What’s in the Numbers?

The soap making market is beyond its saturation point.  Etsy is wall -to-wall, floor to ceiling with them.  The internet is fully stocked with so many you’d never be able to view them all if you sat there looking at them for 100 years.  It’s tough out there trying to get noticed if your biz is online exclusively.  Most makers will tell you that’s not how to create a business if you want it to succeed.  You’ll have to beat feet to be seen, found and heard in this biz.

Being seen, heard and found isn’t that easy either.  Many markets, fairs and special events are in our area but to get into them is the toughest thing I’ve seen since trying to apply for college loans.

Farmers markets in my area are full.  Crafter markets have fees so high I can’t afford to join.   One that started up just a couple of years ago was pretty wide open with just one other Bath & Body maker in it whose product was quite different from mine. I thought it might be possible to get into this market because we didn’t create similar things, but to the everyday person and the vendor oversight/approval committee, if it’s soap, it’s soap.  Period. If you make something that a current vendor makes you’re not welcome here.  Go somewhere else. No room here.

It was clear to see the many crafters in this market are savvy, creative, talented beyond description, know all the right people and have plenty of connections to keep their spot confirmed in the marketplace.  I’ve seen them, visited their web sites and their products are truly unique, of high quality, presented with clear, clean lines that customers appreciate.  They are were very fortunate to get in on the ground floor with this market. Getting their face and brand out there in the public eye is not half the battle it IS the battle.  And those early bird vendors have won.

I’ve been on their mailing list for a couple of years, applied every season with hight hopes only to be turned down again and again, placed on a waiting list that never gets called back.  It more than clear this is not going to happen so I’ve moved on though not without being curious, just one last valiant effort to try to apply.  Just to see what happens.  Can’t win if you don’t enter, right?

So I’m back in their website, looking up their application form and my heart plummets.  There’s now a fee.  Not a large one mind you, but still a fee in involved.  Maybe it would be fine for someone who’s business is doing far better but mine is struggling, seriously struggling to stay alive.  Maybe I’m too stubborn for my own good to keep fighting for it to live, to succeed, but I keep pushing forward.  Despite little income, despite being horribly introverted, it continues.  Even a few dollars is hard to part with, but to part with it and never have anything to show for it?  No, I cannot afford it.

My business is my baby and I’ll fight on for it, but it will have to be quietly, here without a huge following and definitely without fees for events.  I’ve done the social media outlets, I use Google analytics, I work diligently on a web site, setting the SEO just right, post frequently with interest and interactive content.  The steps are done but the numbers don’t show it. But what are numbers anyway when really all it takes in just that ONE person to order, be pleased and spread the word to their friends and pass it along.

The customers who do visit are treated with respect, individualized attention, care and concern.  If they’re not happy, I’m not happy.  Their needs are paramount and I listen to them when they talk of what their issues are and what they’d like to see more of in a product.  I care about my customers whether they number in the thousands, hundreds or just a few.  They still have high expectations and I’m going to do all I can to never let them down.

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Taking A Dare

Growing up in a neighborhood filled with similarly aged kids nearby, bicycle-riding distance at the most, friends were a constant.  My house.  Their house.  No difference really to us as long as we had our free time for doing whatever kids do during those long days of summer.  The most mischief we’d get up to was playing Truth or Dare.  Always wary of the dares as they loved to try to get me into way more trouble than any game was worth, I always chose the truth.  I was boring.  No one really had anything over on me because I was a wallflower for the most part.

As an adult and now married to one of those school-age friends I’d known since 6th grade, WB likes to challenge me to try something new whether it’s new colors to wear, a new Thai dish he’s tasted while living in Asia for 12 years or getting on an airplane for the first time in my life. I have to admit he’s a challenge unto himself really, but I love a good challenge. He’s managed to get me to try  more new things in the past 8 years than I’ve had in the entire lifetime prior to marrying him in 2011.

Now he’s trying to get me to create something with a certain color, a certain scent, a certain look and the range is growing broader every day.

Today alone he threw three new ones at me. After making two batches of milk soaps with a single essential oil as the scent – one with orange the other with pink grapefruit – he was thrilled to see the results.

