September Member Spotlight: Conny Olarte of Essence of O

One of the greatest resources soap and cosmetic handcrafters have is the knowledge and expertise of their peers. This is why we will be bringing you monthly spotlight stories from fellow handcrafters; we’ll take a look at their experiences, including why they began making soap and/or cosmetics, how they came to be Members of the HSCG, and they’ll share a bit of advice for their fellow Handcrafters.

This month, we’ll be featuring Conny Olarte, owner of Essence of O out of California!

HSCG: Why did you start making soap and/or cosmetics? 

This watermelon soap has us thinking summer thoughts!

Conny: At the time I started the business, I was a stay at home mom, taking care of my kids and helping out at the school. A few things happened at around the same time that lead to me starting Essence of O.  The first thing was that my kids were getting older and they didn’t need me to volunteer in the school.  So I was thinking about going back to work, but I wanted to be home when the kids came home from school; which meant that I wasn’t interested in a 9 to 5 job.  While this was going on, family from Kansas mailed us a gift, this wonderful handmade glycerin soap.  I didn’t know what glycerin soap was, but it was amazing.  You have no idea how much I enjoyed that bar.  One day, my husband and I took the kids to Half Moon Bay, which is about an hour drive from our house.  We were walking around like normal tourists when we found those amazing bars of handmade glycerin soap.  I was so happy to find them! I bought several months’ supply of this wonderful soap.  When I went through the last bar of soap, I told my husband that I wanted to go back to Half Moon Bay and buy more.  This is when it hit me; if I am willing to drive hours to buy this wonderful soap, maybe others would also want this soap.

Instead of driving to Half Moon Bay, I started to study the lost art of soap making. I found Lori Nova and started taking classes.  I took several classes from her and from David Critchfield, which taught me the basics.  I bought every book I could find on the subject and started to experiment. I learned about adding essence and color to the soap and I learned that the possibilities were only limited by my imagination.  I started giving my soap to my friends and family and everybody that tried my soap was amazed.  I found my niche.

After a while, folks were asking to buy my soap.  This is when I asked my husband if he would help me sell the soap, if I made the soap.  We have now been in business for 11 years.  Our daughter, who was 11 years old at the time (she is now a senior in College) came up with the name.  We were talking about this essence and that essence, when she said “why don’t you call it the Essence of Olarte” I said, no it’s too long, when she replied, “then call it the Essence of O” I liked it.

HSCG: What is your favorite product to make? 

Conny: My favorite product to make is Cold Process soap.  I enjoy making Cold Process soap because it is the soap that intimidated me the most when I started.  I remember when I first started making soap;  I would carefully measure all of the ingredients and have everything ready for when my husband would come home from work.  We would then put on our gloves and masks to make the soap.  I was so intimidated by the process.  It actually scared me.  Due to this intimidation, I would only make 1 batch a day.  I would think…. at this rate, I’ll never make enough soap.  I then started experimenting with the lye and I found that I could make it  in advance.  This has allowed me to increase my confidence as a soap maker.  Of all the Cold Process soap that I make, I like the Lemongrass because I love the way it smells and the way it looks.  I also love the look on my customers face when they smell it.  It’s a home run.

HSCG: What are your goals for your future? 

Conny: When my husband retires from his job in 5 years, we plan on doing more wholesale business. Getting our product in stores is our next step.

HSCG: How did you hear about the HSCG? 

Conny: I learned about the HSCG from the Nova Studio and Mission Peak Soap when I asked about business insurance. They pointed me to you, and I think I purchased my first membership in 2006 or 2007.

HSCG: What advice would you give to a beginner? 

Conny: The first advice I would give to any beginner is to expect to do a lot of work; you’ll get from your business what you put into it.

The second bit of advice is to treat your customers like kings. Come out with new designs, but keep your old favorites too. It’s a balancing act, but the customer is absolutely king!

