This post is entitled "interview of the month" because, despite my good intentions, I'm not a terribly faithful or consistent blogger. But I'd like to move towards doing certain types of posts in a more regular fashion, so I thought I'd set the bar at an attainable monthly cycle for now ☺ Not only will I regularly interview artisans and crafters, I'm also looking to start a feature on shopping.
For my very first interview I decided to ask my OhCanada! teammmate, Vicky of Soapst★rcanada and she graciously consented. Even before she'd seen my rather lenthy list of questions! I will admit, I chose her because she's such a friendly and interesting person, but also because I have an absolute addiction to bath and beauty products. And as a soapmaker, that's something she knows a lot about. All of the beautiful soaps, scrubs, and bath bombs pictured here are available at her Etsy shop, Soapst★rcanada
A brief introduction
Hi! My name is Vicky- I moved to Canada with my family, from England in 2008. We were looking for new horizons and a more balanced, healthier way of life. We settled in the "feel good" town of Cobourg on the breathtaking shores of Lake Ontario.
I find wherever I travel, I'm uplifted by the most wonderful sights, scents and sounds.
These inspired me to create something special that would evoke all the feel good senses and bring a smile to the face. So welcome to "Soapstar" - gorgeous handmade soaps, bath luxuries & beauty treats inspired by feel good neighbourhoods!
So, your craft is soapmaking...how did you become interested in that?
I've always been a bit of a natural bath & beauty product junkie, I love the idea of harnessing mother nature's finest instead of using harsh chemicals - but it was only after watching a reality TV show in England (of all things!), that involved a team challenge where they had to create soap products along with all the packaging, marketing etc, that inspired me to do it myself!
Do you have any plans to branch out into scrubs, lotions, or other beauty products?
Oh yes!... I have been busy experimenting in my kitchen (which the family have cheekily re-named the Research & Development dept). I have just introduced the rich, aromatic Coffeenation Street coffee sugar scrub and deliciously, dreamy Mint Choc Queen Vic mint chocolate mousse body wash to my shop. There's also some fabulous bath bombs, body butters and lip balms in the pipeline... (currently being tested by my teenage daughter & her friends - eager volunteers!)
I was wondering if you could give us a brief explaination on the different ways in which soap is made.
Cold Process (CP) is the type of soap your 'Grandma' may have made, but maybe with a little more artistry these days! It's made by combining fatty acids (oils) and sodium hydroxide (lye) together. Fatty acids can be almost any oil – from coconut oil, olive oil, hemp oil - even beef tallow. Ingredients such as essential oils, pigments and herbs can be added for their scent, colour and natural properties.
Adding quite precise amounts of water & lye to the heated oils causes a chemical reaction called "saponification", during which soap is formed . The initial phase of saponification usually takes around 24-48 hours, it's at this point the newly formed soap has "set" enough to remove from the mold, but is still soft enough, if required, to cut into individual bars.
The soap is them left somewhere for the saponification process to complete, sometimes for as long as 6-8 weeks! This is "curing", it's a bit like aging wine or cheese - it improves the quality of the soap. The longer the soap "cures", the more of the original water used will evaporate, creating a milder, harder, longer lasting bar with a very rich lather.
Obviously handling substances such as lye (caustic soda)
requires the use of safety equipment, such as goggles and gloves. Cold Process soapmaking should not be attempted without researching the method thoroughly & appropriate precautions taken.
Hot Process (HP) soap is made with a basic cold process soap recipe (including lye) but then is cooked at the end to speed up the curing time. The simple explanation is that you take all your ingredients, and add them to a pot (that is then placed over a heat source, such as a stove or crock pot) and stir frequently until the soap goes through various stages. The excess water is evaporated off and the soap is ready to use once cooled. Although the whole process is much quicker, it is NOT a method recommended for a novice soap-maker!
The Melt & Pour method is using a soap base (often a clear base) which can be purchased in large ready made blocks, which is melted down, coloured and fragranced, and then poured into molds. It's very popular because of its ease of use - there are no significant safety measures (other than basic common sense dealing with hot liquids) so children can give it a go too.
You do cold process soaps only, why that choice?
I chose the "cold process" method because it really is from scratch, and I find the chemistry bit fascinating & exciting. The recipe variations and possibilties are only limited by my imagination!
As someone who's interested in natural living and has a lot of allergies, I'm extremely interested in the ingredients that go into the products that I buy, and I do a lot of label-reading.
Your products get 5 stars from me for what they do, and don't, contain. Can you explain a bit about why your soaps don't have parabens, SLS, or petroleum or other synthetics?
