We had the good fortune of connecting with Jana Hester and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jana, we’d love for you to start things off by telling us something about your industry that we and others not in the industry might be unaware of?
True from scratch cold process soap has a minimum 4 week curing time. Our soaps are cured 4-12 weeks minimum, some up to six months. Cure time allows several things to happen: The soap dries out, losing moisture as it tries to equalize to outside moisture percentages. The drier the bar, the harder it gets and the longer it lasts in the shower. The pH changes as soap cures (lye is very alkaline). The longer soap cures the more gentle and ideal the pH becomes for skin. Soaps in the Castile family (olive oil based) take longer to cure. We’ve done Castile soaps that cure for a full year. Bastille is our favorite recipe, it cures a minimum of 12 weeks. Keeping this in mind, we are always at least three months ahead of the season to allow for full cure time. Christmas soaps start in August….custom orders take 4-8 weeks to be ready.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Using two techniques definitely sets me apart as a soap maker, both techninques are 100% from scratch (no box/pre-mixes are used, EVER). Soap is time consuming to make, time consuming to cure. It’s a labor intensive job, heaving 28#, 35# and 44# buckets along with lifting heavy slow cookers and full molds. However the time and effort put in is well worth the end results. I’m never in such a hurry that quality is sacrificed for a faster option. People expect “handmade soap” to be made from scratch and made by hand. I want my customers to know that they are getting legit from scratch product, not a box mix. This year we’ve focused on going back to basics with the company…focusing a lot on unscented bars. Unscented doesn’t have to be boring! We’ve got unscented soap made with cucumber, aloe, tomato, carrot, beer and beyond! Lovely colors come through using natural ingredients, leaving it unscented is ideal for the most sensitive skin. We’ve even got a cold process version of Aleppo soap, an olive oil based soap in the Castile family. The inclusion of laurel berry oil sets it apart, and the oil is VERY strongly scented, coming through cold process nicely. The end result is an unscented bar with a wonderful scent! Getting here was not easy…we’ve just come through an awful business year. We are hoping for a miraculous sales year so you see us next year. Arriving at this point wasn’t easy, I don’t think being a small business is ever easy or a sure thing. Lessons learned…..soap makers are at the mercy of nature and our suppliers. We’ve seen lavender triple in price due to drought. Olive oil changes in color constantly due to the weather, we are often asked why a bar changes in color or smell slightly from one batch to the next- this is why. It’s not a chemical based creation made on an assembly line with a machine. Rather, it’s a completely handmade item subject to change from using botanical plant based ingredients. Folks also wonder about price… when suppliers have to increase price we are forced to increase. We saw this severely over the past year. Coconut oil is about to go up again (a main ingredient in soap) and we have no choice but to increase our prices reflecting that. Personally I am sticking to my guns on my standards- I won’t compromise ingredients no matter what. Quality is my number one priority, and price increases are part of using the best things I can find. I also strive to use small business suppliers to create a circle of small businesses being supported with just one bar of soap …one bar of soap makes a huge difference! Fun fact: soap making is a family tradition here at Little Cabin Soaps. My grandmother made soap including her own laundry soap. Mom majorly expanded on soap and has a wide array of cold process bars in stock all the time. I took it to the next level with cold and hot, eventually it became my full time job.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Hmmmm the best time ever? We’d have breakfast at Cafe 2535 in downtown Buckeye. After that we’d pop next door to Screws & Sparkles and buy a ton of stuff, all handmade. That shop is incredible and I adore the fact that everything in there is handmade from a small business! What a beautiful circle does that create?? Love it. Then we’d hit Brass Armadillo to look at antiques, hoping to score a ceramic Christmas tree or two….. Drinks we’d definitely stop at TCBC for a beer or two! Scale & Feather Meadery is a MUST, we’d be there at least twice for a flight of mead and soaking in the ambiance. Cannot sing the praises enough of the owners and mead at that place! Walking, we’d walk and walk and walk. Nothing better than perfect weather and fresh air! Dinner….no clue. Fun fact: I’m a SUPER morning person and in jammies by the time most people are starting dinner.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My mother deserves all the credit. She is a soap maker, I’ve been making soap as long as I can remember. Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico – my parents still live there and mom is making soap regularly! I was raised making soap using the cold process method, so that’s as familiar to me as baking cookies. Several years ago I taught myself hot process, forcing saponification using heat (via a slow cooker). I had the pleasure of teaching my mom this method……….it was awkward teaching my teacher who also happens to be my mom! We now both make soap using both methods regularly. They yield different looking results and one method allows softer scents to come through, along with brighter colors. But cold process is my first true love. We talk soap regularly and bounce ideas off of each other constantly. We troubleshoot together, share successes and new things we find that we love.