Saturday, April 22, 2017

All That Glitters is Not Good- Earth Day Thoughts and Promises

Purple Knight Salvia that is eating my flower bed. 

This morning, I got my oldest kid off to dance and then sat on the porch drinking coffee and watching the hummingbirds make their way through the purple salvia flowers and the velvety deep purple petunias. They make the journey through the flower beds several times a day are not shy about us watching them. The salvia has grown into a mass of purple hysteria that is slowly eating my front garden bed. I am hesitant to transplant it anywhere else because I fear it is not a native plant and might be invasive. It is gorgeous and feeds the hummingbirds but I always worry if I am ignorantly damaging the eco-system around me. I am going to guess that it is not an “if” but a “how” because I am certain, despite my best efforts that I am causing some damage. We all are.

            But as I sipped my coffee, I pondered Earth Day, the commemoration of the beginning of the environmental movement that began in the 70s. I humorously remember the first Earth Day that I celebrated. It was in 1989 and I learned about it in school, where I also learned how I could make my house more environmentally friendly. Always ready to save the underdog, in this case the planet, I marched home and filled an empty milk jug with water and put it in the toilet tank. My intent was to save water, but all I really did was mess up the apparatus in the toilet tank so it would not flush. I also started my first compost pile. I convinced my parents to let me put all of the vegetable scraps in the backyard to decompose. They thought I was crazy as they watched me carry trash out to the corner of the patio and dump it on the concrete slab. Of course, you should not start a compost pile on concrete, it should be started in the dirt. But I was certain that those moldy onion scraps were going to make a nice pile of dirt that we could put in the lawn. My parents were certain that we were just feeding vermin. They were right but my intentions were good. And that is really what it is about, trying to constantly change the way we make choices to have the least amount of impact on the planet.

            I think about my impact often. I go into the grocery stores or even worse the dollar stores and look at the shelves full of stuff that will never biodegrade and think to myself, this is all going to be in a landfill before long. So I take my cloth shopping bags and try to make the best choices to add as little as possible to those heaps of refuse that we try to hide from our reality. Our trash is a problem we are pushing into the future for our grandchildren to deal with. But there has to be some balance in the environmental zeal. I have to be patient with myself and not be too rigid. I knew a woman years ago, she ran a famous blog and was the picture perfect environmentalist and mother. She had 4 young children and created so little waste that she stopped her trash service completely. Her family used cloth toilet paper, need I say more? Then one day, she snapped. She abandoned her family and moved to the jungle with some hot younger guy. She went too far. There has to be balance but we must always strive to assess our impact. What can we do better?
            This is a question that I am constantly asking myself with Bean Tree Soap. Trust me, every choice is made painstakingly. I am not crazy about the shrink wrap on bath bombs but it seems to be the only viable way that I can keep the humidity from affecting them. When I find a better way, I will take it. I use cloth as much as I can in my workshop. I reuse packaging to mail orders as much as possible and I try to use recyclable packaging. That is the reason that I switched to organic sustainable palm oil a few years ago. Sure, it was more expensive but it was a cause that was very important to me. The palm debate is a hot one, forests are being cut down so that people can plant palm plantations to keep up with demand. This leaves animals, like orangutans, without a home, starving refugees of consumerism. But on the flip side, there is a palm industry that supports many indigenous peoples on old growth plantations. Without an economy for palm oil, these people would be without an income. Also at the time I was debating this, my alternative to keep the properties of my soap the same would have been to use beef tallow. I did not want to use factory farmed beef tallow in my soap. I could not feel good about that either. My compromise was to use organic, sustainable palm oil from plantations that are certified not to be part of the devastation associated with palm oil. I may eventually go vegan AND palm free but for now, I am keeping the organic sustainable palm.
            So that brings me to this Earth Day and how is my life and my company evolving to be kinder to this planet that I love? How can I be a better steward of my home? Well the answer lies in glitter. Yup! Glitter. Traditional glitter is made of small pieces of plastic. These small pieces of plastic get washed down the drain and go into our water cycle. At my house this means that it goes into a septic tank, but when that is pumped out where does it go then? At your house will it go directly to a water treatment plant? Will it accidentally wind up like those microbeads in lakes, ponds, or the ocean where it can harm critters who live in those environments? I think about these things quite often and it concerns me. So, in my commitment to always trying to do better, from here on out, all of the glitter used at Bean Tree Soap will be biodegradable glitter. I have purposely let my stock dwindle and the new glitters are on their way. Yes, it is not the same. And yes, I will miss some of that amazing iridescent sparkle because well…glitter. But the new stuff is shiny and I can feel good about it breaking down and not ending up in the gut of a sea turtle or embedded in the skin of some wild amphibian.