Soapstar's mantra is "Act natural, feel good" - apart from the obvious appeal of something which is made from all natural ingredients, I am concerned about the effects of chemicals used in everyday products, sometimes it seems, quite unnecessarily.
In many cases these chemicals are absorbed into the body through skin application but the long term, and possibly quite damaging, effects are not yet fully understood.
For instance - parabans are chemical preservatives which have been linked to breast cancer, amongst other conditions. While there is no definitive scientific conclusion that parabans are a direct cause of such cancers, there is enough concern that research continues and even the large, successful manufacturers are looking into alternatives...
SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) is a surfactant, a foaming agent. It is often used in soaps, shampoos & even toothpaste just to get that frothiness we expect from those products.
The SLS found in these products is exactly the same as you would find in a car wash or even a garage, where it is used to degrease car engines, that alone should send alarm bells ringing - it is actually an irritant and can cause skin corrosion!
I'm committed to using & making products that are as skin & eco friendly as possible - I believe the amazing properties of natural ingredients,
with long established benefits outweigh the downsides such as a shorter shelf-life. In fact, there is an extra special, indulgent feel about using a freshly made beauty product, which is best stored in your refrigerator!
Where do you do your creating? Do you have a special area or studio?
At the moment, I'm managing the different aspects of Soapstar from various rooms in my home. All the computer stuff like my online Etsy shop, email and the graphic design involved, happens in our office (well, spare bedroom!), I create the soaps etc in my kitchen and the 'curing' rack & storage is in the basement.
I am lucky enough to have an original 'cold store' in the basement too, which is ideal for storing all my bulk ingredients such as base oils etc, which keeps them nice & fresh.
I do dream about having a studio one day ...one, perfectly organised space for the whole process... that would be bliss!
I've found that crafty people are generally interested in many artistic endeavors. Have you tried any other artsy things, and if so, what are they?
I've dabbled here & there... but only on a much more personal level really. As a teenager I designed, made & customized my own clothes & accessories (something I still try to do!) and co-produced a music fanzine. Later on I loved model making projects like doll's house furniture for my daughter and building space rockets with my son. Like many, I periodically get a strong desire for doing the interior design thing and I always have camera with me, but photography is definitely more of my husband's forte!
Based on what I've read on your blog, you seem to be quite involved in your local ecology garden and other nature conservancy groups. How did that come about?
My late Mum was an avid gardener with amazing green fingers and a font of all knowledge when it came to wild flowers, and the vibrant array of birds, bees & butterflies that call such habitats home. She was also a scientist, immensely interested in natural, holistic approaches to well-being. Her father (my grandad) was a vet specialising in horses & farm stock, so I grew up surrounded by animals & a healthy respect for mother nature.
After moving to Canada a few years ago with my family, I discovered my local (Cobourg) Ecology Garden which is full of the flora, fauna & spirit my Mum adored.
When I learnt the Garden was under threat due to lack of funding, I felt compelled to get involved. So, to support this gorgeous little area of natural beauty, I created Butterfly Island ~ a heavenly lavender & lilac scented handmade soap bar, followed by aromatic bath salts. Profits from the sale of Butterfly Island products are donated to the Garden.
Whenever I feel melancholy, full of excitement or just happy to be, I cycle there and breathe in the joyous aroma. It never fails to make me smile.
Now, because of your shop name, I have to ask, are you a fan of any particular soap opera? And where did you get your idea for the great, catchy titles of your soaps?
lol! These days I don't have time to follow any soap opera avidly - although I do have a soft spot for the long running British soap Coronation Street. While they're not strictly soap operas I love series like House, 24 and Sex & The City. Comedy-wise you can't beat The Office (both the original UK & the brilliantly 'transatlantic translated' US version). However, I will happily admit there isn't much I wouldn't watch given the chance - from serious, informative documentories, to over-the-top melodramatic Latin American 'telenovelas' to the downright, ridiculous reality shows. I guess I'm an observer of life - a people watcher!
The name Soapstar actually came first though, I wanted a name that was a simple, easily remembered and clearly descriptive of what I was doing. The concept kinda evolved from there - I already had a few
ideas for soap recipes in my mind, inspired by local places - then it just hit me as I was cycling down Cobourg's main street, after having a coffee with a friend at one of the many wonderful cafes there. She had been asking me about Coronation Street which is so popular around the world, and especially Ontario it seems. Coffeenation Street was born! So now naming new products involves the whole family 'brainstorming' wordplay / puns based on TV shows from around the globe... the rest is history!
Many thanks to Vicky, otherwise known as Soapstarcanada, for her time and patience in answering questions for this post.
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