Friday, May 12, 2017

The Soap Lady

Image may contain: people sitting and indoor
Donna Schambron, AKA The Soap Lady

In 2010 I was in the process of opening a tiny store selling handmade goods in minuscule Port Gamble, Washington. I wanted to carry local handmade soap, but no one was doing wholesale - or if they were I couldn't find them. I reached out to one of the few with an online presence, The Soap Crate, and the owner and I agreed to meet at a Starbucks to talk pricing. That's how I met Donna Schambron. We sat down with a basket of soaps between us and  commenced negotiating. I remember us both being kind of shy. She was my first wholesale vendor, and I was her first wholesale customer.
Seven years later, Donna still produces a line of soaps for us, as well as shampoo bars, shave  bars lotions, and body butters. Year after year her felted soaps are one of our top three bestselling products. She also has become a good friend and has provided much sound business advice over the years. 
About a year and a half ago I conducted an email interview with her, and because I am terrible at blogging, I am just now posting it. Enjoy!

How and when did you get started in soapmaking?
I started making soap in 2003. Crafts, hobbies and DIYs have always been a huge part of my lifestyle. Just ask my kids! I have always been disgruntled with commercial “beauty bars”, “bath bars” and “shower gels”. I didn’t realize that our family’s skin issues were actually the result of products we were using. Most of the bars in the store are NOT classified as actual soap. I started buying handmade soaps from Farmer’s Markets, which was great but not always in the fragrances or oil combinations that I wanted! It seemed logical in my mind to make it myself! That is exactly what I did. It really took several years and many trials to become good at it. The Soap Crate was born in 2006 because my soap stash was so large that family and friends suggested I should sell some of it before making any more.
What are a couple of your favorite soaps you ever made?
My favorite soaps are probably some of the most simplistic. I get really excited for each batch of soap; they are all “my babies”. Coffee soap is my “go to” comfort soap. That is funny because I am a huge coffee hound in general. Dark Rich Chocolate soap was one of my favorites to make! Oh and I was really nuts about Coco Loco (Pineapple, Mango, Coconut), loved, loved that one. Rosemary Infused Shampoo Bar is my all-time favorite shampoo.
Have you had any spectacular fails when making soap?
YES! I don’t know a soaper who hasn’t had failures although most are recoverable in some way. I have only had to dispose of a very few number of batches. Early on, while I was still learning, I followed some bad internet advice and ended up with a huge Lye spill in my kitchen! I don’t recommend putting Lye in a Pyrex or glass container of any kind! It ruined the drawers and cupboards as it poured to the floor. Fortunately the floor was stone tile and was not damaged. That was really scary.
I have had soaps volcano, seize, curdle & separate. Soaps have failed for “no reason”, turned out “weird”, even 2 exact same recipes, side by side; one worked, one didn’t! Colors can morph, fragrances can disappear. The true spectacle of the thing is me, freaking out and running around like crazy trying to rescue Batches Gone Wild!
When you’re not making soap, what are some of your favorite things to do?
When I’m not making soap? Um, what? Haha! We haven’t really gotten out much in the past year but we love to travel, go on “day trips”, camp, hike & fish. Spending time with my family, especially my 3 year old Grandson is my favorite pastime. I am fortunate to get to “babysit” three days per week. It’s just an excuse for art projects, ABCs, and “play/pretend”! We have an extensive vegetable garden this year so I have been working on that and teaching the baby where food comes from. He doesn’t really care but he loves to dig in the dirt.

       by Tracy Zhu

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mata Traders Dress Sale

We still have some 2016 Mata Traders dresses, and even a few from 2015, and they need to find homes before our spring line arrives. To that end, we are offering a 20% discount for online purchases of all Mata dresses, including those already discounted. Offer good through 2/28/17, while supplies last. Use MATA SALE coupon code at checkout.

About the Mata: Mata Traders, based in Chicago, works with women in cooperatives in India and Nepal to produce high quality, often vintage-inspired, fair trade clothing. Many of the clothes incorporate traditional crafts such as hand loom weaving and hand block printing, and only natural fabrics (almost exclusively cotton) are used. It is a member of the Fair Trade Federation.

Friday, December 2, 2016

New Knit Wool Christmas Stockings from Nepal

We have new knit wool Christmas stockings from Nepal in house, including some in nontraditional colorways like the black, white, and brown stocking seen here. You can find a selection at all three of our brick and mortar stores (Seattle, Bainbridge Island, and Port Gamble; all in Washington State) as well as online. These beautiful stockings are high quality, handmade, and fair trade and cost $29.99-$39.99.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wolof Baskets from Senegal

We have our best ever selection of Wolof baskets from Senegal in stock at our Seattle store and also available online. These are sturdy, water-resistant baskets with rigid walls, so they hold their shape well. They are woven from grass and plastic strips and have a more modern look than many of our African baskets. They are a good choice for laundry hampers, towel storage, recycling bins and toy storage, and we like the smaller ones for stashing bread or coffee in. Our Wolof baskets are all fair trade products imported by Swahili Wholesale, a member of the Fair Trade Federation. The price range is $29.99 to $124.99.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wool Knit Christmas Stockings from Nepal are Here

~ by Tracy Zhu, Owner

I know, I know, it's terribly early to post about Christmas. However, every year we have customers awaiting our fall shipment of handmade wool knit Christmas stockings from Nepal, and since some styles sell out quickly, we like to get word out early. Our 2016 selection is now in stock and available online. They won't be in our brick and mortar stores in Port Gamble, Bainbridge Island, and Seattle for a few more weeks. These beautiful fair trade knit Christmas stockings are 100% wool and are imported by Ganesh Himal Trading, a venerable fair trade organization in Spokane, Washington.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Our Bainbridge Store is Moving!

~ by Tracy Zhu, owner

Our little Bainbridge Island store, located in Winslow Green, will be moving later this month just two doors down. The new address is 160 Winslow Way West, the former home of Island Sports. Because we're only moving a few yards away, it should be the easiest move ever, right? We will be closed on Sunday, October 23rd for the big push, and should re-open at the new location at 10:00am Monday, October 24th. We are moving because the new space is brighter, more visible, and is on a corner.

Texture Clothing skirts from Bellingham, WA and a Bolga basket from Ghana in our current Bainbridge Island location.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Opening Soon on Bainbridge Island!

We are super pleased to announce that we will open our 3rd location next month! The new spot is at 146 Winslow Way West, which is in Winslow Green in downtown Bainbridge Island. As Jaycee said, the Pioneer Square store is no longer the baby. We've been looking for a spot on the island for close to two years, and finally the right space worked out. We're shooting for a mid-November opening, but there is much to do. And holy cow, how did I go nearly a year without posting?