            This is my choice for today. It is a constant journey and I am always marching forward in an attempt to be as kind as possible. Because, in truth, every day should be Earth Day and we should all seek out the little ways we can be kinder to our planet and better stewards of the vast beauty and bounty of all that it has to offer us because all that glitters is not good for us. Happy Earth Day! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kindness, Coincidence, and Cruises


With all of the political craziness that has dominated my news feed in the last couple of months, I have been so saddened by all of the anger and divisiveness that I see among people that I know to be better than that. To say that I am alarmed by this would be an understatement. But when the world seems dark, you have to resist the urge to fall into the darkness and instead, shine your own light a little brighter. The easiest way to do this is to simply be kind. That is it, be kind, to everyone. No matter what.

   On my first day of 7th grade, I was the new-kid at school in a very small town. I had just moved from a private Catholic school in the Mid-West where I wore uniforms for several years. So when I showed up on my first day, not knowing what to wear and among a sea of unfamiliar faces, I was terrified. Every kid at my school knew each other, some since birth and most since pre-k. Everyone stared and whispered which made me feel even more terrified until one curly-haired, olive skinned girl that looked a little like me strutted up to my desk and introduced herself. She was friendly, loud and made no bones about asking me who I was, where I came from and did I want to sit with her and her friends at lunch?

   I am pretty sure she does not remember doing this, but I have never forgotten this one small gesture of kindness. She took one of the most terrifying and vulnerable moments for me and made everything feel warmer and safer. This is what we need more of. We need people to nicely ask the questions and extend some kindness. Her actions that day exemplify how I want my own children to behave when they see someone who is an outsider that may feel scrutinized or whispered about. I hope that they act just like her by extending a hand and offering to sit with someone that may need a friendly face.

    When I think about acts of kindness bestowed upon me over the years, she always comes to mind. This same girl is now the grown up mother of 5 boys and is taking them on a Disney Cruise after Thanksgiving.So it felt like a coincidence when she asked me to help her with her Fish Extender gifts, I was ecstatic to do so. I could not help but want to pour a little extra into making her gifts just right for her cruise mates. I hope that the recipients of her gifts can feel the kindness that was poured into them and I hope she feels it reflected back towards her family on their vacation. I always love special orders, they allow me to be highly creative but this time, there was something extra special about working on soaps for someone who set an example 26 years ago for the kind of behavior the world needs more of right now.  RJ, you are the bomb!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

5 Reasons I Am Very Bad at Business

1      Social Media Flop! I am involved with a handful of small business sites that give you pointers for increasing business. Every single one of them advises posting several times a day to increase visibility and make sure that Facebook sends all of your posts to every person who has liked your page. I hate pages that flood my feed with posts. While some are cute and funny, it can be a bit annoying to see a constant flood of non-sense and I often unlike those pages. I want to keep everything I post important and pertinent to what I am doing. I do not bombard social media with attention seeking posts because I do not like it when other businesses do that to me. I also do not offer give-aways for likes. I will not try to coerce anyone into like my page. Every one of the "likes" you see on my Facebook page is because the person behind the "like" came to my page to like it. It just feels more honest that way.

