Today's interview features Debbie Chialtas, the soapmaking gal behind San Diego, California-based Soapylove Glycerin Soaps. Fun, fresh, and often wildly unexpected, Soapylove has become an important must-watch craft business in the bath and body world.
So, tell us a little bit about your business.
I’m a naturally creative person whose original inspiration was in fashion design. For the last 10 years I have worn many hats in the apparel business but a little over 2 years ago found new creative energy when I started experimenting with glycerin “melt and pour” soap. Thanks completely to Etsy, Soapylove has evolved very naturally and I hope to one day make it my new full time job!
What made you pick up soapmaking in the first place? Where did you learn your techniques?
What started it all was my first pregnancy. I wanted to save money by making my own cocoa butter lotion. I took a class on homemade bath and beauty products and rediscovered glycerin soapmaking. I had abandoned it several years before when I tried to make an oatmeal soap and accidentally set the oats on fire in my oven - oops! I learned the basic techniques from books, but mostly made it up as I went along.
What motivated you to make Soapylove into a business rather than a hobby?
Probably like most people, I wanted to make more than I could use. I stumbled upon Etsy, which was the perfect venue for selling my soaps.
What was your strategy for promoting yourself once you decided to start it up, and was it effective?
My promotion strategy was list, list, list until I sold something. Also, I wasn’t afraid to ask bloggers to write about my soaps! I think both were (and are) very effective.
What was the hardest part about getting your business started, and why?
The hardest thing was learning that what I think people will love is not necessarily the case. And also accepting that there are busy and very slow times in any business, and that I need to be patient and not get bummed out when it’s slow.
What were some of the lessons you've learned along the way? Is there anything you'd wished you'd known or thought of before taking the plunge?
I’ve learned that in order to grown a business, you need to develop what makes you unique. See what items people like best and expand on that. But also keep pushing yourself creatively to keep things fresh and exciting. [As for anything I'd wished I'd known,] not really. Every experience is a learning experience.
Is there any particular advice you'd give someone interested in starting a crafting business, online or off?
Yes, if you feel like you’re not selling as much as you should, keep experimenting with selling venues. You just need to find your customer! It’s a big world and there are lots of people who will love your stuff. It’s up to you to find them!
On to your process. Soapmaking has a lot of components to it - color, scent, and you also
play with opacity, suspended pieces, layering, different shapes, and
other elements. What kind of process have you developed to put these
puzzle pieces together into a design? Do you keep a record of your ideas for
I don’t have a process, really. It just depends on what I’m inspired by. I usually make a lot of soap at once. If I get a few hours undisturbed, I’ll try a few things that have been on my mind. I do keep a sketch book for ideas, and post virtually every soap I make on Flickr, which is like my portfolio.
Are there any other designers in the independent design and craft community that you look to for inspiration or whose work you really admire?
I find other crafters extremely inspiring, but I just pick up bits from each one. I respect people’s work, and always ask permission first if I’m going to really duplicate something.
Are there any influences outside of the crafts community that has impacted your work?
The cake decorators on Food Network. I love those cake contests!
Your signature pieces are the Soapsicles, but your assortment as a whole are always unique and innovative. How did the Soapsicles, and your other ideas, develop into a final product?
I think I saw a Soapsicle online and decided to try one. I had a set of molds from years ago. It is so gratifying to pull a new Soapsicle from the mold and see how it came out! My bars are still mostly for fun. I rarely wholesale them because they’re so time consuming to make.
Soapmaking seems to have an infinite amount of mediums associated with it, and you chose to work exclusively with glycerin. How did you come to that decision?
Glycerin soap has so many creative possibilities that it was the only way for me to go.
About the online crafts community: what's your favorite part about being a member?
The world wide exposure is my favorite. It’s so interesting to see that Australians and people in the UK seem to like my soaps the best. Without the internet, I would never know that!
Are there any sites or people that you think are really impacting the popularity of the community?
Yes – I think the indie craft shows are introducing the community to many folks outside of the indie culture. Etsy has also been phenomenal.
Last question: any thoughts on how the community could improve itself?
I would love to see more acceptance within the community regarding “artists” versus “crafters” or “indie businesses” versus “small businesses.” We all have one thing in common: we’re creative people who want to pursue our passions. So let’s all just “feel the love!”