Maker Stories

Coming Clean: Heather Swanepoel on Making Soap & Overcoming Obstacles

January 18, 2018

 

Heather Swanepoel and her family in her Monroe, GA store.

Monroe, Georgia is a small town with a population weighing in at just under 14,000. But even tiny towns can have big heroes. Meet Heather Swanepoel, soap aficionado, entrepreneur, and unstoppable force for good. She was spending weeks on the road and desperately wanted to fill her free hours with a hobby. When knitting didn’t work out (she could only master scarves), she turned to a soothing task she could actually master: soap making. Soon, people were lining up to purchase her all natural soaps and the rest was delightfully scented history.

“Our success attracted other businesses to Monroe with similar models, and the buying customers followed,” she says. “We won the 2016 Monroe, GA Business of the Year because of the atmosphere we cultivated in the once dying town.”

We had the pleasure of speaking with Heather about her success and how she went from on-the-go mom to superpower entrepreneur one bar of soap at a time. Read (lather?) up on her story below.

What makes your soap one of a kind?

We make all of our soaps from scratch, 56 bars at a time. By making smaller batches we are able to pay close attention to the process as well as hand swirl, sprinkle, and sparkle every bar.

What inspired you to create the Wine Soaps?

We were invited to the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World because you can eat just about everything we put into our products. I wanted to make sure to wow the guests and give them no reason to doubt why we were there.

We launched the Cabernet Sauvignon soap as the first in the collection, which was met with rave reviews. From there the collection grew to please both white and red wine fans.

Wine Soap-Set of 4 | UncommonGoods

 

Has what you love most about making things changed over time?

Yes, it most certainly has. Back 15+ years ago I was creating for myself. Making soaps and developing new products gave me a creative outlet and challenged me to research new ingredients and new formulas. Today, our true love of creating is fed by the testimonials of our customers and hearing how our products have made their lives better.

Have you ever made something based on an inspiration from a dream?

No, most of my inspiration usually comes from a blend of personal necessity (or pet peeve) and food. And by food, I mean dessert.

Has your work ever helped you (or someone else) get through an especially hard period during your life?

Yes, in fact that period is actually right now. This past September, I found out that I had kidney cancer. Within a month my kidney–and the tumor that was actually larger than my kidney–was removed. My recovery has been tremendous!

In the four weeks between finding out I had cancer and having my kidney and tumor removed we were recognized by our city for being named the Downtown Business of the Year for the entire state of Georgia, finished build-out and moved into our new retail store and production space, and signed the contract for our second retail location–which will be a permanent shop opening in November in Walt Disney World.

I’ve doubled down and gotten things done because there were far bigger and better things for me to accomplish on my list.

What are your favorite materials to work with, and what do you like about working with them?

I really enjoy working with essential oils. I’ve been playing with them for 15+ years and I incorporate them into as many products as I can. I love that they’re beneficial to us and usually smell good too. Now that they have become popular, customers are open to introducing essential oils and more natural products into their everyday lives.

Describe a typical day in your workshop. How do you get from raw material to finished product?

I love transforming from raw ingredients into soap. Taking a pot full of melted oils and butters and literally watching it turn from crystal clear to the creamy colors never gets old. Once the lye is mixed with the oils and butters, we blend the batter to “trace”–that’s when then the real fun starts. We then separate the batter and blend in our natural additives to make beautiful swirls and layers.

Just as a baker perfects their techniques for beautiful marbled cakes, we have perfected different techniques to create amazing swirls and patterns throughout our soaps. Once the soap batter is poured into the molds, we can top the bars off with cocoa powder, micas, or other ingredients that will make for an interesting bar.

Finally, what quote or mantra keeps you motivated?

Why matters (and sharing the why matters too).

See more small batch soaps here »

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