Interviewed by Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015
I’m happy to introduce Emily Davis, the founder of Emily’s Handmade Soaps. Emily has a fun story to tell of how she began making handmade soap. She makes and sells her natural soap and lotion bars in Des Moines, Washington. [Click images to enlarge].
What prompted you to start making soap and/or bath & body products?
Funny story! I was binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. There’s a scene in one of the first few episodes that shows the main character and her BFF making soap and lotion in her kitchen. As bizarre as it sounds, it had never even occurred to me that you could make soap! I headed to my local Michael’s craft store to buy a melt & pour soap making kit. The project was a lot of fun, but I really wanted to formulate my own recipes. After much research, I started making cold process soap, and the rest is history!
What types of soap do you craft? What types of bath & body products do you craft?
I specialize in cold process soaps, although I occasionally do hot process as well. I also make bath bombs, lotion bars, bath tea, and cuticle oil. I’m always testing new product recipes!
When did you decide to sell your product[s]?
After I’d been making soap for the better part of a year, my soap stock began to really pile up. I had over 100 bars of soap in my house, and had been giving them away to family and friends when my husband suggested selling them. Sales were much better than anticipated in the beginning, so I’ve been in expansion mode ever since.
Do you sell your products at crafts fairs/markets, bed & breakfasts, stores, etc.?
I sell my soaps and bath products at my local farmers market, the Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market here in Des Moines, Washington. I also have several wholesale accounts in Washington (and one in Oregon!) which include lovely gifts, nurseries, and coffee shops.
Do you sell online? If so, what are the advantages or disadvantages?
I do sell online on Etsy. It’s wonderful to have a gallery of items to point customers to, and it’s nice for keeping track of inventory and being able to take credit card sales. I would say that the majority of my sales are made either in person or on a wholesale basis. I’ve had a few sales from Etsy, but there are just so many sellers on the site that it can be difficult to get noticed.
What is your favorite fragrance or essential oil? What are your most popular scents?
Lavender essential oil is wonderful because it can be combined with so many other scents. Lavender is always very popular with my customers. Anything with Lemongrass in it also sells well, and I’ve found that that essential oil is another winner for blending. I have a Lemongrass Litsea soap that sells like hotcakes! One of my personal favorites is my Beer soap. It’s a really lovely soap that uses real beer, and it’s always a conversation starter. Don’t worry, you can’t actually smell the beer in the finished product.
What soap and/or other bath & body crafting books have you read and been inspired by?
Smart Soapmaking by Anne L. Watson was a great source of information in the beginning. Caveman Chemistry and Scientific Soapmaking, both by Kevin Dunn, were also helpful.
What soap and/or other bath & body videos have inspired you?
Anne Marie Faiola of Brambleberry and Soap Queen does some amazing soap making videos. I think she was the one who showed me how to combine oil and lye! There is also a series on YouTube called Soaping 101 that has been really helpful for learning new design techniques.
Where do you get your packaging ideas?
I like to take various design elements from products that I’ve seen and been inspired by, and then apply parts of those designs to my own packaging. Packaging has been quite a work in progress, and I’ve found along the way that some ideas are more difficult and/or expensive to implement than others. In the end, I settled on a design that was simple, but elegant.
What advice would you give to newbies?
Learn by doing. Your first attempts might be ugly, or even unusable, but the knowledge that you gain from the experience of having attempted it is priceless.
Do you have any funny anecdotes about unusual customers?
None of my customers really strike me as unusual, but I will say that many of my first customers were family and friends that I am endlessly grateful to. Without their support, there is no way I would have been able to expand my business!
How did you come up with your company’s name?
I tried to come up with a cutesy, trendy name for my company, but in the end I felt that every name I was coming up with just sounded trite. I ended up with ‘Emily’s Handmade Soaps’ because I felt that it was authentic and fitting to my craft.