Soap is a product people need and use virtually every day. A ready market like that has inspired some entrepreneurs to make soap at home and sell it locally.
Some of these handmade soaps can be found at Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in Frederick, Maryland. They include little soaps for children, shaped like watermelon slices, cupcakes, ducks and building blocks.
“Each soap comes with a little prize," Dancing Bear’s Joanna Rizzo says. "And the kids want to get the prize out of their soap, so they'll wash and they'll wash and they'll wash until they get that Lego out, or whatever it is that's in that soap.”
Rizzo says the soaps from the SoapPrizes company are popular with her customers, who become even more interested when they learn the products are made locally.
“We'll always tell them they're started by this wonderful girl named Julia,” she says.
That's Julia Schillaci, a seven year old who wanted to start her own business.
SoapPrizes handmade soaps on display at Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in Frederick, Maryland. (VOA/A. Greenbaum)
“I just wanted to see how it was like," says Julia, who makes the soaps with her mother. "I also wanted to get ready for when I really have a real company, when I’m a grown-up. I do like when we get to take the soaps out of the molds and see how they look. The best part is if the soap doesn’t look the best, you melt it down and make it again.”
Beth Schillaci founded SoapPrizes with her daughter last year. The marketing expert saw it as an educational opportunity for Julia.
“Business isn’t easy. There's not always sales coming in," Schillaci says. "How do we get more sales? How do we introduce more products to keep it interesting? She’s learning about money, as well. We can’t spend money we don’t have. We can try this new mold, but we need to sell this much more to do that.”
It has been a learning process for mother as well as daughter.
“A lot of trial and error," Schillaci says. "We had a lot of soap around the house to use that wasn’t ready to be sold. So it took a while to get the product the way we wanted to.”
Schillaci says their goal is to constantly improve the product, making them as natural and organic as possible.
Making an all-natural soap bar is what inspired army veteran Ken Stopinski, 48, to start Alexandria Soap Works two years ago.
“I started researching a little bit more about how do you make real soaps," he says. "And I've come to find out real soaps are made with natural oils. So I did a little bit of testing and after maybe six months or so, I had a formula that I perfected.”
Stopinski’s formula includes water, sodium hydroxide and three types of oil: coconut, palm and olive.
“Each one of those three oils have different textures," Stopinski says. "Some have cleansing properties, some have conditioning properties. Some have actually properties that harden the bar, which are good.”
After mixing the ingredients, Stopinski pours the blend into a wooden mold.
“Then it’s wrapped up and it sits maybe overnight," he says. "Then, the next morning, I take it out and let it cool down for maybe 30 minutes before I can cut it.”
He cuts one large block of soap into 22 bars, and sets them aside for two months.
“You’re waiting for the water to evaporate," he explains. "That makes the bar a very nice, hard bar.”
At first, Stopinski gave his soaps as gifts to friends and acquaintances who urged him to start selling them.
With a passion for their product and a head for business, small soapmakers are cleaning up.