Now he’s pushing the envelope of what he envisions as opposed to what he thinks I can pull off.  Those first two were easy-peasies.  Nothing fancy.  Just a milk soap with the EO blended into a clay to make it stick.  No other EOs added.  The colours have to match the scent, too.

Now he’s listed the rest –

A Cherry Garcia sort of soap, with Black Cherry, Chocolate Chips, and vanilla ‘ice cream’.

Muscadine – complete with the colours of a muscadine found in nature.

Gummy Bears inspired soap, complete with fruity fragranced gummies.

Lastly (so far)- Cotton Boll.  A nod to his work in the cotton industry so he wants a soap that looks like a cotton boll.

We’ll see how this shapes up as time allows these to be made.  This is only the beginning…..

 

To Be Continued………

 

What We Aren’t Telling You, pt. 2

Previously we’ve spoken about oils and some of the additives used in bar, liquid and cream soaps.  That conversation was just the beginning.  Today I’ll talk about milks and beers (plus all their cousins). For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be henceforth using the term beer though I include all alcoholic beverages I’ve used as full or partial substitutions for the water in boozy bar recipes.

Fig Orange Mead
Honeygirl Meadery, Durham, NC  

I learned about the adding of beers, ales, lagers, IPA, ITA, stouts and wines by reading then experimentation.  It was not copied from others.  Just a curiosity to see what the results would be with some of the liquid being replaced with beers or similar liquids.  I first wondered about the alcohol because lye is pretty much the bully on the block and does NOT play well with others that have some level or power behind them such as those beautiful meads, ales, etc.  The alcohol is best cooked out first, then allow the beverage to cool completely in the fridge before using it. I’ve heard some will freeze theirs and that works very well if using the beer in full substitution for the water.

It can discolor your soap somewhat to do a full substitution with a beer. Depending on the darkness of the beer, of course. If you allow for that discoloration and plan around it by incorporating that color as part of your design, it’s a great way to get a fantastic, bubbly bar with a warm color scheme. If you’re like me and want to call the shots where the color is concerned for your soaps, use only a partial substitution.  It gives you a bit more control over how the soap will look in the end.

I also like to use milks in my soaps, or perhaps I should say a milk.  I use coconut milk.  Yes, I’ve tried others – rice, oat, soy, almond – but none had the qualities I was seeking to add to the bars, so coconut is where I stay.  I’d use another if there’s an allergy issue and/or a special request is made.  Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has a high fat content so using this as a partial sub for some of the water offers superfatting as part of its glorious bonus features.  Another is the sugar content also included.  Sugars bring more bubbles to bar soaps.  When coupled with the sugars that are also in the beer, you’ve got an amazing bar of soap that bubbles richly, dense and creamy with every use and the superfatting from the coconut milk makes the skin feel supremely soft and moisturized.

Again, I can’t tell you that. I CAN say that lush-lathering bar of soap cleans you up after a dirty day’s work.  That’s all.  But now you know why I use coconut oil in every batch.  You know also why I love to make boozy bars so much.  Research the ingredients of your bars and find out what you’re using on you skin.  If it’s store bought, chances are good you’re using a detergent in bar soap form.  Nothing more.  It will strip away your skin’s natural oils, leaving your skin, dry, itchy, tight, and prone to problems because it’s no longer protected by that all-important barrier oil layer.

HoneygirlMeadery

Fig – Orange Mead, shown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are we not telling you?

Soap maker’s love what they do.  I know I do.  To bring something useful, beautiful to look at and a wondrous experience to smell is a joy I love to share with others.  I constantly try to find new ways to make things better, make them prettier, longer lasting, smell better and make you feel better.  But I can’t tell you that.  FDA regulations prohibit that.

As a soapmaker, we can only tell you it cleans, smells great.  Period.  End of sentence.  We cannot make any claims that it softens rough, dry skin, that it exfoliates to bring back your skin’s youthful glow and appearance.  We cannot tell you it helps with acne, psoriasis or eczema.  Nope.  We tell you it cleans. We’d love to be able to tell you what it does to help your skin look and feel healthier, but we can’t.  So, we have to leave it to you to educate yourself in the various ingredients we are obligated to place on our labeling.

