Information, MsBarb, Questions, Soap

Learning Curves- Soap Questions

I have a mad love affair with soap. It is so addictive! I love the choosing of ingredients, and I love the whole thought process that goes into making them. And then! choosing the additives and extras, and then thinking of the colours, and then the swirls or design!

And each and every time I make a new batch of soap, I learn something new.

I never used to use fancy colours or fragrance oils and hardly ever used essential oils as they were just too gosh darn expensive to put in there and the scent faded anyways. And since I was just giving away soap to people, I didn’t and couldn’t take on that much added cost. But once I started selling them, like properly selling them (and not just the “hey Barb, got any soap? Yeah, here, 60rmb” type of selling, but the we want to make this an actual business lets set standard prices), we learnt some things. And some of them were not pretty or easy to swallow learning curves.

A sampling of Scrub Me Down- Happy Skin All Natural Soaps, some of these are over five years old! Look! Can you see the rose extract swirl? (Coffee Cream, Orange Zest, Tiger Tail (rose extract swirl) and Neem II
  1. Both Sonia and I think Natural Soaps are actually quite pretty. They are rustic. We both don’t really care what it looks like as long as it does the job. The colour profiles are usually quite muted if natural colour additives were used, or if natural extracts (like bamboo, rose, green tea etc..) were used, they will generally always fade to brown within a few days. There were rough edges and sometimes way too scratchy if herbs were tossed in. Or looked like mouse poo if flower buds were added. But it was soap. And it did the job.
  2. Natural Soaps smell like…. well, soap. And can possibly be a little smelly/funky depending on the ingredients. If you have never held onto or used a bar of real soap (and Zest, Dove, Irish Springs commercially bought are Beauty Bars NOT soap) with no fragrance oil or essential oils, you will know what I mean. It didn’t matter as it was doing the job it was designed for.
  3. Bars were not always even, cut straight and were cut free handed. But again, it did the job.

So this is what we thought about natural and mostly organic soaps.  And we thought, people will love it when they use it! It’s natural and a great product! Which is true, but we learnt very quickly, that most people don’t actually want “natural” soap, they want, “natural PLUS some some chemicals to make it smell like a favourite fruit or flower or food and colour additives to make it look pretty too”. So we had to go back to the drawing board and rethink our additives, extras and spend a fortune on fragrance oils. To make our soaps more pretty. We also aded in more vibrant colours, began using much more difficult swirl techniques, invested in better cutting tools and learnt various and better ways to cut soaps.

Soaps May 2017
Some soaps made in the past month using the “natural PLUS” method

It hasn’t been easy, but thankfully soap is a very forgiving mistress when it comes to swirls and pours. But when it comes to a new and strange and horror story filled past with no one in China that I can ask for help or guidance on a new ingredient like fragrance oils in soap, that’s when grey hair begins. And the worry creeps in. It took a few batches to learn how to use them, and after almost 7 or 8 years of making soaps, I’m finally using fragrance oils and colourants in my soap making with a pretty good success rate and with confidence. My house reeks of grapefruit, bamboo & teak, lemon and lime, strawberries, ocean rain and plenty more! And it is not a bad thing!

A serious concern we have, is some scents that are very popular give me a mighty migraine. So something that we have to think about is, do we make that soap that we are pretty sure will sell well and suffer the few week migraine? Or where can I store it while it cures so it doesn’t affect me? Then there is, how to deal with the space issue of soap cure time (depending on the water content, usually 4 weeks to 8 weeks and that also depends on the weather conditions too)?

And then the question of, When do we start advertising the soap? I love to share my creations when I make them! But soap needs to cure. So do I wait till they are finished curing before posting pictures of things we’ve made? Provide little teasers? Little games of guess what I made today?

There are many things that we have to figure out when it comes to this soap making business. And at the moment, we’ve more questions than answers. These questions thankfully, are only on the business side of things and not the actual product side of things.

A sampling of soaps from the cure room. Which would you rather buy?

Now I know this is a fresh out of the gate blog, and not everyone reading it is an aspiring soap maker or seller. I can tell you one word of advice from the business side of soap making that I never wanted to believe or follow and I wish I did follow it much earlier. The number one way to figure out if you are hobby soap maker or out to make this a business is look at the number of recipes you have. If you have more than three base recipes, you are a hobbyist (or a hardcore soap seller in this business for years and years). If you have one to three base recipes and only your colours/fragrances/top changes, you are serious about turning your soaping into a business.