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Why is Handmade Soap Better? Part 2

Many soapmakers today choose the cold process method and prefer vegetable oils to animal fats.  Both types of soap will clean equally well, however, the cold process method allows for the retention of glycerin within the formula.  Vegetable glycerin is a natural emollient that draws moisture and keeps your skin hydrated.  Also, many people have ethical reasons for choosing vegetable soapmaking oils.  And finally, cold processed soap reacts slower in the pot meaning the soapmaker can add additional ingredients and still have time to pour the batch with pretty swirls of color etc. Cold-processed soaps can take 4-6 weeks to cure properly while hot processed soaps are ready for use within a week.

Cold Processed Soap
Cold Processed Soap

Back to Webster’s

As we discussed in the first part of this post, handmade soap is pretty basic.  Here we want to take a deeper look at the soaps you buy at the local big box store and we will return to Webster’s entry for “soapless soap” in which we were directed to “see DETERGENT”…this is a clue.  Recall that handmade soap consists of some form of fat or oil, sodium hydroxide (lye), and water.  Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients in a common mass produced unscented soap recommended for sensitive skin.

Some Commercial Soap Ingredients

Several ingredients are no different than what you would find in handmade soaps such as sodium tallowate , sodium palimate, sodium cocoate, and sodium palm kernelate are all saponified oils listed in order; tallow (animal fat), palm, coconut, and palm kernel oil.  These are the ingredients that actually clean your skin. 

Other ingredients are not typically found in your favorite handcrafted soap. Tetrasodium EDTA and tetrasodium etidronate are both preservatives.  Remember these soaps are mass produced and shipped across the country or around the world where they will find their way to a store shelf where they may remain for extended periods of time. 

This is Weird!!

One ingredient is a bit confounding.  Maltol is a flavoring.  We will let you draw your own conclusions regarding that one!! And finally we come to sodium lauroyl isethionate; a synthetic detergent but we see no reason to include a detergent that can cause skin irritation in susceptible people especially since this particular formula includes at least four other cleansing agents.

This is not a comprehensive list of ingredients by any means.  Other ingredients include hardeners, whiteners, lubricants, thickeners, fragrances, and dyes any of which can cause various skin sensitivities.  It is important to consider what is in your soap and the multiple ways we are exposed to those ingredients throughout the day…dish detergents, laundry detergents, cleansers, lotions, creams and moisturizers. 

Other Benefits of Buying Handmade Soap

There are multiple benefits to purchasing handmade soaps beyond the benefits for your skin.  In a sense, it becomes a social statement.  Many soap companies are solely owned and managed by the soapmaker meaning you can speak directly with the person who made your soap.  It is not a corporate conglomerate but an artistic endeavor often started by moms who are concerned about the products she exposes her family to.  It is likely that you have multiple soapmakers in your community due to its popularity.  These small businesses not only provide an income for the soapmaker but small business owners tend to support other small business owners.  There is a multiplier effect that helps create vibrant communities.

Shop Small

Why Should I Choose Kulturology Soap?

Hopefully at this point you can see the benefits of choosing handmade soap over its mass produced cousin but why should you choose Kulturology soap?  The simple answer is we want you to have happy skin and everything we do is geared toward that purpose and just because a soap is handmade does not necessarily guarantee that is good for your skin. 

For instance, we would love to play with the vibrant colors that characterize many handmade products…the hot pinks, deep blues, brilliant aqua, and saturated forest greens  but we can’t do that without using dyes and we think your skin is already exposed to too many dyes as it is.  And as much fun as it would be to play with fragrances like watermelon, blackberry, cherry, etc we prefer to choose real essential oils for the benefits they provide both physically and mentally.  And we could probably save a lot of money if we would just use cheaper base oils instead of sticking with our signature 70% olive oil formula but then our soaps would lose their superior qualities…a long lasting gentle soap that keeps your skin moisturized. 

