Spring is in the air here in Saratoga Springs. Nestled in the Art District, HSCG Headquarters is surrounded by blossoming flowers, lush green trees and the smell of renewal. Driving around town, you can see signs of the season everywhere; from yard sales to eager graduates looking to the future, everyone is experiencing a renaissance on some level. It’s only fitting that the HSCG is experiencing its own renaissance of sorts, with the recent election of Charlene Simon as the President of the HSCG.
Making a President
To understand what makes a person great, it’s somewhat necessary to take a peek at their origin story-Charlene’s is just as inspiring as you might imagine.
Growing up near the Mississippi River, Charlene learned the importance of fiscal responsibility early on. Only a child herself, she was responsible for the management of her childhood home and faced many challenges in doing so. At just 15, our already independent future President met the love of her life, and they were married in Kentucky by the end of the summer.
Shortly after their first daughter Mackenzie was born, Charlene’s husband Justin joined the Navy, and the family was on the road again. Leaving the familiarity of her childhood behind her, Charlene embarked on a new journey as the matriarch of a submarine family, at times only seeing Justin for 4 months out of the year. From the ages of 17-23, Charlene was a single parent; she says, “That solitude taught me a lot about family, and a lot about myself”.
At 19, Charlene began to make soap. She recounts the moment she first realized that she wanted to make soap. “I walked into the soap shop and fell in love with the fact that somebody made the soap” she says. You can tell this is a favorite memory of hers; she laces her fingertips together and covers her heart with her palms and tells me, “something inside of my soul was like, this is what you’re meant to do.”
Curious about the process, she approached the shop owner and asked her to share how the soap was made to which she was given the curt response of “it’s proprietary”. This didn’t dissuade her though; in the days before the internet made information readily available from the comforts of home, Charlene brought her kids to the library and checked out every book she could find about the process. She says, “I’d soap at night after the kids would sleep and I continued that as a stress reliever throughout the next 10 years.” She used soapmaking as a therapeutic hobby of sorts for a decade before she and her family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas; that’s where her dream of making beautifying products full time turned into a reality. And truly, she revels in the joy of making a product that makes people feel beautiful and happy, not to mention that she has an artist’s streak that is clearly visible in her creations.
In 2008, Charlene opened Bathhouse Soapery with that artist mentality. She loves the creative process behind the products, of how that very first soap shop visit made her feel-“happy, joy, beauty; those are the things it made me feel. I do this for the art form of it.” She continued this philosophy as she opened more locations, and the rest is soap and cosmetic history.
Face Time with Charlene Simon
Fast forward to present day. Sitting with Charlene, you get what the kids these days are calling a “vibe”. She positively hums with energy, like a shiny bumblebee that has a lot of flowers to visit, but that doesn’t mean she’s distant. She’s present and ready to lay down some soap law.
Relatable to many of our Members, Charlene tells me that she first joined the HSCG for the insurance-but she quickly realized the organization is about much more than that. Her first conference was in Portland and she glows when she talks about it. “It was the people, networking and talking to other soapmakers and cosmetic makers that was like putting puzzle pieces together.” Right there, she hits the most magical part of the conference square on the head. We all love the food, the awards, the classes and the exhibitors, but there is something about the Annual Conference atmosphere that turns Handcrafters into open books.
That personal time is what makes the event truly special, and Charlene tells me, “I came home with a totally different way to do business. It was inspiring.”
“This industry is growing so rapidly,” Charlene says as I ask her how her perspective has changed since moving from HSCG Member to HSCG Board Member. “Five years, ten years ago people were just starting to get the concept, but now there’s YouTube and social media, and it’s growing so fast.” The handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry has been growing, with an impressive estimate of over 250,000 Handcrafters living in the United States alone. This growth and expansion is the key reason why Charlene believes that providing more educational opportunities for HSCG Members is more important than ever.
Information is free flowing from a myriad of sources on the internet, but traditional wisdom applies; you can’t believe everything you read. Charlene believes that by offering dependable and trustworthy educational material, culminating in the Certification Program, the HSCG can help fledgling and seasoned Handcrafters grow their business with the right information. And, if Handcrafters are armed with reliable sources, that will boost the integrity of the industry as a whole, which is a win for everyone involved.
