Traditional skills, modern ethics: making soaps and haircare for our times

Christie Rishworth’s laundry doubles as a busy production unit for her Earth Bar vegan soaps, skincare and haircare. Her own journey to find soap recipes that were gentle on skin and the environment, combined with her interest in traditional skills, has resulted in an Auckland-based business that fits her ethical approach and her family life.


 

 
What do you make?
I make handmade vegan beauty products. A lot of cold process soaps, body butters, lip balms, shampoo and conditioner bars made from plant based ingredients. All scented with essential oils that smell amazing!

How did you get into your craft?
My journey started around six years ago when I had scarlet fever and then a secondary skin rash. I had nine months of having a very red painful rash. I tried various things and everything made it worse. Making my own kawakawa skin balm was something that helped me get through that time and also the beginning of my beauty product journey. From there, I started looking at all of my skincare, soap and household cleaning products. I now make almost everything from scratch.

“I love the idea of using skills that have been around for centuries and keeping them alive.”

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No. I have always loved cooking and have always been very inventive in the kitchen. Coming up with soap and beauty product recipes is a little like cooking. I have read loads, and watched many hours of YouTube. I have had quite a few failed recipes but six years on, I love my products.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My husband made me my soap moulds and also my soap drying rack. I wanted my mould a certain size, so I drew a diagram with dimensions and he whipped them up for me. They are invaluable and are in constant use.


 

 
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing your products
The technique I use most often is called cold process soap. To make soap you need oils and an alkali. I particularly like ancient crafts, and soap making certainly is that. One source states that soap was first created by the Romans, who discovered it underneath a sacrificial temple on Mount Sapo. This story goes that animals were sacrificed, then burned at the temple on the hill – the resulting fats and wood ash combined as rainwater washed them down the hill. Townspeople washing their clothes in that part of the Tiber River found that their clothes were left much cleaner than elsewhere.

This is not quite how I make my soap! I use organic vegetable oils and an alkaline called sodium hydroxide (or lye). When combined, a process called saponification happens, creating soap. There is no sodium hydroxide in the final product. I use a combination of oils and butters to make a gorgeous, moisturising bar with a great lather.

What inspires you?
I am inspired by old skills and trades. I love the idea of using skills that have been around for centuries and keeping them alive.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
As a vegan, I want to make vegan products accessible to everyone. I aim to create something that will benefit you, your life and your planet.

Describe your creative process
I find inspiration can strike at any time, usually late at night when I’m trying to sleep. I have a notebook on hand, so I can keep track of thoughts, ideas and recipes.


 

 
Describe your workspace
I make most of my products in our laundry. It’s a space that wasn’t really being utilised. It’s a separate space to the house, completely insulated, has running water and also space for my ingredients and my big drying rack. We don’t use a dryer, so I don’t have to worry about the heat and lint mess a dryer can create.

Five words that describe your mind
Creative, busy, free and ever learning.

Your favourite feedback from a customer
‘I bought a body butter bar and I loved it! Can I please buy five more?’ When people come back for more, that’s usually a great sign.


 

 
What are you currently listening to?
With three teenagers, I rarely get to choose the music we listen to. If I’m with my youngest we’re usually listening to Weezer, If I’m with my middle child we’re usually listening to a 90s rock group – Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins etc. And if I’m with my eldest we are usually listening to worship music.

Recommend an album
If I get a chance to choose something to listen to, Lauren Daigle. I love her beautiful soulful sound.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I love Dr. Seuss. I loved them growing up and I love them now! I love how quirky and funny they are, but also so deep.

What are you reading now?
I am currently reading the latest Michael Connelly book, Dark Sacred Night. I have read all of his books, I love them!

A favourite quote
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”


 

 

 
Tell us about your pets
We have many pets that keep us very busy, and bring us hours of joy. Our very excitable retrodoodle dog Beau, our cat Tilly, our super cuddly lop-eared rabbit Patches, 15 uber-friendly sheep, 17 quails and 19 chickens. They all have names and are all a part of the Rishworth family!

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Be brave and just do it! I can be a bit of a procrastinator and I have learnt that it’s best to just jump in. You may make mistakes along the way but it’s all part of the process! Believe in yourself.

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
I think it’s very important to buy locally. When you buy local, it stays local. Your money helps businesses local to you, as well as your neighbours. You help feed their families, pay their bills, and put a roof over their family’s heads. Handmade items are usually made with love and often come with a story. By supporting people and their crafts, you’re supporting their dreams. You’re also possibly keeping old crafts and trades alive!

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
The last handmade item I bought was a candle from a market. I bought it from a boy who looked about eight. He had a little section of his mother’s stall. I asked his advice on which one I should buy, he pointed to his favourite fragrance, and I bought it. It’s delish!

What’s in store for 2019?
More markets, more recipes, more growing and more fun!

Special offer!

Christie has a great special offer for her Felt customers for the rest of this month: a generous 30% off all purchases from her Felt shop! Just choose your goodies from Christie’s gorgeous range of Earth Bar soaps, skincare and haircare, add them to your basket, and enter the code EARTHBAR30 in the voucher code field during checkout to receive your discount. Thanks Christie!

2 thoughts on “Traditional skills, modern ethics: making soaps and haircare for our times

  1. OH MY Goodness. I gave these a try….the beautiful products arrived yesterday and straight away my sons wanted to try and solid shampoo and conditioner. They are 8 and 10. They loved the products, and my youngest who has quite dry, hair thought his hair felt incredible. The liquorice soap smells gorgeous (haven’t cracked into it yet). Thank you so much for speedy service of stunning hand-crafted Love infused products. my youngest also has excema on his eyelids and this is just magical to help with the dryness.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words and your support. Im so happy that you loved my products and that it helped with your youngest excema 🙂

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