“Our soap making business began when I tried to find a mild natural soap that would moisturize my skin rather than dry it out,” said LaRee DeFreece. I was looking for a soap made with one hundred percent natural plant-based ingredients and enriched with emollients.” In late 2000, she decided to make her own soap. “That first recipe resulted in a soap that was truly disgusting, but I soon found one that would work much better,” she said. LaRee, a real estate attorney, had returned to college to study chemistry to become a plant patent attorney as well. She came to understand the chemistry of soapmaking. Her husband, graphic artist and marketing expert Ken Gilberg thought so, too. Together they began making soap in earnest and named the new company Herbaria.
Their first commercial customer was Gilberg Perennial Farm, owned and run by Ken’s sister-in-law Cindy Gilberg. When sales proved to be quite good in 2001, Cindy suggested that they apply to participate in Missouri Botanical Garden’s Best of Missouri which features state products made and sold by entrepreneurs from Kansas City to St. Louis. “At first, the cochairman of Best of Missouri said that applications had already closed for the October 2002 event. I said ‘let me send you a couple of bars of our soap and see how you like it’,” said LaRee. “A few days later, she called and said ‘you’re in!” “That meant that we had to hustle,” Ken said. “We wanted to make 3,000 bars of soap in time to take to Best of Missouri. We made it. I think we sold over half of them.” Continue reading