Homemade soap business is all in the family
Our Northern Neighbors
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, January 9, 2007
By Ashley Bergner
HILLSBORO — A hundred years ago on the Kansas prairie, pioneer families made their own soap by boiling animal fat, water and lye in a kettle.
Though soapmaking no longer is so common, Cheryl Christian is reviving this old-fashioned art.
Christian, a 51-year-old rural Hillsboro resident, operates her own soap-making business called Whispering Sage Soapworks.
Christian started the business in 2004. Her sister, Angie Friesen of Lawrence, is part owner of the business. Christian’s daughters, Jessica Craney of Hillsboro and Autumn Daily of Newton, also help run the business.
Christian works out of her home, making what is known as cold-press soap.
Like the pioneers, she makes her soap from lye. Her soaps contain no animal byproducts and use high-grade vegetable oils, shea butter, and olive, palm and coconut oils.
Christian does not use any artificial dyes or preservatives and tries to make her soaps as natural as possible. She also uses botanicals and herbs from her garden.
Before starting Whispering Sage Soapworks, Christian worked as a hairdresser for more than 20 years.
After moving from Colorado six years ago, she chose to take a chance and step out on her own. She said her longtime interest in organic gardening sparked her interest in making natural soaps.
A friend taught her about the soap-making process, and she decided it was something she had to pursue.
“I fell in love with it,” she said.
To make the soap, Christian said she takes oils and combines them with lye water. A chemical process forms the soap, which Christian pours into wooden molds. She allows the soap to set up overnight; then the soap must cure for three weeks.
Each batch yields 8 to 9 pounds of soap, which Christian slices into about 28 bars (4 ounces each).
Unlike commercially made soap, Christian’s homemade soap retains all its glycerin. During the commercial soap-making process, glycerin is removed.
Since it still contains glycerin, homemade soap has a softer texture.
Some of the varieties of soap Christian sells include a soap called “Citrus Sunrise,” which uses orange, lemon and spearmint.
Christian says her “Garden Scrubby Bar” is very popular during the summertime and is sold at garden centers. The soap is 100 percent natural and contains a variety of herbs. It also uses poppy seeds for exfoliation and is designed for gardeners and other outdoor enthusiasts who need a tough soap to wash away dirt and grime from their hands.
In addition to about 20 varieties of soap, Christian sells moisturizing lotion bars, as well as bath salts and olive oil/shea butter lotion.
Christian sells her products at craft fairs and farmers markets. (She has sold soap at the Newton Farmer’s Market in the past and plans to sell her soap there again this year.)
Her soap also can be purchased at Kauffman Museum in North Newton and Prairie Harvest in Newton, or through the company’s Web site at www.whisperingsagesoapworks.com.
To order products over the phone, contact Christian at (620) 947-2938.
Christian participates in the “From the Land of Kansas” program, which is connected with the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The program helps entrepreneurs in Kansas and promotes business.
“They’ve been really helpful,” she said.
Christian recently received a business enrichment grant, which she will use to pay for a new Web site and logo design.
She said one of the most challenging parts of starting her business was trying to get the word out about her company and making people aware of her products. She said it also was difficult to find soap-making supplies locally and had to buy some of her supplies online.
For now, Christian is working out of her basement, but someday she would like to set up a separate shop.
That time may come sooner than she thinks — her business is growing by leaps and bounds, and she is running out of room.
“I think I’m outgrowing my business,” she said with a laugh.
Although most of Christian’s business comes from Kansas and surrounding states, she hopes the new Web site will link the business to customers around the country.
Christian’s daughter, Autumn Daily, has enjoyed being a part of her mother’s business.
“It’s been really fun,” she said.
She helps her mother with business planning and handles marketing and advertising for the company.
Daily said the business has seen a lot of growth since it first started, and she said it’s encouraging to see the number of repeat buyers on the company’s Web site.
“The Internet has helped our business to grow,” she said.
Although running her own business may provide some challenges, it is something Cheryl Christian certainly enjoys.
“I love it; I really do,” she said. “I like the creativity of it. I was always an artsy person. I just like creating. I’m passionate about it.”