What’s up with the soap?

August 26, 2011

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on soap making. So much has been happening. I haven’t really been ready to talk about this publicly. Pretty much because I’ve been scared to. Scared that this business won’t happen. I’m still scared, but I’m tired of being quiet about it. So, I’m letting you in.

We’ve found a supplier for coconut oil out of Kenya. This was truly an answer to prayer that came through my Dr. Bronner’s contact in Sri Lanka.  We also have a wonderful shea butter vendor out of Uganda. I’ll be telling you more about these organizations once we’re under contract. Both vendors are addressing poverty in meaningful ways.

I’m in the midst of the permitting and licensing process with the city of Menlo Park. I’ve cleared the planning commission, and now I need to get the business license. I’m not sure what is going to happen next. But, I’m hopeful that we’ll have a business license soon.

We’ve also met once with an attorney to determine if the law firm is a good fit. We need to determine the legal business structure in order to submit the business license application. Charlie (my husband) is meeting with a tax CPA to go over the tax ramifications of our business structure.

Meanwhile, the type of shea butter that is produced in Uganda is different from the shea butter that I was using from Togo. It’s a different sub-species of shea nut. So, I’ve been making soap all week to make sure that this shea butter is going to work well. So far, I’m very pleased with the results. It’s been fun to be back in the swing of things with soap making.

The last time I gave you an update, I thought that we probably wouldn’t be moving forward. But, all the pieces seem to be falling into place. So, Charlie and I continue to put one foot in front of the other to take the next steps. Prayerfully. Listening. Discerning as best as we are able.  One thing I’m certain of is that God cares about the poor.  He cares about poverty alleviation.  If this business doesn’t go for some reason, we’ll move forward with whatever is next.  But, I do want to be involved in some way with Fair Trade and with addressing poverty through development.  It’s exciting for me to engage with people who care about this.  It gives me hope as I engage with vendors who don’t shrink from my hard questions.  Honestly, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be appreciating these vendors so much if I hadn’t gone through the process of vendor after vendor being unresponsive after I asked hard questions.

I’m wanting to do some writing surrounding areas that my (hopeful) customers will want to know about. I’m asking for your help here. First, I’ll let you know my list of topics that I think people will be curious about. Would you help me by letting me know areas that you want to know about, but that I haven’t covered? Second, as I write about these topics, will you point out areas that aren’t clear so that I can fix them? I’m using the blog as a way to examine what people want to know about organic, Fair Trade soap. I’ve never done this before, and I would love it if you would help me with my blind spots.  Please- ask the hard questions.  If you think of it, others will too.

Here are my list of topics:

  • Why do you have to use lye in soap?
  • The Frustrated Farmgirl story.  How did we get here?
  • Tell about each of our vendors.
  • What’s unique about handmade soap in general and Frustrated Farmgirl soap in particular?
  • What’s the line-up of scents?
  • Why the name Frustrated Farmgirl?

What am I not thinking of?    Thanks for your help!

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13 Responses to “What’s up with the soap?”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Wow, this is fascinating and heroic and humbling and beautiful. Thank you so much for inviting us in to share this walk with you and God.

  2. lauren Says:

    this is great news. i hope things continue to align for you.

    one more topic for your site is allergy information. i’m sure there are other people out there who, like me, need to know if the oats are gluten-free and things like that. ingredient lists, but also a discussion of processes to avoid cross-contamination can mean the difference between buying or not buying and may help you develop a following with this particular niche.

    • Robin Johnson Simpson Says:

      Thanks Lauren! I’ll definitely address that. It’s an issue with the shea butter- which comes from a nut.

  3. Laura Hale Says:

    It is such a privilege to follow your journey! Forgive me if you have already explained this, but I would love to understand all the pieces of your business model that are intended to reduce poverty. The vendor side is so awesome, and I think (?) you have mentioned potentially helping people set up their own small soap businesses. Am I crazy? I know your heart for poverty reduction, and I don’t want to miss any of the ways your soap business will address it. So thrilled this is moving forward!!! xoxo

    • Robin Johnson Simpson Says:

      Hey there friend- Thanks for asking! The main piece at this point is supporting Fair Trade via our vendors. Truly, that’s the thrust of it at this point. They’re all paying a premium wage over “fair market value”. I’ll be covering the detail on this as I introduce you to each of the vendors. Vendors that are truly Fair Trade also have to be addressing other issues that are associated with an inequity in opportunity, such as education, healthcare, childcare or maybe small business loans (for instance, to buy seed for the next planting season). Two of the vendors that I’m using provide small business loans (zero interest) with mentoring to get women into business. So, that’s the Fair Trade vendor part- honestly, the biggest part of our model at this point. And then there are the big dreams. I would love to have a non-profit that helps those in the margins- “I was naked and you clothed me; I was in jail and you visited me; I was hungry and you fed me . . . “. As an aside, I was at a graduation in May for San Mateo Community College District Adult School. So, so touching. Lots of people who had either had a child during high school, gone to jail, or been involved in gangs. They had all gone back to Adult School to finish high school. I would love to be able to fund scholarships for people like this who haven’t had the opportunity- but who have demonstrated the initiative to try to better their lives. Again- addressing those in the margins. My other dream would be to move production to the developing world in order to bring about even more jobs. And then there’s the dream about helping other Fair Trade businesses get going. If we can figure out how to make a go of it, it would be wonderful to take some of the profits to help others get Fair Trade businesses going. So, big dreams. We’ll see what happens. Frankly, it feels a little embarrassing to even write this- when I’m just making soap in my kitchen. First we have to make a go of this business in order to see any of that happen. Which means that we need to work hard and God needs to intervene on our behalf. We’ll see.

  4. Betsy Says:

    Hey Robin!
    Let me know once you are up and running (and I have full confidence that you will be) if you do “mail orders,” because I’d love to try out your product!
    Best of luck to you guys 🙂
    Betsy

  5. gabrielalavela Says:

    I haven’t been checking blogs in general over the last few months and just this morning I was wondering about your soap business. I am still interested in purchasing them once you launch. Thanks for the update!

  6. John Says:

    I think an interesting topic would be cost structure and what it takes to make a bar of soap using your approach. That might help people understand the reasoning behind how much you charge. I’m assuming they aren’t going to be “3 for $1” 🙂

  7. Andy Says:

    What is the process of becoming a Fair Trade vendor? Is there a certification process and who administers and oversees it? Are there followup inspections to make sure that a vendor, once certified, is following through on their commitments to Fair Trade?


  8. […] on the issue with my boots. My husband and I are in the process of selecting a legal structure for our new business. One of the structures we’re considering is a B Corp. Stated below is the B Corp Declaration […]


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