Monday, June 3, 2019

soap notes


It's a story I've told many times but I'm going to tell it again, differently tonight.

As a money making hobby, my mother, sister and I used to design and make garden ornaments and other various painted crafts in the mid 90's. We'd sign up for craft fairs and hawk our wares -- garden ornaments cut out on a jig saw in the basement and painted to be scarecrows, garden angels, and the like. Whether this stint was intended to be a lesson in entrepreneurial skills or an attempt to get the family doing things together to earn some mad money is besides the point - one fateful weekend, deep inside a mediocre craft fair at a stripmall in Tarrytown we found ourselves next to a soapmaker and my mother was captivated by the strange chemistry of cold-process olive oil soap. 

By this time, I was checked out - more concerned with sneaking off to TJ Max to buy age-inappropriate undergarments. A year or two later, our jig saw lay abandoned and my mother, newly retired from teaching, was laying the groundwork for a small soap empire. In 1999 she started a business called Creekside Soaps and took her soap on the road to fairs and eventually to the Peekskill farmers market. 

Away at college I would receive boxes of soap ends and VHS tapes with episodes of Felicity. 

20 years later Susan is still making soap, and it has been and remains the steady backbone of a business that has allowed me, and many others to follow our creative passions and build a rich community of friends and supporters -- and this weird wonderful farm. 

Lately, as I work with my mother and Bryony and Zoe to pivot Saipua away from weddings and events I think a lot about soap and how we can use it as a tool to fuel the work we're passionate about -- education, feeding people, and making beauty available to people across socioeconomic boundaries. 

I don't know anything about beauty products, I don't actually use any besides my mom's soap. I guess I sometimes use shampoo, whatever other people have in the shower at the farm, but I also just use her bar soap on my hair. I like that dry Nars lip pencil in 'Dragon Girl.' And I buy the mascara that comes in a pink and green tube -- maybe it's Mayballine?

I'm not here to tell you that I'm passionate about skin care or olive oil soap or essential oils. The soap is good, it's fantastic actually - but that's not what motivates me to sell it. What I am passionate about is family business and carving out new channels for 'business' that feel more holistic in the sense that they focus first on the health and well being of the people who work inside them. Including myself. And I'm also passionate about the lessons we can learn inside small thoughtful businesses -- ones having to do with economy, scale, limited resources and quality of life.

The soap is good, you should buy it -- but Susan is the real gem in all of this -- and I am really excited to continue to shape our business to allow for her to have more free time to get out of the soap kitchen and into the teaching arena again. On our agenda of Summer classes here at the farm -- not only is she going to lead some soap-making classes, but hopefully also a Business 101 class that aims to demystify the process and help more of you feel armed and equipped to take your own ideas and passions out into the world. 


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