In the early ’70′s Bill and I moved to Saltspring Island with our son Gary, who was 6 at the time. We went ‘back to the land’ and along with planting a big garden and making bread, I began to hand make, soap and herbal products. My first batch of soap was an epiphany!
It was an olive oil blend….so smooth and creamy I even used it on my face, something I hadn’t done since I was a child because of the itching, burning and redness of commercial soaps. I became obsessed……if a hippy in the woods could make a better bar of soap than (insert names of big brands) then I was on to something.
I collected recipes and made them all. There weren’t many, as no one had been making soap since my grandmother in the ’30′s on thefarm.
Most old recipes called for beef, pork, or goat tallow….and I discovered that since the ’60′s most commercial bars had become “syndets,” or synthetic detergent bars. My research showed that the best soap in the world had and was being made by small soapmakers in France, Spain and Italy. They used combinations of palm, coconut and olive oils as they did not have access to animal by-products like in the West.
So, I began to use vegetable oils…and add botanicals, herbs, and flowers from my garden and the surrounding countryside. Soon, I had enough soap for my family for eternity, so I began giving it away. Other people were impressed, too! No one had ever used handmade soap before…..people began asking for more, for their sisters, their mothers, their sensitive skin! I attended a small local Christmas Craft Show in the church basement…and took a lot of my handmade herbal crafts; potpourri, massage oils, lavender sachets, and so on.
But…the BIG surprise! I promptly sold out of soap. I attended more shows….same thing…l almost could not make it fast enough.
I did bigger shows…and small boutiques began to stock my products…..I think another lady in Eastern Canada was making soap, but no one in the West. She wrote a book…with recipes…and soon soapmaking became a “craft” along with stained-glass and pottery. I finally did a trade show in Vancouver, sponsored by the govt to give little guys like us a break. By now, Bill had quit his construction job and was making the soap, while I designed labels, sourced and ordered ingredients and sold soap.
After ten years or so, we were selling to about 150 small shops…and had some bigger customers too. Finally, we were ‘discovered’ by a marketing company who was distributing offshore…..and began to make soap night and day to ship overseas….but…something was not quite right!
Although we were working harder than we had ever worked in our lives….it wasn’t fun! And there was constant pressure to use different (cheaper) ingredients to keep the cost down.
So, we decided to go ‘back to our roots.’ Over the next ten years, we opened four of our own shops, and continued to make soap ,our way but with the knowledge and pride that each bar was still handmade with the finest natural ingredients we could source. We began to move out of the ‘fragrances’ that were commonly available, and moved into essential aromatherapy oils. Our body care products became more sophisticated than the original herbal ointments and I worked with a young natural cosmetic chemist to help.
We introduced natural shampoos, body scrubs, creams and moisturizers, a line of Organic Baby Care, a line of natural pet products…and a lot more.! New soaps were being introduced all the time….Mud Bars made with different clays from around the world. Soaps colored with different spices and herbs, and lots of exfoliants; salts, clays, oatmeal, cornmeal, etc.
Without sales reps, distributors and wholesalers to dictate or suggest what we should carry, we became really creative…and began inventing products that did not exist! Our famous Body Gelato was one….coming in lots of different colors and flavors,,,and changing with the seasons.
After 30 years….I still do the fun, creative part, and invent new soaps and the other body care items. Bill has been selling for a long time now, along with Amber, our daughter-in-law who has been with Soapworks for about 15 years. Our son Gary makes soap each morning. We employ a group of ‘locals’ in our workshop to help cut, and wrap soap, glue labels on and mix up our famous natural bath bombs.Most of them have been with us 5, 10 or 15 years!!
Now, we like to concentrate on our products, making them the very best they can be. Coming from the country, especially Saltpspring Island, which has become known as the “organic Capital of Canada” we have always been sustainable, and cared deeply for the environment around us…..perhaps because our island is so small! We have always recycled, used plant-based inks and post-consumer papers for our printing and labels. We are currently moving back into glass, and out of plastic bottles where we can, and moving into organic oils, and botanicals.
WE see Saltspring Soapworks carrying on for another 30 years….with the new generation at the helm. Grandson Owen spends time after school playing at the office, and has even made a few bath bombs…perhaps someday we will be a third-generation family business!
What began as a kitchen craft has become an obsession! We are committed to bringing you the best soap and body care made to contribute to your well-being and that of your family, and ours. Each soap is still carefully handmade, using ingredients that are good for you and the environment. Like olive and coconut, not mineral oil/petrochemicals. The end result: the finest artisan soaps available, pure in quality, clean in nature. Body Care that uplifts both Body and Soul. Still made by hand in the heart of the Saltspring Countryside.