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?
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/.
Yay Connie! It was great reading more about your story… you and Dennis are such a great team. I’m SO happy that we were a part of your journey & it makes me proud to see that your soap business is still going strong after all these years. Congratulations to you both for your hard work & accomplishments!