Marketing makes my skin dry and itchy
It would be easy to follow some online brand marketing formula, with obnoxious PR friendly photos and carefully chosen wording to give the impression that we're a humble little enterprise.
We're not an enterprise, and we don't want to give an impression that we're bigger or smaller than we really are. For over a decade in our spare time, we've been making and selling batches of some seriously great handmade soaps. We don't advertise, we don't promote, and we don't market. Almost all of our customers are word-of-mouth, loyal, repeat customers.
We don't do this for the money. We both have very satisfying full-time careers and do this in our spare time. Heck, we barely even make any money doing this. Most of the revenue goes to buy more ingredients and equipment.
All the soap is made by hand, only one batch at a time, using traditional techniques such as cold process. Sometimes a few batches a week, sometimes a few batches a day. Process-wise it's very similar to a home baker. No fancy equipment or machinery. Just good, very carefully selected ingredients, careful attention to detail, and thousands of hours of practice.
At the risk of sounding cliche, it's a labor of love.
Store-bought soaps (which have no right to call themselves soap - they're bars of detergent) have always made our skin feel dry, itchy, and tight after using them. We tried new brands all the time, but the results were always the same.
Many years ago we came across our first handmade soap in a health food store, displayed on a cutting board in solid loaves, with a knife to cut your own bars. We gave it a shot, and for the first time we used a soap that made our skin feel good. Real good.
We bought tons of it, months worth at a time. In hindsight it was good but not that great: very little lather, the scents were kind of weak and they were a bit plain looking. Still, it was a complete world of difference from the commercially produced bars.
Then one day they were gone from the store. The store owner couldn't tell us what happened to the soap maker.
Our first bars
Determined to do it ourselves, we bought a dozen books and researched for a good year as our stockpile shrank. The process wasn't difficult, but true to our nature, we had to know everything we could about it before attempting it.
The first batch was a complete success. They felt amazing on the skin during and long after washing, smelled great, and had a smooth creamy lather. They were even better than the bars that first introduced us to traditional handmade soap.
Division of labor
Like most efforts, we try them together and usually the task at hand sticks with at least one of us. For soaping, Deb really took to it. It scratched a baking itch she had. For me, not so much. I was just happy to help.
Deb went on to make more, spending a spare few hours every day studying and experimenting with different recipes, ingredients, and processes. She quickly developed a clear understanding of what was going in to the soap. Every ingredient was thoroughly researched to discover what they did, if they had any known healthy side effects, and drawbacks, and source impact. Every component to the soaps are always carefully chosen with full knowledge of what effects it has. She even dug deep into books and online soap making materials in other languages for more (thanks Google Translate).
Very quickly the soaps went from pretty good to downright amazing. The lathers became thick and luxurious, scents strong and lingering, and visually they started looking like fun works of art.
What are we going to do with all this soap!?!
Handmade soap is typically made one batch at a time, kind of like a loaf of bread. One batch might yield 12-18 bars. Deb was making a batch almost every day, and our supply soon outpaced our use. Even after giving away large amounts of bars to friends and family our stockpile was still growing quickly, and we were simply running out of room in the house to store it.
In the early 2010s a friend suggested we sell them on Etsy. We figured, why not. At the very least we would make more room for soap and maybe recoup our material costs.
They sold a little more than we expected. Regular customers kept returning, sometimes buying the same favorites, others trying Deb's latest soap creations. And they told their friends. And they told their friends. And..
Meanwhile in the Back office
Deb continued making batch after batch, while I was content helping in the background, taking care of the online store, making labels, and shipping out the orders. Before focusing on software engineering, I had started my university study in graphic design. It wasn't quite my passion, but over the years I still enjoy delving into any design work I can get my hands on. Similarly, I helped a few friends start and run small businesses. Making labels and selling the soap online scratches these itches for me.
Deb started her career as an ICU nurse, started and ran a nursing staffing company for a while, managed a doctor's practice, and currently does analytical work for a hospital. I spent my career as a software engineer in an oversized telecommunications corporation, and now consulting, helping Deb with the soap, and juggling a dozen other projects.
We're content with selling like we are now, small batches for our dedicated fan base who loves our soaps. We have no interest in setting up in handmade craft fairs, or selling through retail channels.
So there we are. We just plain love making and selling soap.