I needed to make a “batch” of soap came in a box, and the box was the mold.  The box sat around for a while after it arrived, and one cold Sunday afternoon, I cracked that baby open and made my first batch of soap.  And then it was over.  I mean ovER.  Ov-ah.  I was a junkie.  I couldn’t order a boatload of supplies fast enough.  I started reading books – a lot of books – about soaping, essential oils, and aromatherapy initially, and then lotions, scrubs, butters, oils, bath bombs, all of it.  I wanted to know everything as soon as possible.

When my “big” shipment arrived, I made another batch of soap.  This time, it was Eucalyptus Mint.

To this day, my Eucalyptus Mint Soap is one of our best sellers.  I can’t make it fast enough.  This is what it looks like today.  Anyone else see the man in the moon?

Everything about me + soap has evolved.  Some scents have bombed, and some have repeatedly sold out when I was beyond positive that I wouldn’t sell a single one.  I’ve expanded my product line to include lotions, body butters, bath bombs, lip and nail products, and I’m considering adding a few more products before too long.

To me, evolution is a good thing.  I hope me + soap continue to evolve and learn. 

Back soon,
Monica

All-Natural or Not?

23 March, 2015 2 comments Leave a comment

Soapmakers are artists. I’ve watched hundreds of videos on YouTube where the end result is a snow white bar of soap with a perfect 5-color embedded rainbow, piped soap “frosting,” soap curls, soap balls, and glitter. The scent is “Unicorns & Fairies,” and it sells for $6.00 per bar.

all naturalThe soap is absolutely fabulous—it smells divine, it looks amazing, and I would fork over $6.00 for that bar of soap in a heartbeat. Better yet, I want to meet the person that made it, embrace her in a bear hug, grab both her hands, sit her down next to me, and insist that she tell me everything about it, how she made it, how long it took, what she used, and that she start from the beginning right now, please. And, by the end of that conversation, I would want to dash home and try it for myself. Here’s what’s holding me up. Last time I checked, you couldn’t steam distill or expeller press unicorns or fairies to get unicorns & fairies essential oils.

At the very beginning of my soap journey, I chose the all-natural route. It’s kind of a straight and sometimes boring road. Confession time—sometimes I dream about making red velvet soap cupcakes with white cream cheese soap frosting on top and some kind of sprinkles. Good God All Mighty that would be fabulous. I recently read a blog post written by a soapmaker who has been told more than once that her “art” soaps are “too pretty to use.” A red velvet soap cupcake would be a darling novelty. But, would someone come back again and again for that? I honestly don’t know. I have no personal experience with it, so all I can say is maybe. I’m sure some people would and have.

no chemicalsEach of my soaps sells for $6.75 per bar, and I sell 4 bars for $25.00. All of my fixed oils, butters, and essential oils are quality products from a reputable supplier. Essential oils are more expensive than fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are lab created chemicals blended to smell a certain way. Essential oils are natural steam distilled or expeller pressed extracts of fruits, plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, etc. A 7 ounce bottle of lavender essential oil costs 5 to 6 times that of the lab created fragrance oil. I am, however, limited when it comes to fragrance (see unicorns & fairies discussion above).

There are some divine scent blends that come from essential oils. My eucalyptus mint soap is a best-seller and it’s 100% natural. I recently made a tangerine spearmint shampoo bar, and the scent is swoon-worthy for sure. Another best-seller is our honey oatmeal soap. No essential oils are added to it. The scent comes from Pure Texas Honey and whatever the bees happened to pick up on their all-natural journey.

I love the all-natural route and I’m gonna stay right here for now. Good for mind, body and soul is good for me and you. I won’t promise, however, that there’s not a red velvet soap cupcake with white cream cheese soap frosting and sprinkles in my future and yours.

Back soon,
Monica

Simple Packaging

23 March, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment

When you sell your product on the open market, packaging is a big deal. But it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Soap can be packaged in boxes, bags, paper, fabric, sleeves, bands, ribbon and, according to Google, 19,300,000 other ways. We use unbleached, 100% recycled coffee filters. Hubby and I wrap each soap individually just like wrapping a present. We stick an ingredients label on the back, and the front label identifies the type of soap, where it’s made, and our logo.

unbleached coffee filter for packaging

Using coffee filters as packaging keeps us on the all-natural path. They’re unbleached, they’re made of 100% recycled material, and they can be recycled again or composted. A ripped up coffee filter will break down in your compost bin.

The coffee filters are thick enough to protect our soaps, yet thin enough allow our customers to smell each scent offered. And, even though the soap is completely wrapped, we always set out an unwrapped bar to be seen, touched and smelled. We think it’s quite clever.

Staying the all-natural course is good for mind, body, soul and Mother Earth.

Back soon,
Monica

Uncharted Waters

19 January, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment

“If you’re in uncharted waters, you are in a situation that is unfamiliar to you, that you have no experience of and don’t know what might happen.”