     Honest Prices. I know a soap maker who charges $15 per bar of soap. Why? Because people perceive her soap to be more valuable because of the price. This is called Perceived Market Value. This basically means that a consumer believes something is better simply because it costs more. Now, many times, you do get what you pay for. I use some very expensive ingredients in my products. Often the price of those ingredients fluctuate wildly based on market conditions. After the tsunami hit Thailand many years ago, the cost of patchouli skyrocketed. I lost money and quit making as many soaps with patchouli in the blend. This happens most frequently with essential oils as the production of the oils varies based on the annual crop yields. However, I have a formula that I use for pricing products that I believe is fair. My customers work hard for their money and I refuse to mark something up simply to make it seem more valuable. I often decrease my profit margin before I increase prices. This is true of any soap that contains clary sage essential oil at the moment. I am not going to raise prices unless I have to and I promise that I will respect your money as much as I respect my own because I know how hard we all work to make what we have.

     Bogus Claims. It is illegal for me to make any medical or health claims unless my soap has been through rigorous FDA testing. I do not have the time or money for complicated testing. I will never tell you that anything I sell will treat or cure any problems you have. Many people make a ton of money on promises that their products will make you skinny, cure your eczema, get rid of wrinkles or the saddest one, make your skin lighter. I cannot make any of those claims, nor will I. I have some soaps that are formulated for special areas like the face or for shaving. And I have some customers that swear by some of my soaps for certain issues but I will never market any soaps for that reason. That would be dishonest and illegal, I am not going to do either in pursuit of a dollar.
   Staying Small. I know my customers well and I often remember them by their favorite smell. I cherish being able to formulate special products for specific special needs. This can only happen with enough time to formulate and create products individually. If I were to “get rich” by making soap, I would not have the time to do this. I do not mind being small and I intend to keep it that way. This means I get to have meaningful, personal relationships with the customers who trust me to make their skincare products. Selling soap does not keep a roof over my head, nor does it pay the bills, in order to do that I would have to give up the ability to treat my customers like family members. I would also have to give up precious time with my children who are growing up too quickly. My life is more precious than the pursuit of another dollar. I like to keep it balanced and for now, that means staying small. I have no desire to see a bar of Bean Tree Soap in every bathroom in the country. But I do have a great desire to care about each person who does have a bar of Bean Tree Soap in their bathroom and make sure that those people adore the soap they are using.

     Give Away Stuff. Every box I mail out has a sample in it. While I cannot afford to give away samples without a purchase, I often include a little bit of something that might be of interest to the person that orders products. I also have customers test out new products and give me feedback. I make so many things that never see the website because I have not perfected it yet. If it is on my website, it is something that I love and I have had customers test out and affirm that they also love. Does this cut into my “bottom line”, you betcha! Do I care, nope! Not a bit, I want to make sure that I am absolutely proud of everything that says Bean Tree Soap on it. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Un Petite Cadeaux

In French, "un petite cadeaux" is a small gift, a little something. You know, the tiny gifts that make your day? Whether you tuck them into stockings, casually hand them to a hostess after she opens the door to her home for you, or send them to school for your child's teacher; these gifts are not extravagant yet mean so much. This blog post is a collection of those little gifts that are perfect for this time of year. Soap is the perfect gift; everyone uses soap, it is calorie free, relatively inexpensive, does not add to clutter, and one bar of soap can be enjoyed many times.
We put a loofah in the center of our yummy glycerin soap! These 5 ounce bars of soap offer exfoliation, relaxation and fun all at the same time. Very popular as hostess gifts, teacher's gifts and stocking stuffers and a wide variety of fragrances and colors make sure that you will find the right one for everyone on your list.

Soap in a Sweater
This soap comes in a crocheted soap saver (Christmas Confetti style shown here)  made in the USA by moogly. This reusable bag is made from 100% cotton yarn and will extend the life of a bar of soap because it can be hung up in the shower to keep the soap dry. The best part is that you can use the bag like a wash cloth. Just lather up and hang it up. Toss it in the wash and it is ready for another bar of soap. 

