Friday, May 12, 2017

The Soap Lady

Tango Zulu owner Tracy Zhu, left, with Soap Crate owner Donna Schambron, right

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

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