The last bit of advice is to become an expert in all parts of your business, not just the soap making aspect. You need to learn marketing, manufacturing, cost control, and social media just to name a few. I have seen many promising soap makers fail at learning the art of business. The soap making business is like any business; you must learn the basics or hire experts, which can be cost prohibitive in the beginning. Or, do what I did and marry my husband!

Many thanks to Conny for taking the time to answer a few questions and provide valuable advice to her fellow Handcrafters!

Want to learn more about Conny and Essence of O? Check out her Handcrafter Listing, located at https://www.soapguild.org/memberpage/P/Soap/178/Essence-of-O.

To learn more about becoming an HSCG Member, please visit https://www.soapguild.org/membership/.

 

 

 

HSCG Teacher Spotlight: Lori Nova Endres

HSCG Certified Teachers are a great resource to both Members and non-members. This month, we’d like to recognize Lori Nova Endres, a long time HSCG Member and frequent flier at our Annual Conferences.

HSCG: When did you first start making products, and why?

Lori: I first started making natural handmade products way back in 2000, after finishing grad school in Hawaii & moving back to California. I was all work and no play…searching for a fun, creative outlet that would result in eco-friendly gifts for friends and family. After a short and unsatisfying stint with ceramics, I took a “Soapmaking from Scratch” class, offered at a home in San Francisco. I absolutely loved it, and my life hasn’t been the same since!

HSCG: What inspired you to begin teaching?

Lori: For the six months following the class, I had a blast, playing around with making so many different handmade bath and body products. I bought a bunch of books, tried dozens of recipes, and amassed quite a collection of raw materials and supplies to make not only soap, but everything from lip balm, to body butter, to bath salts. When it outgrew my kitchen cupboards and I started filling my office with soap supplies, I reached a crossroads. I knew that I needed to start selling my awesome creations…or start teaching other people how to make their own too. For me, teaching classes was the easy and natural choice, since I was already searching for (and having a hard time finding) a job teaching Speech Communication classes at a local college. Plus, there were no other product making classes that I could find in the entire SF Bay Area.

Teaching those early classes in my tiny kitchen in 2001 led me to open a part-time teaching location in collaboration with a bath and body supply store owner in Berkeley in 2002. Then, in 2003, I made the leap to opening the Nova studio, a full-time destination location for classes in Point Richmond, CA. We kept it going for 13 wonderful years, until 2015 when the military moved my family to Northern Louisiana. Since then, we focus on online classes through TheNovaStudio.com-with the occasional class or private lesson in Louisiana. I’m still as passionate today (both about teaching and making soap and natural bath and body products) as I was when I first started long ago.

HSCG: How did you hear about the HSCG, and what inspired you to become Certified?

Lori: I originally heard about the Soap Guild (that’s what it was called back in the day) from my friend and fellow teacher, David Critchfield. I noticed him teaching classes near Fremont, CA and invited him to come teach a Big Batch Soap Class for the Nova Studio. He has been in “the business” much longer than I had, and had been to a few of he early conferences. I was intrigued, so in 2006 on his recommendation, I signed up for my first conference in Portland. I had the best time, learned so much, and met some amazing product makers and suppliers (many of whom I kept in touch with and call great friends still to this day). Immediately after the conference, I signed up to become a member, and I’ve remained a proud member for the past 11 years. Years later, when the Certification Program was created, many years after I had been teaching soapmaking and other B&B type classes, I figured I may as well be certified. So I took the tests and became certified in CP/HP and Melt & Pour. I am thrilled to see the positive growth of the HSCG over the years. There is nothing better than supporting one another and when we can, getting together (online or in person) to share our passions with each other.

HSCG: If someone wants to teach, what advice would you give them?

Lori: Oh, what a question! It’s a big one that I get a lot, and in fact that was the topic of my most recent talk at the 2017 Las Vegas HSCG Conference! After teaching other people to make soap and natural bath and body products for the past 16 years, I have learned a lot through trial and error, and am happy to help others to get ahead without having to learn everything the hard way. I even created an online class called “Make Money Teaching Classes” for that purpose. As much as I enjoy making handmade soap and products, I equally love teaching people about teaching. Sounds kinda funny, but it’s true!