Charcoal and French Clay Soap
Charcoal and French Clay Soaps

Our profit margins are a lot smaller than many of our competitors but we are in business to provide an alternative to overly scented and overly dyed products.  It takes months, sometimes years to research and develop each of our soap varieties because our goal is a synthesis of ingredients all working together to produce a particular result for your skin.  It simply wouldn’t make sense to put drying ingredients such as lemon essential oil in a soap meant for those with dry skin!!

Soapmaking is part science, part craft, and part artistry and each soapmaker has their own way of expressing those qualities.  There is literally a soap made just for you out there.  We hope you choose handmade first and foremost, but we also hope you choose us for high quality soaps that your skin will love.

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Why Is Handmade Soap Better?

commercial soap

 I stood in the “soap” aisle of my local big box store the other day contemplating the array of mass produced “personal cleansing products”, picturing the massive factories where they are manufactured  and thinking, “How big is there mixing pot”?  A young mother was trying desperately to choose a product before her young child went into complete meltdown mode.  She frantically grabbed plastic bottles off the shelf and gave them a quick sniff as if the only quality that mattered was the fragrance of a product she will use on her skin every day.  Does she know what is in that stuff, I thought to myself?  In fact, most of us never ask ourselves that question until we begin to experience various skin issues. Let’s answer a few questions about “soap”.  What is it anyway?  What is the difference between handmade soap and other soaps? And finally, why should I choose Kulturology Soap Company products?   

What is Soap?

According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, soap is “a cleansing agent, made usually by action of alkali on fat or fat acids (in the form of their glycerol esters), and consisting essentially of sodium and potassium salts of such acids”.  Not to be confused with the slang definition, “money used for bribery”.  If we continue down the list of entries in the 1961 edition of Webster’s, past “soapbark” and “soapberry” both of which are found in South America and contain natural saponins; past the entry for “soapbox” we come to “soapless soap” and are directed to “see DETERGENT”.  We will return to that in a moment.

handmade soap
Handmade soap

True soap is comprised of oil…vegetable or animal, water, and sodium hydroxide (lye).  Soap is created via two processes…hot process in which heat is introduced through an outside source (this is the traditional method) or cold process in which only the heat from the reaction of the lye water with the oils drives the saponification process. Traditionally, hot processed soapmakers used animal fats primarily due to its availability on a working farm.  Soapmakers would collect fat drippings from cooking and then render the fats (yet another risky process) into tallow ready for the soap pot.  Some soapmakers would add flowers and herbs but many bars were made simply for expediency.  These soaps would not only be used for bathing but also for laundry and cleaning.

A Note About “Lye”

Before you freak out and tell me that you don’t use any chemicals such as lye (sodium hydroxide) or that your soapmaker doesn’t use lye please read ahead.  Soap cannot be made without lye, period.  Sodium hydroxide is the strong alkali that unites the oil molecules and launches the saponification process…the magic simply won’t happen without it.  Keep in mind that the lye our grandmothers used to make their soap was produced by dripping water through wood ashes, preferably hickory ashes.  The soapmaker never really knew the strength of the lye so sometimes the soaps they produced were mushy and sometimes it would take your skin off along with the dirt!! Lye is very caustic and proper precautions and safety procedures must be followed carefully.  Thankfully soapmakers no longer have to produce their own lye but can purchase it in standardized form…we know its strength.  Properly crafted and cured soaps no longer contain lye. 

Lye making
Lye Making

Back to the Process

Many soapmakers today choose the cold process method and prefer vegetable oils to animal fats.  Both types of soap will clean equally well, however, the cold process method allows for the retention of glycerin within the formula.  Vegetable glycerin is a natural emollient that draws moisture and keeps your skin hydrated.  Also, many people have ethical reasons for choosing vegetable soapmaking oils.  And finally, cold processed soap reacts slower in the pot meaning the soapmaker can add additional ingredients and still have time to pour the batch with pretty swirls of color etc. Cold-processed soaps can take 4-6 weeks to cure properly while hot processed soaps are ready for use within a week.

In Part II we will take a look at commercial soap ingredients.

