When we first got our dairy goats in 2013, I spent months falling in love with having our own milk supply and testing out every cheese recipe I could find. Some worked better than others and I discovered the strengths and weaknesses of goat’s milk compared with cow’s milk. Feeling like I’d conquered all there was to know about milk and cheese (ahem…), the next logical step was to learn how to make goat milk soap. That’s a thing that people with goat milk do, so I did it.
I didn’t really know why I should want to make soap and what the big fuss was over putting goat milk in a cleaning product (I mean, you do know that you can just drink that, right?). But I felt obligated to at least try to create one of the most popular goat milk products out there when I had so much of the raw material. When I did a little research on the process and looked through recipes, I found that many people who have dairy goats also have pigs, and therefore, lard. Lard is made from rendering the fat from a pig after it is butchered and is often times thrown away due to lack of demand for it. We just so happened to have a couple of pigs that were getting close to their end date, looking mighty wide in the fat department. Lard (or tallow) is one of the most traditional oils to use in soapmaking since it is typically readily available and can be raised and/or harvested just about anywhere, all over the world. It also creates a very mild, white and long lasting bar of soap. When the fat is rendered correctly, there is no scent to it and the saponification process changes the properties of the oils involved so that the end product is actually not lard at all. Plus it was free. This was sounding promising.
My first batch of soap was not beautiful. But it was soap. And it worked. It was a little like magic watching the hard oils melt on the stove top, the frozen goat milk liquefy once more upon contact with the lye, and finally the oil base and water base combine into a creamy thickening solution that solidified overnight. Magic I tell you.
I wanted more. I did more research. I made more soap. I created contacts and found mentors. Slowly my technique improved and I found my niche. I wanted to use as much of what we could produce ourselves as possible and it didn’t make sense to me to add a bunch of unnatural ingredients (like synthetic fragrance and artificial color) to such a wholesome product. I discovered essential oils, studied their proper use and experimented with scent blends. I also discovered that people had been adding natural ingredients to soap for a very long time (long before there even was such a thing as artificial color) for their beauty and skin benefits. Things like honey and maple syrup are humectants, which draw moisture to themselves and therefore the skin when they are used in soap. Exfoliants like strawberry seeds or cornmeal help scrub away dead skin cells and dirt. Herbal teas carry medicinal properties and add a hint of scent. And then there’s goat milk. I finally discovered what all the fuss was all about.
Milk is naturally high in fat, vitamins and lactic acid. All things that your skin needs to remain healthy. The thing that sets goat milk apart from cow’s milk when used in soap is that the fat molecules in goat milk are much smaller (which is also why goat milk is naturally homogenized) than those found on cow’s milk. This makes it much easier for the goodness to be absorbed into your skin. Pure, creamy, restorative goodness. More magic. Does it ever end?
Another thing that got me hooked on soap is that it truly fulfills my need for a creative outlet. You can do so many fun things with soap and you never really know how they’re going to turn out until you cut it the following day. Colors, scents, seasonal ingredients, base oil blends, the list goes on. There is so much to learn and try that I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.
Lastly, this was something that I could sell. Legally. There are so many rules around what you can sell and what you can’t when it comes to homegrown items. Unless you are certified and licensed, selling dairy is an absolute no no. If you do not have your meat processed and packaged in a USDA approved facility, you cannot sell it. You cannot make anything for human consumption (including jam, baked goods, candy, etc.) unless you have a certified kitchen and a Serve Safe certificate. You can’t even sell dried herbs unless they were processed in a commercial kitchen by a certified maker. What’s a girl to do to help cover some of the costs of our backyard farm? Enter soap and skin care. Finally, something that I didn’t need to jump through a million legal obstacles to sell. That doesn’t mean that I could just whip out anything and shove it out the door. There are still legal things to consider, like proper labeling and ingredient usage. And of course there was the whole setting up a business name, bank account and record keeping thing. Not exactly the most fun part of having a business, but an essential part of having it be successful.
So far our business has been slowly, but steadily growing. I’ve been able to buy some of my base ingredients in bulk, which helps to reduce the overall cost and turn just a little bit of profit. I’ve started to figure out what is worth my time to make and what is not. I’ve learned when I can squeeze in soapy projects between family time, farm time and “real work” time. And I’m beginning to see that all of this working really depends on the people who support me. Wow, so much support.
I am so very thankful for the support that I’ve received from family, friends, coworkers, fellow artisans, neighboring farmers, local businesses, and even strangers. There are a lot of options out there for handmade soap. (Didn’t I make it sound awesome in the above? That’s because it is, and there are other people who have figured it out too.) Every time someone chooses to buy from me instead of from another vendor or from the supermarket, I am humbled. I know for a fact that people did not buy my soap because it was the best available when I first started out. Like anything you do, you get better with practice. I am still practicing. But I’m also getting better.
With the slow and steady growth that we’ve seen (because of you!), we were able to make our first non-soap related purchase this year with “soap money”. Up until this point every dollar that I’ve made from sales has gone back into buying supplies, paying vendor fees or expanding marketing materials. Slow and steady. But there was just enough extra this spring to cover the cost of our bees. And really, the bees will be providing us with honey and beeswax, which are key ingredients in many of the things I make, so I suppose they’re sort of, technically, “soap expenses”. It was a milestone for me. To see that this whole side venture thing might actually pan out.
With the idea that our business is growing, we decided that it was time for a new logo. One that was uniquely us and could grow along with us. I stashed some “soap money” and hired a graphic designer (Jaclyn Smith is amazing by the way!) to work with me on the creation of our new look. It had to feel grounded but modern. I wanted it to feel kind but not cutesy. And of course it had to include bare feet and goats. I’m excited to share it with you here first.
It’s perfect. I look forward to smothering all of our products with this image and updating all of our materials for the year. (I may have stashed some soap money for that too…) I’ve started using our new soap stamp from Laser-CutZ and some of you may have even gotten a sneak peak at the new soaps heading out with this design embedded on the front. I hope you like it as much as I do. Thank you all so much for believing in us and following along as we become the business we hope to be. You are making our dreams come true.