Being a self-made soapmaker, I've learned a tremendous amount from my 10 years of kitchen experimentation. I've learned to use proper safety equipment (not ahem, shorts and flip flops), I've learned to always expect a mess (that sometimes takes days to clean up), and most importantly, I've learned the value of products made from scratch. It takes a lot of hard work, determination, and will, just like so many other things in life. And let's be real for a few minutes: it is not cheap either. For those of you who assume you throw a few oils in a bowl and mix 'em up, eventually slapping a hefty price tag on a bar of soap...you're wrong. You're wrong in so many ways. But, that's okay! My objective is not to berrate anyone; I simply want to tell you a bit about what really goes on.
It all begins with an inspiring idea, maybe it's a scent wafting through the air on a breezy summer day or perhaps another crafter's amazing work. You decide that today is a soapmaking day (part of you cheers, while the other half dreads the clean up to come later). You go home, spend a good portion of time figuring out your recipe using math. Yes, math! Many folks use new technologies and soap calculators to get the job done nowadays. I do this from time to time myself; however, many of my soaps came from recipes that I developed on my own using some tried and true mathematical formulas. This is all step one, mind you. Step two is making sure you have all of the necessary equipment and ingredients (just as in baking). This will include safety equipment (for dealing with lye), carrier oils and essential oils, scales, pots and pans that have been designated "SOAP ONLY," molds, and of course, time. Then begins the soapmaking journey; knowing in the end you will have succeeded greatly or miserably failed. Though we all know failure, is an unfortunate side effect of any DIYer...
But again, let me reiterate...it is not cheap. Especially for those of us who choose to use primarily organic oils, or more locally sourced ingredients. Sure, I can get coconut oil from a big box store for a relatively inexpensive price; however, our organic, virgin coconut oil comes from a smaller distributor local to us. The quality surely surpasses anything else I might be able to find. We also only scent our products with essential oils. This is another hefty price-point in comparison to synthetic fragrances. We often choose small essential oil distillers; some located here in our amazing state of California. Supporting local businesses is one of our proudest virtues. We want our products to contain only the highest quality ingredients, and be almost completely plant-based (save for the local beeswax and honey we use). We use only food-grade vegetable oils, and our coloring always comes from mother nature's bounty. It is because of these ideals, we are able to craft wonderful products that are safe, non-toxic, and absolutely all natural.
As a last little note...there is magic in soapmaking--it's the perfect balance between art and chemistry. It allows us to make something beautiful (or on occasion, catastrophic). It can reflect our mood, our style, our passions. It tells a story of creativity and joy. It can be an outlet for sadness, grief, or an aide as we trudge through life's hardships. Please know, it is not a simple bar of soap you are buying; it is a piece of someone's heart and soul, perhaps even their livelihood. It really is a wonder.
You might consider this the next time you pass over a lovely little bar at your local farmer's market because the price seems too steep. What is a piece of your heart worth?
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm