Carly of Fair & Square makes natural soaps using the traditional cold process technique. She and her husband (with their two children aged 8 months and 2 years) live near Ngunguru (Tutukaka Coast, Northland) on a small lifestyle block where they have built a lovely little “eco/passive solar/off the grid” home. She’s a full time mum, and manages to fit in making her soaps from her kitchen in between looking after the kids, animals, and gardens!
How did you get into your craft?
I was given a soap making kit as a gift about eight years ago, and was instantly hooked. I love that soap making combines chemistry with art.
Do you have formal training or qualification in your craft?
No. I quit all math and science classes at school as soon as I had the chance and never once imagined that chemistry would be in my future. I do a lot of research online into various things, including aromatherapy, different properties of oils, butters and how they react when turned into soap. In every batch of soap I make, I learn something new, and get a better feel of how the soap batter is behaving and why. Like any craft you never really stop learning and evolving.
Your favourite tools, materials and processes?
My all time favourite tool is a little hand held leather bound soap beveller. I like to bevel the edges of my soaps so that they glide smoothly from the very first use. After un-moulding the soap and cutting into bars, I run the beveller over all the sharp edges. It is monotonous and repetitive and I love it! The beveller sits so easy in the hand, and the texture and feel of the soap being peeled away is so calming and wonderfully meditative.
I also couldn’t work without my trusty old stick blender! I’ve had her from the very start of my soap making and she has helped to create every single batch of soap I have made. I never thought I would ever come to have feelings for a kitchen appliance, but this old Betty slowly and steadily whizzed her way into my heart.
Tell us about the techniques in producing your soap:
For a product that most of us use on a daily basis, very few people know what soap is and how it is made. True soap is created by the chemical reaction (saponification) that occurs when you mix lye (sodium hydroxide) and fats (animal or vegetable origin). It’s as simple as that.
Lye was traditionally made with hardwood ash and water, but was notoriously difficult to get right. The joy of modern soap making is that we can purchase lye that gives us reliable results every time. Lye is extremely caustic/alkaline on its own, but through the magic of chemistry (by combining lye with fats) an entirely new substance is created. In a saponified bar of soap there will be no trace of lye in it.
To produce a nice moisturising bar of soap, I add an extra 7-8% of oils to my recipe that aren’t bound up in the saponification, and so are floating around in the bar, free to love on your skin.
I create my recipes using a range of oils and butters that bring different values to the bar of soap. Some oils create a dense lather (castor) while others provide wonderful moisturising properties (avocado, olive). Coconut oil is a main ingredient in all my bars and helps to create a nice hard, long lasting bar with lots of fluffy bubbles. It is a constant juggle and balancing act to get the perfect combination of oils and create the ultimate soap bar.
Once the mixture is poured into the moulds, it needs to sit for 24-36 hours before being solid enough to remove from the moulds. Then the soap logs sit for a further 24 hours before cutting and bevelling. Once they are all dressed up, the bars sit for a further 6 weeks to create a lovely mild, long lasting bar that is heaven for your skin.
A bi-product of soap is glycerine, which is produced naturally during the saponification process. Glycerine is a humectant and so draws moisture from the environment to your skin. This means your skin feels hydrated and soft after the wash. In commercial soaps, the manufacturers remove this glycerine and use it to make higher value products like moisturisers, meaning the soap is super drying and harsh on your skin. In fact, many commercial ‘soaps’ are not true soaps at all, rather a combination of chemical detergents, artificial lathering agents and toxic chemicals. Considering the average person uses soap ten times a day- this is something we should be more wary of!
What inspires you?
I love both the simplicity and complexity of nature. I enjoy being able to experiment with ingredients from the natural world, and am especially captivated by the aromatherapy enigma. Coming up with new blends of essential oils that actually work and smell amazing is an ongoing quest. When I smell certain scents in nature, my thoughts instantly turn to soap and how I can capture that memory and recreate it in bubble form.
My fellow soap makers, who are forever raising the bar, (We see what you did there. – Ed.) also inspire me. I love following artisan soap makers on Instagram with their amazing creations. I have tried out many different techniques from things I’ve spotted through social media and YouTube instructional videos.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I aim to provide a little bit of luxury in peoples everyday lives. I wanted to create an experience that all my customers can not only enjoy, but also be sure that it is truly good for them. It’s near impossible today to get away from all the nasties in our world, and with a beauty industry heaving with products, I wanted to create something simple, honest and beautiful.
I choose to use therapeutic essential oils rather than synthetic fragrance oils because I believe that what nature has to offer is so remarkable, and I want to celebrate the splendour of these natural ingredients. I want to provide my family and friends and customers with a product that I am proud to put my name to and that is a joy to use.