A day or two into the new year, my father-in-law asked me what I want to accomplish this year with Monica Charles. I had a long list of great answers, one of which was to be a vendor at “4 or 5 shows.” We’re very blessed to have been invited to participate in 6 shows this year, and we have accepted the invitation to attend 4 of them—two in the Spring, and two closer to the end of the year.

Our first show this year is in late-March. When we submitted our application and brochure, I was beyond certain that we would not be invited to participate. When I received the news that not only were we invited, but the host was thrilled to extend the invitation, I was bouncing off the walls. I was congratulating my husband, myself, my dogs, posting on Facebook, tweeting, and emailing my family and friends. And then I quickly became terrified.

The “unknown” is hard for me; it always has been. I’d much rather know what’s going on, what to expect, and how to plan and prepare. That’s hard to do when you’re in uncharted waters. The best post-freak-out feeling was the realization that I have tools for navigating uncharted waters! I have a co-pilot, and I have a really cool navigation system powered by my faith, my heart and mind, and my ability to make pretty nice soap.

Even if we don’t sell a single thing at any show this year, we’ve been given the opportunity to join some truly amazing artisans, meet new people, show our products, and spend time together doing what we love.

Back soon,
Monica

Thanksgiving

22 November, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment

Since Thanksgiving is upon us, and it happens to be my favorite holiday, we wanted to say thank you to our new customers, our friends and family for the endless support, and our new vendor friends and family at Farmers Market on Grand Parkway. We’re blessed and overjoyed to be sharing our journey off-the-corporate-path with you.

Our new business is young, but we’re moving ahead at breakneck speed. Over the next week, our website will show photos of all our products. We’ve also redesigned our market set-up and will reveal it Saturday, November 29th, and we’ve created new packaging for our soaps. There are a couple more surprises that are in the works, which we will share with you in the coming weeks.

This Thanksgiving, we are grateful to you and for you. Your faith in us is spine-tingling.

Back soon,
Monica

Did you know?

12 November, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment

The first commercial soap company was founded by William Colgate in 1806. Colgate’s first “soap” product, “Cashmere Bouquet,” was introduced in 1872 followed by Proctor & Gamble, who launched “Ivory” in 1893.

Up until this point, all soaps were made using animal or vegetable fats, but with the onset of WWI, and decreased availability of those those fats, manufacturers turned to synthetic detergents, and commercial soap as we know it today was born.

Some of the more common chemicals added to commercial soap are:

  • Propylene glycol, which replaces glycerin, a natural by-product of soap making. Propylene glycol is petroleum based and is used to make antifreeze. It can be dangerous when inhaled, is a skin irritant, and is also dehydrating and aging to the skin.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate creates “foam.” It is a serious irritant, hormone disrupter, dries out the skin’s proteins, and cannot be metabolized by the liver.
  • Pentasodium pentatate makes better “foam.” This one is an eye irritant and not recommended for use on infants. 
  • Tricoslan is an antibacterial compound, which is being phased out due to adverse effects on the thyroid and endocrine systems (a collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into the circulatory system to be carried towards a target organ).
  • Cocomidopropyl betaine is derived from coconuts and allows commercial manufacturers to label products as “natural.” It causes skin discomfort and rashes, is an eye irritant, and is the second ingredient listed in “Johnson’s Baby Shampoo” after water.
  • Artificial colors are made up of tar derivatives, long chain hydrocarbons, and other petrochemicals.

Is this really what you want to put on your skin? 

Back soon,
Monica

Sundays

11 November, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment

I look forward to Sunday mornings.

We sleep a little later, snuggle a little longer (including our four-legged fluffbutts), and take our time getting up and around. My Sunday costume is usually sweats or yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a headband. For me, Sunday is the best day of the week and the day I make soap.

After my morning cup of tea (or 3), and a little breakfast, I gather my supplies and begin. The next couple of hours are devoted to me and my creativity. Making soap allows me to be a scientist, an artist, a sculptor, and a scent-blender (there’s probably a proper name for these folks), and I love all of it.

But my favorite part of making soap comes the following day. I usually have to stop myself from speeding like a rocket toward home on Monday evenings. I walk through the door and announce to my husband, as if he’s never heard it before, “it’s time to cut the soap!” He usually asks, “don’t you want to eat dinner first?”

It’s only when I look at him like he has four heads that he understands that it’s time to cut the soap and it’s time to cut it right now, and I need him to stand right there and swoon over every slice right next to me because he’s my husband and I’m pretty sure that promising to stand next to me while I cut soap and whoop like he’s at a football game was part of our wedding vows.

Every inch of soap is different, the patterns are different, the colors are different, and no two batches of soap ever turn out the same. I’ll never stop getting all worked up about cutting soap on Monday evenings because it’s too much fun! Ask my husband, he’ll tell you.

Back soon,
Monica