Alison’s interview continues from Alison Part 2: Perfecting handmade soap… when few knew how to do it!
10. What do you like most about making soap as a job and what do you like less?
I love the independence! And the incredible opportunities for creativity – we have morphed into other personal care products too like soy candles and skin care products. Nearly all are vehicles for pure essential oils and other plant ingredients. And I love the feeling of being part of a huge family – not just our staff but our big group of mail order customers, who send us cards and letters and wonderful feedback.
What’s hard? At 62 I don’t have the physical strength and endurance I had when I was making up to 10 soaps a day. And the washing up and cleaning up was always a lot – not much fun! Now I just help out when my staff are sick, and spend more time designing, and ordering, troubleshooting, making labels, and (now) getting into digital & social media. What’s REALLY hard is (very occasionally) having to fire staff – I never got good at this. We sit and talk and try to work out what is going wrong for them and for us. It can be emotional and exhausting! Luckily it doesn’t happen too often.
11. Do you give soap classes? Do you encourage other people to make their own soap?
Actually, no, this is too small a community to make workshops and classes a viable proposition. And I don’t feel myself being a teacher so much as a mentor, offering one on one support and sometimes healing (energy). Many women have come through as staff in our business over the last 15 years, and I feel proud to have supported their individual journeys. And I certainly encourage other soapmakers, including a few other local ones. We once used to sell some of their soap in our shop! So I don’t believe in scarcity or competing with each other. There’s plenty of room for more soapyqueens in the world, and we are in competition not with each other, but with supermarkets and big industrial processes.
One thing I have done is to give tours and recipes for year 12 Chemistry students, if their teachers find time within the busy curriculum. Soapmaking is in their textbooks, but it’s never examined in WA, and their textbook recipe is atrocious – it’s made with mostly castor oil. So I give them a recipe where they can buy all ingredients in the local shop, and a few links to helpful websites. Then they get to see how good chemistry knowledge can underpin a viable business.
And new soapies? I encourage them to read Marina and Patrizia’s books, then experiment. And THEN ask me questions. And actually I’m no expert on other methods – we only ever made cold process soap.
12. I realise this is turning into a very long interview, and I know you are busy… but could I ask you one last, really important question: Would you like to share with us your thoughts on how every business could, like Hidden Valley Handcrafts, promote positive action for a better future?
I believe our main purpose in life is to CREATE, and to express the love we naturally are, in our own particular and unique fashion. It’s our JOB to use our gifts and talents to give our love back to the world, to make it a better place. I’ve been fortunate to have a good mind, a sense of independence, a love of colour and aroma, and lots of family support, and I haven’t been afraid to do things my own way. So it was easy to follow a path with heart, to create a business I believed was useful, and could help support positive change in the world. It did require the support of my partner, a really practical man who made all the equipment I needed, helped the business grow, and encouraged me to learn everything on the job. And also we were not afraid of being poor, having come through some very tight times. Certainly the first 2 years were tough, as I poured all the profits of the business back into it, especially buying bigger quantities of ingredients and making better equipment.
All along, I have felt that we didn’t JUST make a good physical product – soap. I believe the real world is actually about energy. So my task was always to put good energy into soap, and also into the business – make it a happy place. We have always invoked certain qualities when making a new soap, even adding “crystal essences” – a bit like flower essences – into each soap, as reminders of which qualities we wish them to have. This extra work is the REAL work of our soapmaking, using it as a vehicle to spread love. Sensitive people have always picked this up. About 5 years ago I realized we could now actually say this on our soap labels, our customers were (mostly) ready for it. So we added our Soapmaker’s Prayer – ‘Let this soap cleanse away fear, let love be here.” Prior to this we would have been laughed out of town. So for me it’s about helping to create heaven on earth, joining the physical with the spiritual, with good values and intentions.
An early thing I learned was to create special soaps as fundraisers for local community action. Our Cable Beach Sunset soap began this way, as a fundraiser for the Friends of Gantheaume Point, a sacred place at the end of Cable Beach, where a politician wanted to put a giant resort/casino. Lots of people bought the soap, we gave money back to the cause, so it was win-win for everyone. We went on to do this with many of our products, and still do, eg. with our Wild & Free Kimberley soap. It brought us close to our community and gave us a wonderful reputation and valuable networks. There’s nothing like a bit of soap to give away to smooth the community networks – it goes to the bank girls, the post office staff, the delivery people, all around. It’s actually been an extraordinary journey, to create a conscious ethical small business and products which truly express our values. To be honest, if I’d known at the beginning just how big it would grow, I might have run a mile!
So I can only encourage. It must bring you joy, follow this, and trust in the universe (or God within, whatever is your biggest picture, it doesn’t matter) to deliver exactly the right guidance at the right time. I want a world where we all love what we do, where we are seen, heard and encouraged as children to follow our gifts and talents into useful vocations for a loving, unified world. Perhaps this is ultra idealistic, but I actually don’t care, for me it’s the truth. Perhaps soapmakers have always been idealistic – lovers of the earth and pioneers of change, like the herbalists and midwives of old.
Thank you Alison for your inspiring words!