Soap and Balm in Organza Bag
This simple gift is a bar of soap and a 1/4 ounce pot of aromatherapy
balm or solid perfume. Packaged in an organza bag that can be used as a soap saver. This is tied off with a gift tag (not shown).

This "little something" is a brown bag packed with a whole lotta something! A bar of soap, a full size (10 ounce) jar of our ultra moisturizing and a little 1/4 ounce pot of solid perfume or aromatherapy balm. You can add lip balm and shea butter hand cream for an ultimate package of pampering. 

This tiny little box packs a big wallop, the perfect small gift including; 2 oz of sugar scrub, a 2.5 oz glycerin soap, and a lip balm.  Everything someone needs to get acquainted with Bean Tree Soap.
Aromatherapy Gift Set
This set is perfect for the naturalist, the overworked, the person on your list that just needs to take some "me time" but realistically cannot make it to the spa. A bar of soap, a lotion bar, lip balm and a "to go" balm. Made with essential oils, these sets are to uplift, relax or simply help you clear your head.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fall/ Christmas 2012 Sneak Peak

I cannot help but to be very excited about what I have been doing this week. I have been in the shop creating new soaps like it is my job! .....Wait! It is my job. Well, one of them anyways. This is not all of it either, there will be about 5 or 6 more soaps added to this list in the next week.  So...just to give you an idea what will be available as soon as they are done curing, here they are:
Organic blue cornmeal and strawberry seeds make this soap scrubby. The clean/ minty smelling lavender, mint and clary sage essential oil blend is soothing and refreshing. This one may be around longer than just the holiday season. 

This is a very happy, feminine essential oil blend.  This soap is like an attitude adjustment in a bar. I cannot imagine anyone being able to resist the uplifting scent of geranium and citrus essential oils. The rose clay is great for cleaning and detoxing skin by drawing impurities from the pores.

 Pumpkin Spice
Spicy, creamy and totally yummy with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pie crust; this is an annual favorite. Real pumpkin is loaded with vitamins and gives this soap it's orange color. There is a crushed vanilla bean swirl (see the tiny specks) which adds a very light, gentle exfoliating feel. I have several pumpkin fragrances and this is by far my favorite. This bar of soap is a must have for anyone who loves spicy fall scents.
Basil Lime
With top notes of sweet lime and base notes of earthy green basil, this essential oil blend soap is really yummy. Definitely a unisex scent. 
 Bergamot & Grapefruit
Top notes of fresh and fruity bergamot blend into deeper citrus notes. It is swirled with pink and green clay. Some of you may remember a soap called Pampelmousse, this one is similar but even better. It is my new favorite soap. Complex, uplifting and clean smelling.

 Blue Christmas 
If you think for a minute I was not channeling Elvis while making this soap, you would be mistaken. The picture does not illuminate the iridescent glitter on the top of the bars, which reminds me of my favorite Christmas cards, the sparkly ones. This soap is Christmas without being spicy and sweet. This gorgeous blue soap is scented with a blend of grapefruit, juniper, Italian lemon and mint. Well rounded and unisex. 
 Apple Pumpkin
This year, I decided to add a little bit of pumpkin to the apple pie. The result is even more delicious. This is a bar of soap that will make you smell good enough to eat. Top notes of apples and pears with middle notes of pumpkin and nutmeg with a base note of vanilla make this a scent to keep you in the spirit.
Don't get caught under the mistletoe without bathing with this first! Cedar, fir, mint are just a few of the essential oils that comprise this very woodsy blend. This is definitely a clean smell that will leave you kissable. 

 Lavender Oat
The lavender essential oil is strong in this soap which is blended with ground lavender and colloidal oatmeal. It is gently exfoliating and very soothing. Which sounds like just what I need after a big holiday party or an afternoon spent shopping. I am definitely looking forward to ending my busy days this season with a bar of this soap to put me to bed.  