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January

Welcome to the section of my blog that I am calling, “A day in the life…”  When I was first contemplating this business I looked high and low for others who were doing the same thing to garner some sage advice or to simply understand what I was getting myself into!  There wasn’t a whole lot of information out there.  So I thought it would be helpful for those of you considering this path to get a feel for the things I do to keep my dream moving forward.

 

I live and work in an area (Great Smoky Mountains) where much of life is determined by seasons.  Yes the normal seasons we all know like winter, spring, summer and fall.  But around this neck of the woods tourist season is king.  It will make or break you.   This season generally runs from Mid-May to the end of October.  The remainder of the year is peppered with special events and holidays.  I sell my soaps at farmers markets, galleries, craft shops, and festivals and during the height of the season I regularly put in sixteen hour days.  It sounds crazy but you get used to it.  So used to it in fact that when January hits and all the festivities have past, all the shows are in the bucket, all the orders have been shipped, and the gardens are sleeping for the winter, I sit and wonder, “What the heck do I do now?”  A lot. The nitty gritty.  The stuff you haven’t had time to do all year.

 

Last year, 2016, was the first year I went all in on my business.  Previously I had worked full-time, or more commonly around here, two part-time jobs while also selling at markets and craft shows.  But for whatever reason on January 1, 2016 I promised myself I would do nothing but make and sell soap.  Let me tell you.  It was tough.  I was ready mentally and emotionally but not financially.  However the lessons I learned last year are invaluable.  The biggest lesson was that there is a natural rhythm to this craziness and it all begins in January.

 

What a mess!!

January is the perfect time to sort through all your essential oils, herbs, additives, bottles, jars, bags…everything that got pushed to the back of the cabinets and bins during the frenzy of production and marketing,  It’s amazing what you find!  Like the bottle of Orange Mandarin essential oil I just knew I bought but couldn’t find so I bought another.  Or the containers I knew I had but suddenly went missing when it was production time!  This is the time to gather everything together and take inventory.  Not only will it help you decide which supplies need to be replenished but you’re also going to need that information for taxes.

 

January is also the perfect time for planning.  Just like you tend to think about what you want to accomplish this year in your personal life, this is the time to plan your business for the year.  Are you going to focus more on direct sales or wholesale?  What worked well last year and what didn’t?  Which varieties are winners and which aren’t?  Are there additional products I should think about?  What are my goals this year and how can I achieve them?  Make those goals concrete and measurable so next year you will know if you attained them.

January is also the time to focus on self-care.  Yes the weather is frightful…not my favorite season.  I am very susceptible to the lack of light so on sunny days I take extra walks with Baxter.  I try to eat real food since I have extra time and it’s always nice to fill the house with the aroma of fresh baked bread or a pot of soup on those cold nasty days.  Do some extra journaling.  Get all the stuff running around in your head out on the page.  Clear your mind.  Stretch your body.  It’s time to rebuild your stamina because February is coming and that marks the beginning of “garden time”.  Until then…stay warm!!

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7 Steps to Successful Farmer’s Market Sales–Part II

 

This is the second part in our series regarding farmers market sales.  We are now in our second year at the Gatlinburg Farmers Market and these tips have helped ensure our success.

 

6-4 Market

4. What’s Your Story

Again, handcrafted soap is a very competitive market. A simple Google search will produce 360,000 results in .51 seconds. People can buy their handcrafted soap anywhere but they come to their local market because they want to know where their product comes from–they want to know you!  There is one thing I have learned after 18 years in the handcrafted soap business.  If you are not completely passionate about your product and the process, you won’t last long.  That passion should shine through when you engage with your customers.  Let them know why you are doing this and how you got here.

5.  Only the Best

Outdoor events can be very hard on handcrafted soap.  You will have to deal with the blazing sun, high humidity, and downpours of rain—sometimes all in the same day.  How are you going to protect your product?  Remember people will be picking up your soap bars and good quality handcrafted soap full of naturally occurring glycerin will pull every drop of moisture out of the air better than any dehumidifier!!!  Potential customers may be turned off if your bars have become slimy.  How will you deal with this?   Have a plan in place—you don’t want to lose hundreds perhaps thousands of dollars in product your first day at the market!!

