Step in Melissa Brown’s workshop, and you’ll see a woman focused on creating handmade soaps at her home business in Lutz.
Brown launched her business —Nautilus Soap Company LLC — more than a year ago, and hopes one day to open her own storefront. Besides making scented and unscented soaps, she also makes bath bombs and shampoo bars.
She sells her products at local markets, such as the Lutz Arts & Crafts Fair, the weekly market in Indian Shores, the downtown Dunedin and other events. She offers wholesale pricing and handles custom orders.
Brown is a member of the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce and was one of the vendors at the chamber’s Land O’ Lakes Music Fest in March.
When Brown ventured into soap-making, she was beginning at Ground Zero.
So, she has spent a fair amount of time researching how to make soap, source suppliers and find out which markets work for her, and which ones don’t.
She’s chatted with other soap-makers to glean pointers — to help her avoid potential mistakes.
And, she’s done a fair amount of experimentation, too, learning through trial and error.
She began soap-making after trying her hand with candles and discovering that she didn’t find that engaging enough to suit her.
“I actually started making soap last January, really more of a hobby than anything. It just continually progressed,” Brown said.
“This is my absolute passion. It’s what I live, eat, breathe, and sleep every single day. I’ve never been this way about anything before,” she said.
She sells all sorts of soap. There’s Almond Milk & Honey, Bare Naked Soap, Bay Rum & Bergamot, Bed of Roses, Chill Out, Mother Nature, and Orange Blossom, just to name a few.
One recent day, Brown was experimenting with a batch of pink grapefruit soap.
While soap-making is an ancient art, Brown uses sophisticated equipment.
She uses a computer software program to formulate her recipes.
As she mixed the sample batch, she explained her process.
“What I have in here is my oil blend. I use an oil blend of five different oils. I use canola, castor, coconut, rice bran oil and olive oil.
“What is in this pitcher right here, is my lye and water mixture. It’s a specific strength that I use, and it has been formulated by my program, chemistry-wise, to make sure that it activates all of the molecules of the oils that I have in here. It’s a very specific ratio,” she said.
The lye mixture is critical, she said.
“If you do not have this, you will not get soap. You will just get oil,” she added.
Pink grapefruit essential oil, Australian pink clay and melted cocoa butter were the other ingredients she used, for this batch of soap.
The clay is good for the skin, but also provides some color for the soap.
“Once I mix the oils and the lye together, after that is when I add the cocoa butter, because the cocoa will be free floating molecules within the soap, so it will more moisturizing,” Brown said.
“I give it a little stir, and then I go with the stick blender,” she said.
She’s careful while mixing the ingredients, because she doesn’t want the soap to harden too quickly. She also adds the color gradually to make sure she gets the shade she desires.
Her sample batch makes 11 bars.
After pouring the mixture into the mold, it rests overnight.
“Once I cut it,” she said, “it goes on these drying racks, it cures for six weeks.”
Sometimes, the soap doesn’t come out like she expects.
But, some creations she views as “mistakes” turn out to be quite popular with customers, Brown said.
In addition to learning the ins and outs of soap-making, Brown has broadened her knowledge on many other fronts, including figuring out out how much to charge for her soap, how to market it, and about taxes and other business requirements.
“I learn as I go,” Brown said.
Her husband, Doug, helped her to price her goods.
“We looked at basically everything that was out there. We looked at markets. We looked at soap companies online. We looked and actually broke it by how much they were charging by ounce of soap. And, that’s how we kind of came up with it, so we were in line.
“I didn’t want to be too high, because then people are turned off by the price; but, I didn’t want to be too low, because then it would seem like it was a cheap product,” Brown said.
Brown said most of her working life has been devoted to medical work, in one form or another.
She didn’t’ feel able to unleash her creativity.
She decided to give soap-making a try and discovered a new source of joy.
The feeling reminded her of advice she’d heard during a talk, many years ago, by Debbi Fields, the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.
“She (Fields) said, ‘Do what you love, and love what you do.’ I never ever forgot that. And, that’s when it came to me, ‘You know what? I love this, and I want to do this.’
“It just blossomed from there,” Brown said.
You can buy handmade soaps produced by Nautilus Soap Company LLC, based in Lutz, either through the company’s website, or at these upcoming markets:
- Indian Shores Sunday Market, on May 14 and May 21, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Indian Shores Town Hall Municipal Center, 19304 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores.
- Clearwater Mall Weekly Market, May 16, May 23 and May 30, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., southeast corner of U.S. 19 and Gulf-To-Bay Boulevard, in front of Target.
- Downtown Dunedin Weekly Market, May 12, May 19 and May 26, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Pioneer Park, Main Street and Douglas Avenue.
- Armed Forces Day, May 20, noon to 8 p.m., at Frankie’s Patriot BBQ, U.S. 19 and Ulmerton Road in Clearwater.
For more information, call (813) 438-3507, or visit NautilusSoap.com.
Published May 10, 2017