Ever see soap so cute you just can’t imagine using it? Aubrey Elizabeth’s bathtime creations range from wacky (creepily realistic severed fingers) to kitschy (assorted sushi you’d swear was the real thing) to downright delicious (her eggnog soap even smells like eggnog!). Her Etsy shop, Aubrey Elizabeth Apothecary, is part of a growing movement of handmade products empowered by e-commerce. Aubrey took a moment from soap making in her Connecticut cottage to chat with us about her process.
B: How did you start making soap?
Every year my mom wants something 'homemade' for a gift, so in 2009 I wanted to try making perfume for Christmas. I started researching oils and ingredients online, and it was a limitless amount of information! Through learning about fragrances I stumbled into the art of soap making and it intrigued me. I decided to try that instead and just couldn't get enough. I took out a lot of books at the library and read forums and blogs online. Whenever I want to learn something new I'm an information sponge, but definitely self-taught.
B: Why soap?
I've always loved scents. I had a candle addiction I had to break because I was running out of room for them! In learning about the soap making process, I found I could move my addiction over to fragrance oils ... and now I have hundreds of scents. Every time I get a new one to sniff, it's like opening a really great gift. I've always been a beauty hoarder, so the idea that I could make my own bath products was very alluring.
B: Can you tell us a little bit about your process?
It all begins with brainstorming, which usually involves seeing some delicious bakery treat or food item I want to turn into soap. I toil away finding exactly the right fragrance to match the real thing. Once I've mapped out the idea in my head, I melt down glycerin soap, add fragrance and color it, and then pour it into a mold. My molds are generally made out of silicone. I started with mass market plastic molds and they just frustrated me, so I knew I needed to be using something more flexible. Once it's set, I assemble the final soap, like adding the seaweed onto the tuna maki soap that's in the sushi set. Then I package it up and mail it off to its new home!
B: What was your very first piece?
I layered bar soap to look like candy corn. I'm a holiday nut and any excuse to create something for Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine's Day gets me excited and inspired.
B: Have you ever had anyone try to take a bite out of one of your pieces?
Yes! And I'm happy to report everyone has survived. My friends’ daughter decided she was going to eat a cupcake soap in the bathtub. I was horrified but apparently it really does taste like a cupcake, she even had her big sister lick it to corroborate her findings—though I'm pretty sure it just tastes like soap. And a customer last year passed along a gummi bear soap story: a guy decided after a good long run that he'd love some sugar. After popping a few of those in his mouth he realized they didn't much taste like candy!
B: How did you branch into "lip lovelies?" Any plans to continue to reach into the beauty market?
One of my best friends has been my human guinea pig tester from day one. She always has a genuine enthusiasm for everything I make, whether it's a crazy idea or not. I decided I wanted to create a lip scrub because I had chapped winter lips and gave her a tester jar to try out. She came back raving about it and wanting it for her friends. Once I heard ‘using your lip scrub guarantees a first date kiss!’ I was hooked on making quality lip products. I'm also in love with body polish, I don't feel like I've had a proper shower if I haven't scrubbed away with it and then applied the Shea Butter Body Whip afterwards. I make things I want to use and that's always evolving into trying to create new products.
B: How do you feel Etsy has empowered your business? Do you feel like the face of commerce has changed with technology?
I shopped on Etsy for years and never thought I was really talented enough to open a shop. After some encouragement and more of a demand from friends and family to purchase soaps from me, I decided to give it a try and figured I had nothing to lose! Etsy is very supportive and helpful with their shop owners and they make you feel like you are special and can do anything. Without a platform like Etsy, so many artists wouldn't have the global reach that they do now.
Also, starting while I lived in Boston really made a difference. Everyone there is so amped about handmade! The Boston area magazines love sharing local stuff, so that really helped with letting people know I was there and part of their community. Once I'd established myself in Boston, I knew I'd be ok moving back to my own little slice of happiness in northwestern Connecticut. People still associate my shop with my favorite New England city because I still travel there for markets, but I'm really happy that with this day and age of technology, you can live anywhere you heart desires.
Being a small business, you have to realize there's a very delicate balance of being an 'online shop' and selling in person to the public. Doing indie craft markets is a lot of work, but so rewarding. I love seeing strangers respond to my work!**
B: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists making handcrafted beauty products?
I think handcraft artists, no matter their medium, need to have a real thirst for knowledge. I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading business forums, Etsy forums, and soap-making articles. Nowadays we're lucky that being a startup business isn't necessarily as costly as it would have been then, you just have to have the courage to put yourself out there online. Also, when it comes to makeup, soap, and skincare makers, you have to have a unique point of view to stand out while paying great attention to quality and ingredients. These products are not only enjoyed as art, but they're being applied to someone's skin, so it's imperative you are skilled and informed on your craft.
Check out Aubrey’s wacky, beautiful designs on Etsy, and try to resist the urge to bite in one!