About that….labeling.  Since some like to say ‘it softens’, it’s no longer just a soap, it’s now a cosmetic.  Big difference and it become obvious in the labeling.  We then have to use the INCI – International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. We learn Latin quickly as least as far as it extends to plants, oils, seeds and other additives.  Those long, multi-syllabic Latin words on the back of every bar of soap many of us make is the Latin name for the oils and other ingredients we’ve used to make that fabulous bar of soap.  We list them in descending order, too, by the way.  The common name is also given along with the INCI name so you can find those ingredients through an online search and discover for yourself what it is.

So why do we use the things we do in our soaps?  We have very good reasons for using the many oils, butters, clays, humectants, etc available to us today.  We’ve studied, done our research then applied that knowledge to a recipe for a product that will perform as specific function.  However, that function cannot be told directly to you because then we’d be beholden to the FDA to the tune of thousands of dollars in testing, certifications, fees etc before we could ever release one thing to you.  We know we’ve made something wonderful!  We’ve tested it on ourselves and others who’ve volunteered.  No animals ever.  We’ve tweaked and honed, modified or scrapped it altogether to start over before you ever see it on our shelves or online stores.  But for most of us, we could not afford FDA regulatory demands to provide you with these amazing products even though we’ve had plenty of positive feedback on it, glowing testimonials, requests for more or larger amounts.

So now to the nitty-gritty of what I add to my products and why.

I love Sweet Almond Oil!  INCI – Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis. Why do I use it?  It’s light – light in colour, light on the skin, and sinks in to soften and moisturize.  It’s in all of our bar soaps, several oil-based products such as Body Oil and sometimes I use it in lip butters. (Why lip butters and not balms? FDA regs state a balm is a drug, so it’s butters for us.) Emulsified and/or hydrogenated forms of almond oil are used for specialized butters infused with beneficial essential oils.

Coconut Oil – INCI Cocos Nucifera.  This gives your bars that foaming bubbling action.  The more coconut oil in a bar, however, can be drying, so there’s a fine line to steer along in making your bar no longer super bubbly but now it’s drying you out and you’re making a mad dash to the lotion bottle.

Olive Oil – INCI Olea Europaea. A mild oil, popular in baby soaps and used as the only ingredient in castille soaps, thus the reputation for mildness they boast. It takes about 1 year for this soap to fully cure out which is why you don’t see much of it around as our fellow soapmakers sell out extremely fast and have trouble keeping it in stock continuously.  Great moisturizing oil and gives stable lather to soaps containing other oils.

Argan Oil – INCI – Argania spinosa nut oil.  Excellent oil for use with hair care products in that it offers soothing, softening character to the hair’s cuticle.  It’s great when blended with jojoba for hair serums for calming the frizzies, which can apply to women’s hair care as well as mens facial hair. You find it in many mens & womens grooming products and  shampoos.

Cocoa Butter – INCI – Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter. This gives our bars a creamy, rich dense lather, particularly when used in combination with coconut milk!  It doesn’t take a lot and the results are beyond your wildest dreams.  Cocoa butter is used widely for body butters, helping with soothing tight, dry skin, provides antioxidants, and makes for a butter that is hard but melts on body contact.

Grapeseed – INCI – Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil.  I love using this one in our Bugs Me Not. Lightweight oil because it absorbs quickly, leaving no heavy greasy after-feel. Typically used in anti-acne recipes for this reason.

Mango Butter –  INCI – Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter.  Another that provides rich, creamy lather and it also conditions the skin without feeling heavy or sticky.  It’s often found in lotions, body butters, lip balms and used as a superfat for bar soaps.

Rice Bran Oil – INCI – Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil.  Many use this as a close sub for olive oil because of its mildness and its contributions to a creamy lather.It’s ideal for mature or sensitive skin.

Shea Butter – INCI – Hydrogenated Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter). Gives a hard bar with conditioning silky feeling lather that stable.  It helps skin troubled by blemishes, dryness & wrinkles.  It’s great in body butters, but lends those same qualities to bar soaps. In body butters, lip balms or lotions, it can feel a bit heavy, but is so beneficial, it’s worth including at low percentages.