 Cranberry Fig
This is another holiday favorite! Crisp tart cranberries and sweet figs are made even better with a hint of blood orange and grapefruit.
Warm Sugar Vanilla
Our moisturizing cold process soap blend and sparkly glycerin soap are swirled in this sweet, delicious bar. This is loved by everyone and a safe choice when you are considering a soap for someone and are not sure of their scent preferences. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Natural Deodorant Pits

I gave up using antiperspirants about 15 years ago when I began questioning the ingredients in them. Mainly it was the aluminum that made me give them up. Then I also had to question the necessity of shutting down pores to keep them from sweating. Isn't sweating one of the ways that the body detoxifies? I like to keep it natural and let my body do what it was designed to do.

Before I say anything else, I suppose I should give you the heads up on the difference between an antiperspirant and a deodorant. An antiperspirant actually prevents sweating. The aluminum salts in the formula are absorbed into the endocrine gland ducts (the ones that put out the sweat). Inside the ducts, these molecules basically swell and close off the ducts, not allowing the sweat to be released onto the surface of the skin. All antiperspirants have some form of aluminum in them.

A deodorant does what it says, it deodorizes your pits. The funk of body odor is caused by bacteria in your arm pits. Think about it; your pits are dark, warm and moist. The perfect breeding ground for bacteria. So many deodorants have additives that discourage bacterial growth. You see this in many natural deodorants at the health food store, they will boast of essential oils that naturally discourage the growth of bacteria.

So what is the big deal about aluminum? Well...the verdict is still out on any link between antiperspirant and Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Society has concluded that there is no evidence of a relationship between aluminum and Alzheimer's. However, many Alzheimer's patients have presented high amounts of aluminum in their brain tissue. Some people, like me, choose to live without using body care products that contain aluminum. My motto has always been, "When in doubt, leave it out!"

For years, I just picked up a crystal rock deodorant at the health food store and went on with my life. It was sold at the health food store and it worked, so it had to be good right? I mean these people know everything about healthy living so I should be safe buying products there, right? Wrong! Then I started using the Adidas cotton-tech deodorant. That worked well, then I realized it relied on tri-closan to prevent bacterial growth. I did not want my kid using that. The evidence against tri-closan being a hormone disruptor in the system is mounting. It is also partially responsible for antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment. (For more information click here read what the FDA says about tri-closan ). I do not want to take any chances. You, the consumer,  really need to do your own research, even if you are spending the big bucks at Whole Foods or your Mom and Pop health food store.

 I will admit that while I am certainly far from being an expert on cosmetic chemistry, I am not afraid to decode a list of ingredients on the back of the bottle well enough to discern if it is something I want to buy. This led me to notice that the rock crystal deodorants contained aluminum. I was so angry! On the bottles it is labeled potassium alum, ammonium alum (ammonium aluminium sulfate) or hydrated aluminium potassium sulfate. The molecular structure of these chemicals are a bit bigger than the aluminum used in conventional antiperspirants. The claim is that these molecules are too big to be absorbed by the skin, but I cannot find any clear scientific trials which prove this. Once again, the consumer is duped by clever wording and misleading packaging. So I gave up the rock.

This began a LONG journey of trial and error. There were many errors down the road of natural deodorants.I have purchased so many brands and thrown away almost as many.  I have a few funny stories of being far from home and realizing I smelled like I lived on the streets. I found a few brands that I liked but it was not until my daughter began wearing deodorant that I became determined to find one that works for her and for me. So...after hours and hours of research, I have finally found a deodorant formula that works, smells nice and does not leave white stains on my clothes.

So a deodorant that I love was born.What is in this deodorant? Well, it is a bit more complicated and chemical sounding than oils mixed with baking soda and corn starch, but it works and does not stain clothing. This is a list of the ingredients and why they are in this product. To purchase this awesome stuff click here.

Ingredients:Propylene Glycol- A humectant, and a carrier in fragrance oils

Purified Water

Sodium Stearate- sodium salt of fatty acids that works as an emulsifier and a surfactant.

Vegetable Protein-neutralizes the enzymes that cause odor to a simple salt.

PEG-200/Hydrogenated a Castor Oil- carrier oil used as an emulsifier and surfactant

Isosteareth-2- agent derived from fatty acids, and works as an emulsifier

Salicylic Acid- anti-microbial agent obtained from willow trees

Steareth-100,-A surfactant derived from fatty acids

Chamomile Flower Extract- anti-inflammatory properties which help relieve inflamed and irritated conditions.

Aloe Vera leaf juice- an emollient with soothing properties.

EDTA- amino acid, prevent deterioration and rancidity.

Essential Oils- steam distilled plant based oils for scent and to inhibit growth of bacteria

Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (0.3%)- Preservatives.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Soap: Explained.

There are so many different types of "soap" on the market. It can be confusing for the consumer to understand what the different terms mean. So, here is a quick and easy primer on popular soaps that are available.
 Soap- The term "soap" technically means the result of a chemical reaction between oils/ fats and a caustic substance like sodium hydroxide.  The result of this reaction is an agent that cleans and forms a lather. Soap makes water wetter. The way it works is that each soap molecule has a "head" and a "tail". The head of the soap molecule loves water and attaches itself to water molecules while the tail of the soap molecule loves oils and will attach itself to an oil molecule. So oils are flushed away with the water. Soap also disturbs the surface tension of the water. All of this makes it easier to wash away dirt and grime.
        Making Cold Process Soap
Cold Process- This is a process by which soap is made that requires no additional heat. This is the most basic form of soap. Most of the soaps at Bean Tree Soap are made by this method.  Oils are melted and added to lye and then blended. Then they are allowed to undergo a chemical process on their own. The soap has a minimum cure time of 3 weeks. During this 3 weeks, the soap will complete the chemical reaction and lose water, making it a harder bar. The resulting soap is hard and opaque. Cold process bars have a long shelf life however, over time some of the additives like essential oils or colorants may fade. Depending on ingredients, these are the most natural forms of soap available on the market.

   Soap undergoing saponification in molds.

Hot Process- Like cold process soap, hot process soap starts out with melted oils and  lye. The two are blended together but unlike cold process soap, hot process soap undergoes a cooking stage where heat is added. This acts as a catalyst for the chemical process of saponification. The resulting bars of soap are a bit different in appearance but are completely cured once they are hardened in the mold. These soaps do not have a long cure time.
     The Cure- for soapers at least.

                                One of the many cool things possible with glycerin soap, owl soaps.
Glycerin- Technically, glycerin is a by-product of soap making. Every bar of handmade soap will naturally contain glycerin. However, there are soaps which are commonly referred to as "glycerin soap". These soaps are usually transparent. Some have detergents and some are true soap. These soaps are a bit more processed than the previously explained soaps and typically are made from a base. They are very gentle on fragrances and easy to color as the additives are not exposed to the chemical reaction of soap making. Often, these soaps are quite beautiful and allow for more creative and intricate designs as well as some fragrances that are not suitable for cold process soaps.  The high glycerin content of these soaps make them "sweat" if they are left in a humid environment. The glycerin soaps made by Bean Tree Soap are packaged in plastic wrap with a sticker label. It is very important with these soaps that they not be left in water.

Superfatted- This is a term used when a  soap has added extra oils or fats so that not all of them react with the lye. This is also called incomplete saponification. These extra fats make the soap more moisturizing. This is also what makes modern hand made soap better than "Grandma's Lye Soap", the soap that folks remember "taking the hide off of ya". Grandma did not have the means to get pure lye. She had to make her own from potash and often there was more lye than fats in her soap. Which made the soap very harsh on the skin, but great for cleaning. Today, handmade soap is almost always superfatted and much gentler on the skin. This is also why bars labeled as laundry soap should never be used on the skin.

Syndet- The term stands for synthetic detergent. This is what you currently purchase at the grocery store. Most of those bars are not really soap but rather, synthetic detergents. These are often labeled as "moisturizing bars", "beauty bars", or "body bars".  Check the ingredients on these items if you are trying to avoid SLS, a common irritant in high foaming detergent type products like bubble bath. Many solid shampoo bars are actually  syndet bars.