So, as a Creative Maven – my creative interests fall between swimming in glitter & gluing my hand to my favorite jeans (true stories)… so basically, ALL OVER THE MAP. This year, as I talked about before, is a year of exploration & pushing myself into new directions. Goal 5 of this year is to build on my weaknesses. I have a tendency to be slightly petrified in things that are seemingly hard for me to do (yes, even I get scared of something new). Any craft that takes more than an hour feels daunting to me & I reluctantly push through. I think it’s just because the longer something takes the more time there is to fail… I’ve never even failed hugely at anything craft related, but the fear still lingers. This year I’m pushing myself to pull off larger projects & learn things that always felt too difficult… and it’s starting to pay off. I’m becoming more excited for larger projects and I’m less interested in the easy-road.
As some of you already knew, I’ve been been making bath products (soaps, scrubs, lip balms & bath bombs) for a few years. It all started after the realization that I’m allergic to sulfates and other weird stuff that dries out my almost-obnoxiously pale skin. After I learned how easy making soap is (well, specifically how easy the Melt-and-Pour method is)… I started to make soap for family & friends on holidays. My Mom uses them as air fresheners around the house which is not exactly what I imagined they would be used for but I still love it.
But, as much as I have taught myself about bath & body goods (as well as the process of making them), I’ve always stayed away from the cold-processed soaps because the idea of working with lye, something that can cause a serious chemical burn, was like… ACK… just scary! So I became generally obsessed with a shop called Etta+Billie on Etsy. Alana has an ability to create stunning works of soap art within her brand Etta + Billie & her business is a certified green business so you can have confidence that what you’re putting on your body is good for you.
Clearly a fan girl, I even convinced Alana to be a featured vendor at a pop-up craft show I did at Goorin Bros. on Haight street. Her work is beautiful, her branding is on point and she’s just the nicest person. I batted my lashes at her over a year ago wondering if she’s teach me some about how she makes her soap…. she said YES!!!
There were some changes for Alana and her business over the last couple years – the largest was probably her move away from her home studio into a larger and more business-ready space. She’s also expanded her offerings into scrubs, lotions and other awesome products (which you MUST have because they rule all things awesome) So, although it took some time for us to finally meet up, over the weekend I met Alana at her studio space near Candlestick Park in San Francisco for an hour one-on-one workshop & talk about her process. The minute you walk into her warehouse building the smell of sweet essential oils takes over & you can’t help but relax.
Cedarwood & Space:
Her space is well organized and impeccably clean. Large rolling carts hold products that are curing or ready for packaging. As we walk into the space, she’s already geared up in, what I coined to be, a Mad Scientist outfit. Hairnet & lab coat with large kitchen gloves to protect her clothes from the lye splashes + protect the product from any extra dust bunnies getting into anything. Much like a space where one would make food, everything is protected from everything & I was instructed to make sure I also put on the super attractive outfit & gear up with goggles if I wanted to protect my eyes further. Luckily, I’m already somewhat of a nerd, so I was geared up with large nerd glasses which would be fine for our work together that day.
We finished up making some cedarwood soap first and I got to make the swishy-swishies on the top of the soap. Not even kidding, but all of her soap looks like something you can eat. I pulled the spatula from one side of the soap to the other in a zigzag pattern of sorts down the whole gooey tub-o-soap. I felt nervous that somehow I’d ruin the whole batch by even participating at all but Alana was encouraging and laughed at me in a very loving and supportive way.
Making Our Own Recipe:
Once we had poured all the soap into the molds and I had zigzagged my way into greatness, Alana and I wrapped the soap in multiple blankets and towels so that the heat generated from the chemical reactions would help cure the soap. Afterward, we developed our own special Katy & Alana soap! Alana let me know what essential oils she had & also said I could add in an additional special special something. I decided to make something reminiscent of a poppy seed muffin because my most favorite thing in the shower are bright notes that wake me up. Peppermint, ylang-ylang (which is super fun to say) & refreshing citrus. We landed on a Grapefruit/Lemon Soap with exfoliating kiwi seeds mixed in. The small batch yielded 3 adorable little bars of soap. They won’t be ready for about a month. A MONTH!?! Melt and Pour is ready the next day to dish out to my peeps… but the beauty of cold-process is that these beauties should last longer than the soaps that I’ve been making at home.
Behind the Scenes:
Alana is a one person show right now, so I had about a kajillion questions for her about how she keeps herself and her shop so organized. She has a limited amount of molds and it takes months for the soaps to cure before they are ready to sell. So, Alana keeps things in check by taking lots of notes, assigning batch numbers to all of her work & also making sure she keeps logs of when things were created, packaged and shipped. She even has a whole beautiful display of labels and stickers organized by her desk. Her internal drive is nothing short of amazing and so in awe of her determination. And, even with all of the checks and balances… Alana keeps experimenting and pushing herself to create new scents and PLAY which keeps her customers excited for what might be next!
Also, watching her business grow over the years has been a joy for me personally & reminds me of the work my own Dad has done in his 40+ year pottery career. Long lasting small businesses tend to last when you scale your business as needed and keep yourself organized in the process.
Although I learned SO SO much from Alana…such as invaluable cold-processed soap knowledge: I think the biggest learnings from this experience is that it’s OK to ask if someone will let you into their world so that you can learn a bit about their craft – even your Soap Hero! The trip to Alana’s new studio space has opened my eyes to a whole other form of soap art & I’m excited to experiment at home. It’s also reminded me how much knowledge around the topic I already had… even reminded me of how much I know about Natural Dye & how it’s all interconnected! I could go on and on but I’ll save some of it for later. Her studio visit was a dream come true for me and I hope I didn’t geek out too bad when I was there.
HUGE THANK YOU TO ALANA for spending Saturday morning with me! Because Alana has worked really hard to build a wholesale side of her business with shops all over the US, I’m going to do a separate interview with her for SFEtsy to inspire others to grow their small businesses, too. I’ll be posting that blog on their site later this month. Stay tuned for that!
Learning and growing together… here are some links that might interest you: