How to Get Started as a Goat-Milk Soap Maker
|Photo Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis|
Today's "I Want to Be" series features Stacey Johnson, who is an artisan soap maker. She and her husband met at West Point and have been married for 25 years and have 4 children, ages 22, 20, 15 and 13. She has homeschooled her kids the majority of the time as her family moved frequently because of her husband's military career. They now live on a small (40 acre) farm in NE Kansas where they grow a lot of their own food and get to spend a great deal of time outside. Fifteen acres of their farm is one of the world's most endangered ecosystems: Tallgrass Prairie. Find out how to connect with Stacey at the end of this article.
How long have you had your business?
4 1/2 years.
What led you to pursue it?
When we moved out to our farm 5 years ago, our dream was to eventually be able to live off of my husband's military retirement plus whatever income we could derive from the farm. I find trying to market perishable things, like produce, milk, and eggs, to be stressful because people sometimes don't quite grasp how we are different from a grocery store. It was easier for me to work on value-added non-perishable farm products like my soaps and lotions (made with milk from our dairy goats).
Are you full time or part time? If part-time, do you anticipate switching to full time?
I am somewhere in between. Other things take up enough of my time that full-time would not be really viable until my children are done with school, since we homeschool at least some of them. But between chores involved with our farm, developing and manufacturing products, and marketing, it does take a good bit of my time.
How do you market your business?
Online, farmer's markets, craft fairs, word-of-mouth. And an occasional visit to a store that I think might be a good fit for my products. But that is the hardest part for me. What is your favorite part of the business? Depends on my mood! Sometimes, I am really in the mood to make creative soaps with fun scents and beautiful color combinations. Sometimes, I would rather take pictures of flowers.
What one question do you get most from people about your business?
Do you have a soap that smells like...?
What one myth or misconception do you want to dispel about the work you do?
You cannot make soap without lye! (But there isn't any left in the finished product unless you really messed up!) Also, lotion absolutely needs a preservative. You can choose between having a very small amount of probably-not-entirely-natural preservative (1/2% of the total) or potentially having a very large amount of possibly harmful and definitely disgusting yet entirely natural bacteria and fungus in your lotion.
What advice do you have for others who want to get into a similar opportunity?
Research, research, research. And be prepared for a lot of trial and error. Not everything that you read in books or find on the web is true.
What is the first step?
Figuring out what you want your angle/niche to be. That will direct your research and product development.
What websites or books do you recommend for tips?
There are actually a lot of good websites out there for soap. Soapcalc.net has good information and an online calculator to help you figure out your recipes. The Everything Soapmaking Book by Alicia Grosso is a good place to start as far as books go. And as far as product development for other bath and body products goes, http://swiftcraftymonkey.blogspot.ca/ is hard to beat.
You can learn more about what Stacey does at her website, The Little Flower Farm. You can also connect with her on Facebook.