The Handcrafter Village
One of Charlene’s favorite parts about the HSCG is the feeling of comradery she feels when she attends the Conference or posts in the Member’s Only Discussion Group. She explains that in person, sometimes Handcrafters can be a bit wary of sharing all of their trade secrets, but not so in our discussion group or at the conference; she says, “it’s more like, let me dive in and help you. You’ll get a response from four or five people that are big names in the industry.” This is important in more ways then one.
Legislation is one of the ways that a big Handcrafter family is powerful. The HSCG works with legislative advocate Debra Carnahan to make sure that the collective voice of the industry is heard, but there is strength in numbers. Of being an HSCG Member, Charlene says “you are helping to add to our voice, and in turn, helping the entire industry.” Of course, sometimes legislation can be difficult to understand, or sometimes entrepreneurs can be too busy to keep up. Charlene says, “If you can’t or don’t want to keep an eye on legislation, we are.” She emphasizes that the HSCG will always stay on top of new legal developments to better serve the industry as a whole.
Presidential Hopes and Dreams
“What is your goal as President of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild?” Charlene pauses for a moment after I ask this question, and I can almost see the gears turning. “My goal is to bring awareness of the HSCG to makers out there looking for help and community, while continuing to be a major resource for our current members.” The plan for a content rich organization with inclusive resources and benefits for all levels is an exciting one. Videos, podcasts, articles and conference changes are all on the slate for the coming years.
But that’s not all. Charlene also wants to bring on a more relatable vibe, and her vision for the content is for it to “be more candid and real, to connect on a personal level with members.” She wants to focus on reviewing the programs and services that the HSCG currently offers and tells me, “in the Strategy Meeting, we said here are the current programs and services that we offer, and we went through each of them one by one and asked, how can we make this better?” While enhanced education through content and discounts for Members is a definite future plan, she won’t reveal everything-she does tell me that there is a very big, very exciting project in the Guild’s future that will serve to highlight members in a big way. What exactly that project is will be revealed in due time, but the future of HSCG content and development looks very exciting!
Charlene switches gears and we start to really talk about the membership. Her vision is to draw attention to HSCG Members and educate the public on the mission of the Guild and why we exist. She envisions Members being viewed “similar to belonging to the Realtor Association-you can be a licensed real estate agent, but you can’t just be a Realtor. It’s a prideful designation showcasing the next level of agent.” She imagines this same differentiation for HSCG Members, and, along with the Board, will be exploring the best ways to educate the public so that they know HSCG Members are educated and reliable.
“Summarized in one word, what is your view on the industry as a whole?” I ask.
In the interest of keeping this article G-rated, we’ll skip to Charlene’s second try; “#sofreshsoclean” she jokes. But, then she smiles. “Competitive, but in a good way.” She explains that the industry is competitive, but that this inspires creativity and diversity-like a soapy fingerprint, no two businesses are alike. This is what truly separates the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry from any other; original, creative products that serve a variety of purposes.
Before we wrap up the interview, I ask Charlene what advice she would give to a soap or cosmetic maker who is getting ready to take the leap from hobby to business. She says, “Don’t look at other people in the industry and think, if I’m not them, I’m not successful. You need to look at your life and how you want your life to be, then model your business around that. Think of creative ways to sell that aren’t the same as everybody else, and don’t compare yourself to someone else.” In essence, she says, measure your success by your own standards. Just because a Handcrafter you respect opens a retail store and is successful does not mean that your success will only come if you follow suit. Innovate and your success will come.
As I finish writing down a few notes, Charlene smiles. “I just have to say, being in this position for me is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Being able to give back to the industry and really, this organization that has helped me get to where I am is unprecedented-I’m still trying to understand the feels of it! I am thankful for the position and that the membership put me here.”
Charlene Simon and the rest of the Board along with HSCG Staff are very much looking forward to the coming years. New content, new benefits and exciting new opportunities for Members to shine are just a few of the incredible things we have in store for you!
I think my favorite part of this interview with Charlene is that you can’t print her first response on her view on the industry as a whole. 🙂 I love Charlene and think she will be a great leader for the HSCG.
Great achievment for Charlene. She was who inspired me about 5 years ago to start making soap. I truly admire her work and love her products.
Congratulations and many more successes on this new journey.