In our throw-away culture, single use plastics (shampoo/body wash/liquid soap bottles etc.) are piling up in our landfills and making their way into our oceans and that’s just not ok, so all my packaging is cardboard and completely biodegradable. My packaging is 100% compostable, and in fact they work really well as seed raising pots that you can plant directly into the soil.
Describe your workspace:
I create my soaps at home, between the kitchen and the laundry. I call it a laundry but it has very little laundry hardware in there. We are in the process of building our home and the laundry isn’t finished yet, and so I have commandeered it for my soap workshop. At any one time I would have 500 or so bars of soap curing in racks and shelving, along with buckets of oils, bottles of essential oils, containers of clays and other natural additives and tools. It’s quite the mess. My goal is to have a designated soap workshop where I can create and store all my work tucked away in my soapy haven.
Five words that describe your mind:
Obsessive, motivated, dedicated, scrambled, and very much sleep deprived!
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I get so much lovely feedback from my customers; it gives me goosebumps to know that something I have created brings joy to peoples lives. Comments such as “Best smelling amazing soaps LOVE LOVE LOVE!” and “Best handmade soap ever, leave your body feeling amazing” and “This soap is DIVINE” just reinforce that I am on the right track.
What are you listening to?
An audiobook called: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s super interesting, and if you haven’t discovered the joy of audiobooks – you need to!
Recommend a book:
The Passage by Justin Cronin. It’s a dystopian fantasy, but don’t let that put you off! It’s easily the best book (it’s actually a trilogy) I’ve read in a long time. I couldn’t put it away (get it on audio and you’ll be finding any excuse you can to listen, including doing the dishes, weeding the garden, painting the house… All those monotonous jobs are suddenly very appealing when it means you can listen to your book!)
Recommend an album:
If you have children and value your sanity, then you can’t go past Anna Van Riels’ Cooking Up a Song. It’s super catchy and cute and you’ll find yourself singing along in no time. It is perfect for the car; it will stop meltdowns in their tracks. It’s a kids’ album that is actually really enjoyable for parents too.
What’s your favourite childhood book?
There’s a sea in my bedroom. I loved the illustrations and the utter joy at imagining having the real sea to play with in your bedroom. My daughter loves this book now too (I have the same copy from when I was a little girl), so any book that spans generations has got to be a goodie.
Who is your hero and why?
I’ve got to say that my husband is my hero. He’s dedicated, extremely hard working and he adores our kids. He is also exceptionally talented in making stuff (including our beautiful home). He is a creative genius and is forever dreaming up (and building) innovative projects that are both beautiful and functional. He also tolerates it when I bring home yet another animal, raise baby chicks in our bathroom, or bottle-feed orphaned baby guinea pigs that the cat brought in. He’s a keeper.
A favourite quote:
“Love her, but leave her wild.” – Atticus.
Tell us about your pets:
Our indoor pets include Levi the Italian greyhound, Charlie the border collie and Moss and Hazel; Persian x fluffball cats. Outside we have Honey, our milking cow, Marmite, Copper and Porsha (horses), Tinkerbell and Petal (mini ponies), a few free ranging guinea pigs, ducks and countless chickens.
If you were a crafty superhero what would your name and superpower be?
I would be Bubbles McWitchypants! Bubbles can collect and store therapeutic aromas from plants and use them to manipulate the emotions of her fellow humans. Bubbles could be the best weapon for peace the world has ever seen. Her specialty would be infiltrating terrorist groups to sooth their rage and anger with her herbal potions. Then they would all decide to go and take a nice afternoon nap rather than blowing each other to pieces.
Advice for those starting out a crafty business:
Create your brand, and live it. Don’t compromise on quality. Have a very clear philosophy about why you are in business and follow your heart. I think the best small businesses are true to their creator and this is one thing that helps to make them so successful.
Favourite handmade item:
I couldn’t be without my Japanese vegetable knife lovingly handcrafted by the super talented Peter Lorimer of Omakau. I use it every single time I cook. The bone handle sits with absolute precision in my hand and it is weighted to perfection. I will be one very happy mumma the day I have replaced all of my random knives with a simple and stunning set of Peter’s masterpieces.
What’s in store for 2017:
I have so many ideas crashing around inside my foggy mind that it’s hard to pin down exactly what I will end up doing this year. These include a shaving soap in a handmade ceramic refillable bowl, beer soaps made from local craft beers, naturally scented bath bombs, solid moisturising bars, natural candles and melts, probiotic solid-bar deodorant and essential oil massage blends. First and foremost, I will be spending all the time I can hanging out with our kids. In the greater scheme of things, they are the most important part of my day and I intend on soaking up as much of them as I can. So, in saying that, it is entirely probable that I don’t achieve any of my business goals this year. Or next year. But eventually, I will have a little more time to push my business and see where it will take me.
As a special treat for Felt customers for the next two months Carly is offering a whopping 30% off all Fair & Square products bought through Felt!
Enter the voucher code DIRTY30 at checkout to claim your discount.