Interview with Joanna Schmidt, Entrepreneur and Blogger
Owner of Product Body and The Soap Bar Blog
By Jen Adkins, About.com Guide
As the founder of Product Body, Joanna Schmidt is a pro when it comes to creating sweet bath and body products. I've always been a big fan of her shop. Even before I tried my hand at soap making, I knew I needed to pick Joanna's brains a bit. Especially because she's busy with her second love, The Soap Bar blog, where I spend endless hours monthly. She shares with us her experience creating bath and body products, soap and running a business.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started making soap, and what your big break was. I started The Soap Barblog because I had a love for handmade soap and found a void online. I was looking for soap blogs with information, reviews, lessons…a hodgepodge of information and fun, but I couldn’t find anything like it, so I started one.
I also believe, as a small business owner, having sent my bath and body products to bloggers all over the country, that those bloggers really were the folks that gave me the press I needed to jump-start my company’s business. If it hadn’t been for the blogger’s trying the samples I sent and them and raving about them, I wouldn’t have gotten the customers who found us and who we still have!
OK, so back to your question… I never intended to make soap, but after 7 months writing the blog, I was given so much encouragement from my readers, that I felt a sense of community and excitement by the whole idea of it, that I went for it and I haven’t ever looked back. I love soap making - it’s one of my favorite things to do.
Can you remember the first time you made a soap/skin care item? Was it a success? Tell us about it. I don’t remember the first, but one of my first fondest memory was making the chocolate sugar scrub we used to make. Mmmm. It had organic cane sugar, exotic oils, Ghiardelli’s bittersweet chocolate and essential oils. It was decadent and sinful.
I stopped making it because my customers were complaining that their white towels were getting stained from the fine particles of chocolate that were left on the skin along with the light sheen of oil. My quiet-in-my-head answer was, “Shhh, use a darker towel, it is awesome and you go to bed smelling like a box of fine chocolate!” So it was a success AND a failure.
When you were a newbie, where did you get your info? Can you recommend any books or online websites to check out?Like you, I followed information and the wisdom of David Fisher on About.com, used soapcalc.com for my lye calculator so I could figure out how my oils and butter would change my soaps hardness, conditioning, lather, etc, and read blog after blog, watched video tutorial after tutorial. I am a information hog/whore, call me what you will. When I am interested in learning something, I have an insatiable thirst. I can’t help it.
- Video I used to learn how to line my mold.
- Cold process soap photo tutorial
- Hot process soap photo tutorial
Share with us your biggest soap making mess-up? I think it was my first batch, actually! I honestly don’t know where I got the recipe. It was a basic one. The next day when I went to unmold it, it was solid on the outside and jiggly on the inside. I asked my readers for help. Answers. Someone asked me what lye calculator I used, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Hahaha! I obviously really did not do all my homework. I was given some tips, I cooked it up, added water, some extra lye and made some awkward soap. It worked okay, but that was a lame attempt at soap. Was it the worst, though? No, I’ve had to chuck a few batches, but this one was the most interesting with the jiggly interior.
What about the product or recipe that you are most proud of?I think I am most proud of my soaps. I make bath and body products and the Ski Bomb is awesome, everyone loves it, but the soaps are more ME. I can put me into them, I am proud of them.
What supplies would you recommend a newbie have on hand before thinking about making soap? Dedicated soap making stuff like a pitcher for the lye, a plastic spoon, a large glass mixing bowl or large plastic pail, a stick blender, one or two silicone spatulas, kitchen gloves, shop goggles, glass measuring cups, a scale, a microwave or a double boiler, soap molds…. I know I must be forgetting something but you definitely need all these things before you even get to the oils, butters, distilled water, lye, fragrances, clays, botanicals, micas, and anything else you want to adorn your soap with.
What are your favorite supply stores?
Oh, I have so many and I wish they were all under one roof! It kills me to order from 6 different suppliers and pay six different shipping charges. Awful! Some of my favorites are:
- Soaper’s Choice/Columbus Oils
- Southern Soapers
- Majestic Mountain Sage
- Camden Grey
- Snowdrift Farms
- Chemistry Store
- Coastal Scents
These are just some of the suppliers I use regularly. I love Nashville Wraps for tissue paper and Paper Mart has wonderful grosgrain ribbon for a great price (25 yrds for under $2!). And then I like going toMichael’s to buy paper and specialty items for soap decorating ad holiday stuff.
You haven't been a soap maker for an extremely long time. How long was it from the day you made your first soap to the day you had your first sale? Because I already had a bath and body products company, it was a very easy. I made sure that my friends and family didn’t complain about anything before I would ever sell anything, but when I thought my soaps were ready, I had an easy go of it.
What challenges have you noticed when it comes to selling soap and skin care items? That people are extremely adamant about what they require for their skincare needs, but over the years I realized I can not meet everyone’s needs. I need to build what I think is high quality, and it will draw those who it draws.What 3 things do you wish you knew before you started making soap?
- 1. I wish I studied a little more before actually taking on making my first batch of soap (which is weird, because I really did think I had studied, too!)
- 2. I wish I knew how to make my own wooden soap molds so I could make any size or shape mold I want anytime I want.
- 3. I wish I had taken a class or known a soap maker /had a mentor that I could have watched in action before I took the plunge.
If you could convince someone to buy homemade soap vs. deodorant soap at the store, what would you tell them? I tell people that most commercial soaps are basically pressed detergent. Some commercial soaps add sodium laurel sulfate which is a surfactant that is a known irritant and they remove the glycerin made in soap to sell it separately - either for lotion manufacturers or to make glycerin soaps.
Handmade soap, on the other hand, is chock full of glycerin which is naturally occurring from the saponification process which is the chemical reaction caused by the lye water and the oils and butters combining. That’s what creates the skin loving combination of ingredients that make SOAP.
Of course you use your own soap and products religiously, I'm sure, but do you have any other favorite soap shops we should check out? I‘ve been excited about Haus Of Gloi lately. Britton is in her 20’s and I love the look of her soap, the design work, her style, the scents are to-die-for, and her photography is stunning. I think she’s unique and she will go places, Chica! Go check her out!
So there it is in its entirety. But if the links don't work, go check it out on about.com. :)