Stearic Acid – (that is the INCI name).  We use this in our cream soaps to lend thickness and body to the soap.  It offers creamier lather that is superior in stability, which cream soap needs since many use it for shaving, which we all know can take a while.  Sometimes it’s used in bar soaps, but I have not included it in any of my bar soap recipes except for the shave bars.

Sunflower Oil – INCI – Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil. Sunflower seeds are packed with Vitamin E (INCI – Tocopherol) which you probably already know is a powerful anti-oxidant.  This alone makes it a valuable ingredient in many applications!

Aloe Vera – INCI – Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice.  A wonderplant in my opinion! It’s fantastic is all types of soaps, blends into shea butter for an outstanding moisturizer that soothes, cools, and helps in healing skin that’s injured by any means.  Great in lotions, body butters, hair care products, balms, liquid soaps, cream soaps & bar soaps.

Coconut Water – INCI – Cocos Nucifera water.  Rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, amino acids, cytokinins and antioxidants, coconut water is typically taken from a young coconut.  One still slightly green.  It’s a great thirst quencher and that characteristic remains when applied to lotions, bar soaps, cream soaps and liquid soaps.  The cytokinins are thought to slow down the aging process while the water hydrates to give skin a more glowing, youthful appearance.

These are just for starters!  There are virtually thousands of additives available to the savvy soap maker looking to raise the bar on her soaps’ quality and properties.  We all want to help people feel better but we can’t tell you how or by what means.  We simply research and hope you’ll reach out and ask why we do what we do with the things we use.  We are always happy to enlighten out customers.  What do you want to know more about?  Is there a special herb, clay, additive of another sort you’re seeking help with?  Want to know more?  Feel free to email me to read more.  I’m always happy to help!

neecysnecessities@live.com

Quiet places, fragrant spaces

Let’s take a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll.  We’ll direct ourselves towards the most beautiful part of Charleston – the Battery and rainbow hued line of homes nestled happily in the same area as historic old homes that soar majestically across the street from the warm waters of the ocean.  The light is fading softly into twilight.  The sky pinkens as lavender sends slender strands above our heads but we don’t see that.  Our minds are floating along on the breeze that is pulling us to the sidewalks that front those glorious old homes, their whispers of stories long past teasing us as we walk by.  A scent is calling to us, like a siren song, we cannot resist.  It’s the scent of history, secret hideaways where trysts could occur at any given time, a heady perfume that taunts us.  Its the scent of the south at its exotic best. The blooms of day have done their best, leaving their perfume behind to fill the air yet the shy blooms of the night are already beginning to reveal their beauty and a redolent fragrance that rivals the finest perfume houses of France.  

hidden garden with fountain softened
hueandeyephotography

Those pristine homes along the waterside slowly wink on with light within and suddenly we are offered a chance to bear witness to sweeping staircases that arch around the walls of great entryways where white-gloved hands once glided as well-dressed young women descended to parties or balls.  History is whispering to us to stop, be still and listen to its story.

Spanish Moss in a garden softened
found in pinterest

A gentle breeze lifts us, guides us, a casual brush of the bearding Spanish Moss that drifts from the trees we saw on earlier walks through old live oaks.  Their ghost-like appearance gives us a chill yet a sense of relief as well from the heat of the day.  Summer in the south can be hard on a body.  Hot, humid, sticky, making your sofa or bed call to you like a lover to rest, cool off for just a little while.

That mindset, that lazy relaxed feeling is all my mind sees when I breathe in the glorious fragrance that is called Elderflower.  Originally purchased from Mad Oils (it can now be found at Arizona Mad Oils), the flowers for this batch were made back in the winter of this year.  The leaves were piped from  Soap Dough recipe #001 from Sorcery Soap’s second book as this type of soap recipe lends itself perfectly to reach a consistency ideal for piping with pastry bag and tips.  I love approaching soap dough this way.  It’s far more comfortable for me than shaping, though the flowers were done that way with punches and the same dough recipe.  Using a piece of plastic over the punch smooths out the edges to make the flowers much more realistic, softer, prettier.

