I started making soap in the summer of 2011 at my grandparent's home in Shalersville, Ohio. There were a few things in my life that prompted me to do so: One morning before my Organic Chemistry class at Kent State’s Salem branch, I was watching a local Ohio TV station where a woman was blending and pouring soap into molds at her Cleveland shop. I thought this was very fascinating being that I have always dabbled in any type of handmade items and had not yet tried my hand at the art of soap making. I thought about it for many days and eventually picked up a few books at the library and Borders, and made a conscious effort not to turn to the internet for any of my resources until I learned the book method. I also purchased my most coveted soap book from amazon.com (interestingly enough!) that a local experienced soap maker suggested to me. It was originally published in the 50’s which also made it the only book that I would rely on from that point on (“The Natural Soap Book” by Susan Miller Cavitch.)
Much to my excitement, the cold-process method of making soap is one of the most old fashioned and is often called “the pioneer woman’s soap” as it can be made almost anywhere with any type of fat or oil. This aspect leads me to the next key reason that prompted my soap-making saga: my family has always been very close-knit, self-sustainable and focused on healthy, simple living in all aspects. For over 50 years we have used homemade recipes/remedies for anything and everything from cleaning to cooking to refinishing antique furniture. I felt that by making an all-natural product that my family could safely and confidently clean with would be my contribution to our old-fashioned ways. Interestingly enough, there are also a growing number of people who are becoming aware of this as evidenced by social media sites such as Pinterest and Etsy.
As I began the process of reading the books and buying the equipment selectively from my Friday morning garage sales around Portage County, I was also taking classes for Kent State’s Accelerated Nursing program. As the idea of working with lye became more daunting, that Organic Chemistry course (mentioned earlier) became increasingly more intriguing. After class one day, I asked my professor if he could explain to me the saponification process. I think he was floored that a nursing student had such a sincere interest in a chemical reaction process outside of class. Dr. Motry took me to the lab and allowed me to mix lye and distilled water in a beaker. Alas, with the necessary precautions (gloves and goggles) I overcame my fear of lye. He drew out the entire chain of molecules, electrons, and saponification reaction on the chalkboard. Put in a more simple language (yes, please!) when you mix a fatty acid (such as coconut oil or fat) with an alkali base (such as lye/sodium hydroxide), you get a modified salt in an oil base that we call SOAP. The only by-product of this particular reaction is H2O (water). The reading, the advice and the consult from my O-Chem professor had all come together! Just Real, Handmade, No synthetic chemicals... SOAP! It lathers, it cleans, and it does not leave a harsh residue on your skin or clothes. Not only was I immediately more comfortable with the saponification process, I was also the happiest girl in the world because that meant that I would never have to buy another bar or bottle of “soap” at the store; I could now make my own for myself and my family.
Looking back, I believe my first batch of soap was difficult, disastrous, messy, frustrating, scary and it was Grapefruit Oatmeal. Much to my surprise, it was a success! The next day I cut it, it cured for a couple weeks, and I tried it. I loved it! My Mema obviously loved it MORE because her friends and the rest of the family were already placing orders. I made enough soap to arrange on a folding table and tried my luck at the local Ravenna Farmer’s market and a few craft shows over the winter. Before I even realized what happened, I was the soap vendor at the well-established Kent Haymaker Farmer’s Market and was making enough extra money to pay for nursing books and my car payment.
I have since graduated from Kent State with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing and became a Registered Nurse. I am still making soap and will continue to do so… mainly because I am passionate about it. I am still in awe of the customers that are just as passionate about my product as I am. As an “Old Soul”, and down-to-earth girl, I am even more humbled by the fact that there are so many locals and a growing amount of customers who say that they will never buy soap anywhere else as long as I continue to make an honest, simple, handmade, all-natural product. And why would I do it any other way? With the willing help of family, especially Mema, Mom, my cousin Olivia, and my boyfriend of 8 years – Greg, I am able to continue doing so. My goal is to expand my little business in order to make a lifestyle out of it, along with my career as a nurse, and Greg’s job as a farmer. But more so, I find a humanistic responsibility to make others aware of the importance of using all-natural products on themselves and those important to them. I am always open to fellow soap makers and women or men of all ages who are interested in making their own soaps or natural products and are striving for a healthier lifestyle. And to all of those who purchase my products: may you be as passionate about them as I am!