My advice to anyone wanting to teach their art or craft is to start small and test out the concept in a risk-free, low-cost, low-pressure environment. Start by teaching to friends and family first. Ask for their honest feedback. Use confidential feedback forms if possible. For your first class with strangers, only charge as much as you’re comfortable charing (don’t put too much pressure on yourself by having a high fee). As your confidence grows, you can grow your class sizes, class frequency, and price for classes. Starting small is a great way to decide if teaching is a good fit for you and also gauge interest in your local area. For more helpful tips and insights about teaching, I created a new category on The Nova Studio Blog called New Teacher Tips. There, you can find posts on recommendations for pricing classes, tips for creating a teacher bio, a printable teacher packing checklist, how to calculate the real time involved in teaching, and a bunch of other teaching resources.

Our thanks to Lori for taking the time to participate in this interview! You can check out Lori’s Teacher Listing on the HSCG website for more information.

Master Batching for Beginners

Going from hobby to business is exciting, challenging and intimidating for some soapmakers. Time is split between formulating, implementing that formulation and finding ways to sell; not to mention regular day to day activities! One method of manufacturing that has saved many Handcrafters quite a bit of time is master batching. 

Master Batching is the process of mixing a large batch of your recipe’s oils and even lye water (separately, but we’ll get into that later) and storing it for later use. This method can cut down on manufacturing time, since time would have already been dedicated to the tedious process of measuring and mixing; when it’s time to get soapy, you’ll only need to measure the oils as a whole instead of measuring them individually.

The Process 

The process of master batching uses your normal oil ratio multiplied by the number of batches you’d like to make.

Individual Standard Oils x Desired Batches= Master Batch Recipe 

Let’s use our oils from the recipe for last month’s Coffee Bar to demonstrate how this process works.

For this example, we’ll take a recipe for 2lbs of soap, and convert it to a master batch that will provide enough mixed ingredients for five batches of this recipe. 

Original Recipe 

6.4 oz Coconut Oil

6.4 oz Palm Oil

15.36 oz Olive Oil

3.2 oz Shea Butter

.64 oz Stearic acid 

Now, we will multiply all of these ingredients individually by five to get the amount we’ll need to master batch.

Master Batch Recipe 

32 oz Coconut Oil

32 oz Palm Oil

76.8 oz Olive Oil

16 oz Shea Butter

3.2 oz Stearic acid 

Mix all of your ingredients well, and then store in a clean container. Keep in mind that if you are using solid oils, you will need to re-melt them each time you make a batch. You can do this with a bucket warmer, but just make sure that you are stirring the batch to evenly distribute the oils again.

Master Batching Lye Water 

You can also master batch lye water using the same method as your oils with two major differences. First, you do not need to heat up your lye water to use it when you’re ready. Second, you must make sure that your lye water is stored in an HDPE plastic container, or it will melt the plastic, causing a dangerous clean up situation for you later on.

To master batch the lye for the recipe above, use the following steps.

Original Recipe 

12.16 oz Water

4.43 oz Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) 

Now, multiply these ingredients by five.

Master Batch Recipe 

60.8 oz Water

22.15 oz Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) 

Mix the water and lye thoroughly, just as you would if you were making an individual recipe. Store this mixture in an HDPE plastic container with a lid firmly attached, and make sure to very clearly mark the container so that someone (including you!) doesn’t accidentally open it without the proper protection.

Final Thoughts 

When soapmakers hear the phrase master batch, they think of it as an extra step that they might not be ready for-but in truth, even the smallest business can benefit from some advanced preparation. Doing a little bit of legwork in advance will set you up for quicker production in the future; a win for future you!

Did you catch last month’s coffee bar recipe? Whether you are planning to create a master batch or not, this recipe is sure to put a little pep in your step. Check it out here: http://www.cuttothetrace.com/2017/08/lets-make-a-coffee-bar/

For more great resources, including podcasts, videos and articles, check out our How to Library.