Soap Dough Flowers and Leaves.jpg
Hand Shaped Flowers and Piped Leaves 

This was done in a tall, skinny mold and only one colour for the swirl within.  For this one, it isn’t about the swirl, it’s about the scent.  That scent.  Words fail.  Bad thing to say in a blog, isn’t it?  But adequately describing the scent and the feelings it evokes is nearly impossible.  It’s a scent of summer days, walks through shady groves on well-worn paths and trees older than our country surrounding us on both sides.  It’s one of old homes that housed the elite and the everyday man while living in a time and area that speaks softly of gentility, well-groomed person and manners to match and dripping glasses of sweet cool tea.  The occasional lemonade doesn’t go amiss, of course, nor would a mint julep, two fingers of the finest bourbon to be had and a cigar that sends curls of smoke around our heads on a wrap-around porch.

You feel that cool greenness from those secret gardens tucked away from sight, the heady blooms that open in the heat of the day as well as those that only shine their best at night.  It’s a glorious blooming of many flowers that are pristine, deeply green in stem and leaf, dance in the summer rain.  This is a newfound favorite.

Full and fun size bars
Full size and Fun size bars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique Yet Useful

DSCN1385These cupcake silicone molds, originally meant for cake, or brownies if you prefer, were discovered in Amazon and they were an immediate Must Have.  I had to try these in a soap cupcake.  In they went into a cart and bazinga! they arrived a couple of days later! Thank you Amazon Prime!

For this batch, I chose a milk soap.  A boozy batch might discolor too much into the dark side, which I didn’t want, well only partially, so I stuck with a coconut milk soap.  I suppose if you prefer goat milk you could use that, but I don’t use goat milk in any of my soaps.  The only milk I’ve used for the past several years has been coconut.  It adds a richness to the lather I don’t get with any other milk.  It also makes the soaps vegan-friendly.  The batch was split 1/3 – for the pot & 2/3 for the dirt.

DSCN1387 The color was a blend of two Mad Micas – Tangerine Dream and Hot Man on a Tin Roof.  To explore their magnificent micas for yourself, click here.  This was poured into each little ‘pot’ to a set level, then a ‘spacer’ was placed down into the soap to push it up to the top as much as possible and create a space into which the’dirt’ portion would be poured.  centre spacers DSCN1388The glass beads weighed the spacers down.  I really doubted the cups would be pushed upwards but wasn’t taking chances. They stayed in overnight then were removed.  The dirt part was made and tinted with more of the Hot Man on a Tin Roof.  dirt portion poured

After the ‘dirt’ set up, which was after a another two days, it was time to make some soap dough using a recipe from Bee Iyata’s second book, A Soap Recipe Book of Light and Shadow which you will find here.  It creates a smooth piping consistency unsurpassed by any other types of soap I’ve tried.  So this batch was destined to become the leaves, using Mad Mica’s Lorne Green, which is a soft medium tone green with a slight gold overtone.  I added a pinch of  their Crazy Eyes Green for a bit of depth.  DSCN1395 Once it was adequately thickened for piping, the leaves were piped on and a dollop was added to some Russian piping tip flowers I’d made with a soap dough recipe from the same book last winter that were then hand-tinted.  It’s a natural feel for me, approaching soap dough in this way.  I’m a former cake baker/decorator so a pastry bag in my hand is very comfortable, familiar.  Fresh Flowers Webshot_1840_1738

The Tangerine Dream was not deep enough, so next time I’ll use more!  There are several things I’d do differently if another batch is made one day, steps eliminated, thus making this a far easier and less labor-intensive project to produce.  As is, it would be obscenely expensive to make on a regular basis from the labor alone, so it’s not one I’ll make any profit on once these are all gone, but the smiles they bring are more of an incentive to repeat than a monetary one.

In this business you have to love what you do, to be in it for the love of it, to let it give you a creative outlet through which you express your joy of the craft, the desire to make something unique yet useful for someone, even a stranger far away, knowing they’ll smile when they see these for themselves in their hands while you’re at home and never see that response to your work.  That is what makes it worthwhile for me.  Some things are done for the sheer joy of it.  No personal gain is expected or even wanted at times.  I don’t often approach my work in that mindset, but now and then a playful side sneaks out and wants to play in the sunshine.  It gets its time in the sun because it’s deserved, earned.