We are so happy to welcome soap maker Valorie Ziegler to the Happening Hands blog! Valorie owns the St. Vrain Soap Company in Colorado, and she’ll tell us a bit about her process and business story. You can find Valorie’s soaps and other bath and body goods in her Happening Hands shop and her website, and you can follow her on Instagram.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What’s the story behind you and your business?
I’m a single mom of two teenage boys and have always shared my creative outlets with them – making handcrafted soap, watercolor painting, and making music. With the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, my sons realized that getting summer jobs this year just wasn’t a reality. Having helped me make soap and body care products for small markets and friends in the past, Cameron & Aiden wanted to earn money, learn how to run a business, and invest their time and ideas to help me turn a passion into a family business. In June, 2020, St. Vrain Soap Company was born. We live in a small town near Boulder, Colorado, close to the banks of the St. Vrain River. Since it’s a landmark in the town we love, we wanted to pay homage to the river with our name since the mountains and outdoors are often inspirations for our products.
Where do you draw inspiration and motivation from? How do you stay creative?
Like so many others who live in Colorado, we love the outdoors and spend our free time on trails, skis, snow shoes, paddle boards, and on the road to to find a great new view. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that nature and sustainable ingredients are the inspiration for our products as the seasons change here. When we enjoy the outdoors, we follow the motto “tread lightly” to conserve our wild lands and protect our natural resources. We feel the same way about our formulas. While we draw inspiration from our adventures and the natural environment around us, we incorporate sustainability wherever we can through 100% natural and palm-oil free ingredients, minimal and compostable/recyclable packaging, and eliminating plastic wherever we can.
What does your creative process look like from start to finish?
I create our formulas, and my sons help to prototype, test, and then make bigger batches of them. While I like to start with my tried-and-true soap, body butter, scrub, and beard oil recipes that I have tested and used for years to make predictable, consistent products, I do love the variety of ways I can creatively change each recipe for the season, aesthetic, aroma, or skin benefit I’m targeting. For soap, each batch starts with a base recipe of oils, liquids, and sodium hydroxide, which I adapt based on the skin benefits I want, like a more sudsy or moisturizing bar. Next, I plan the aroma to blend essential oils that will enhance the soap without affecting the recipe. Finally, I make some decisions on the aesthetic aspects and decide which botanicals I’ll use, whether its color will be solid or swirled, smooth or scrubby. With natural clays, herbal infusions, and botanical additives and extracts, the sky really is the limit for what we can create!
What’s your current favorite podcast, music, or tv show that you’re hooked on and why?
Together, we like to play board and card games. One of our recent favorites is Unstable Unicorns – it’s silly, fast-paced, and always a hit whether it’s just us, or a game with friends. When we’re busy making products, we turn on our local NPR station to catch up on news and culture, or listen to old Bob Marley and Johnny Cash records.
Name one thing not many people know about you.
As a young adult, I didn’t see myself becoming a parent. My ex-husband wanted kids, so here I am, and I can’t imagine my life any other way. From watching my boys as curious and playful littles to seeing them grow into the kind, responsible, and really cool humans they are now at 14 & 16, I am so glad I chose this path as a mother.
What are your top three values in life?
Time. There never seems to be enough of it, so I try to make the most of every day.
Relationships. They’re an integral part of life, and I strive to build meaningful and lasting ones with the people in my sphere.
Balance. I am driven and a perfectionist. Sometimes I’m way too hard on myself. I need to balance the things I love with the things I think I must do to feel my best.
Do you have any business challenges and/or goals you’re hoping to crush over the next 6 months?
1. We’re early in our journey, so growth is the first goal. We’re excited to have retail partnerships with two local salons, and we’d like to grow that into a few more stores that feature local, handmade & sustainable products.
2. Improve our branding. I think we made a good start since it was something we put together organically ourselves, but I would like to engage a brand strategist to help create more cohesive branding for our packaging and online presence.
3. Have fun. Are some days hard? Sure, of course! However, as long as I still want to create, want to grow, and to continue sharing our products, I know we’re doing alright. If it ever becomes a slog, I know it’s time to make some changes.
Do you have any advice for all the small handmade business owners out there who are just getting started?
As fun and amazing as it is to focus only on your fantastic products, pause and take a breath. Building a plan for launching and sustaining your business is just as important as the products you create. Do you need a business or tax license? What about your brand and it story? Will you need insurance? Which web platform will you use? Set yourself up for success up front so you don’t have to play catch-up later.