Good, clean fun: Homemade soap on the rise
For years, when Pam Ball of Ledyard would go to a vendor show to sell her homemade soaps, she would be the only soap producer there.
But with the rise in interest in homemade skincare products, she said up to 10 percent of all the vendors at a given show might now be "soapers."
"Soap is definitely on the upswing," she said. "People are limiting soap like they're limiting jewelry at craft shows now."
Southeastern Connecticut has welcomed another local soap maker, Naturali Soap, to its existing slate of producers. Owner Cory Bailey of Gales Ferry opened his shop in the Velvet Mill in Stonington Borough on Oct. 11.
The exact steps vary between cold and hot processes, but soap is made by combining fat and lye in a process called saponification. Unlike cleansing bars that are marketed as soap, true soap contains glycerin, a byproduct of saponification that gives soap its moisturizing properties and is often removed from commercially produced bars to put into other cleansing products.
Ball said that of all the skin care products she makes for her business, Kettlepot Soap, soap is her favorite, as well as her customers'.
"I can't tell you how many of my customers tell me that their skin looks and feels so much better now that they started using my handmade soap," she said. "I think well-made handcrafted soap is a truly superior product for skin care."
Bailey turned to making soap after having skin problems with commercially made bars and wanting to make something that wouldn't be as harsh or drying. As a self-described germophobe, he also liked knowing that only one or two people were involved in the making of the soap.
Gates Councilor of Mystic started making soap as a hobby after he found it difficult to find homemade soap for him and his husband that wasn't "girly." He launched his company Burly Stone in 2014 to produce larger bars of soap with scents that men would like, such as the leather and stout combo in their top seller "The Dude."
"It's a niche that we didn't see. It was more rugged scents, a more masculine feel to our soap and all of our products," he said. "Looking at it in the rearview mirror, we were kind of fortunate we're a little ahead of the curve. I see them more now."
Just like the rise in farmers' markets and local microbreweries, Councilor identified the desire for people to know their producers as a reason why homemade soap is on the rise. Rather than purchase soap from a large and impersonal company like Amazon, customers want to feel a connection to the people who make it.
Similarly, a few local soaps started as a farm product. Sunstone Farm in Pawcatuck uses herbs from the gardens and milk from the resident goats to produce seasonally themed soaps, and Stonington-based Faire Ivy Soap's signature ingredient is rendered fatback and leaf lard from heritage breed pigs raised at Terra Firma Farm.
Moira Casadei, whose daughter Brianne owns Terra Firma Farm in North Stonington, said she has been making soap for years and started incorporating the lard in her recipe around 2005. She said rendered lard was historically a common ingredient in soap that is only recently starting to make a comeback; the excess fat would have been discarded otherwise, so using it for her soap reduces waste from the butchering process.
While some people might be starting soap businesses primarily for supplemental income, Casadei said she hopes the rise of homemade soap is because customers and producers want more control over what they're putting on their skin. Some of the herbs she uses, such as calendula and lavender, grow freely on the farm and at her house, and she puts homemade herbal infusions into her soaps to impart their benefits.
Several local soap makers have expanded to local stores and offer other skin and bath products, such as bath bombs, lotions and hair care. Faire Ivy and Naturali are also offering classes to teach customers. But the surprise of new batch of soap continues to be a near-magical experience.
"When you're making soap, it's the transformation of matter. It's a profound thing," Ball said, referencing a book by popular soap author Alicia Grasso. "You start with oil, and you start with lye, and you can make something beautiful."
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