6. Share Stuff

Who doesn’t love a freebie?  Can you offer samples of your product?  Or maybe some simple handcrafted skin product recipes printed out on card stock to send home with your customers?  Check with your market manager—you might be able to sell the raw ingredients also.  Be prepared to answer questions.  Your potential customers will run the gamut from newbies to handcrafted soap products to seasoned veterans and their questions will too.  Some folks want to know the chemistry behind soapmaking and others just want to know if it smells good—be prepared!!

7.  Converse

Engage with your customers. Learn who they are and what they are looking for.  You are the difference between buying handcrafted soap online or in-person.  If your customers love engaging with you on a weekly basis they will follow you when the market season ends.  Have fun and  let them see how much you enjoy what you do!

 

My GFM booth

Happy Market Days!

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7 Steps to Successful Farmer’s Market Sales—Part I

Gigi setup

 

2015 was the first year the Kulturology Soap Company participated in the local farmer’s market as a vendor.  We began with the idea that it would be great exposure for our small business.  In reality, our presence at the Gatlinburg Farmers Market turned out to be one of our best sales venues.  Here are some of the things we learned for successful farmer’s market sales.

1. Be There

Every success story begins with the first step–showing up.  There is a lot of excitement at the beginning of market days.  People come from far and wide to see what the market will offer them.  If you are set up on a consistent basis with a quality product, your customers will look for you every week.  It is quite likely the customers you see at the first market of the season will be there at the end of the season.

3. Critique Your Display

Does your display invite customers to stop and look at your product?  Set up your booth in the weeks prior to opening day.  Try different colored table coverings to see which best emphasizes your product.  Are you incorporating height into your display?  Is it clean with no clutter?  Be sure table coverings reach to the ground so customers don’t see the boxes and bins underneath.  Keep water bottles, drink containers, and snacks out of sight.  Soap is a sensual experience. Customers want to pick it up, touch it and smell your product so be sure to get out from behind your display throughout the day to make sure it’s looking its best.

4.  Price it Right

Handcrafted soap is one of THE most competitive markets out there.  Take note of your competition and their pricing.  If you are priced higher be prepared to explain why.  Be sure your product is clearly labeled and priced consistently utilizing a theme that enhances your display.  Customers don’t want to guess at prices and many won’t ask!

 

See you next week for Part II in this two part series!

 

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Calendula

Calendula officinalis

Calendula, commonly referred to as “pot marigold” is an easy to grow self-seeding annual.  Many ancient cultures such as the Hindus, Egyptians, Arabs, and Greeks utilized this  herb for its potent healing properties.  For that reason we use it liberally in our Calendula Soap.

This sunny little flower is native to Mediterranean countries and belongs to the same family as daisies, chrysanthemums, and ragweed. Calendula multiple flowersThe plants branching stems grow to approximately 24 inches and are topped by 2-3 inch flowers in multiple shades of orange and yellow. With its bright and sunny flower heads that literally follow the sun’s path, it is no wonder that Calendula is linked to the astrological summer sign of Leo.

It can be easily grown in almost any soil as long as it doesn’t become waterlogged.  Choose a sunny spot and keep the plants deadheaded.

Medicinally, this herb is most commonly prepared into tinctures, extracts, and salves and used topically to treat a multitude of skin ailments including excema, diaper rash, burns, and abrasions. Below you will find an easy recipe that utilizes this amazing plant.

Solar Infused Calendula Oil Recipe

Pack a pint or quart jar full with fresh picked Calendula petals. Fill jar with olive oil and screw on tight fitting lid. Place in a protected location with full sun for approximately one week. Strain the oil and place in a sanitized glass jar. Store in a dark location. The oil can be used by itself to treat burns, scrapes, diaper rash, and scars or it can be added to your favorite lotion or salve recipe.

Calendula flower