Like so many artisan crafters, Merryn Oliveira is very much in tune with the idea of “buying local”, and supporting one’s local economy. And she likes to give some of it back.
It was during her own school years that Merryn first learned about soap-making, through Girl Scouts, but it wasn’t until years later at college that she tried her hand at it again, while she was studying chemistry. “Pretty soon I had more soap than I knew what to do with”, she recalled, and she started giving it away. Soon, friends and family were paying for their reorders.
She’s still fascinated by the chemistry of the process of saponification. “While there’s a formula to it, it is still an art; the coloring, flowing--not every batch is the same, depending on the weather outside. It keeps you on your toes.” One of her specialties is her line of wine soaps which she private labels for some of the vineyards in her region, using their actual wine in her formulas and designing labels to match those on the bottles. “It’s a bit of a challenge –you have to boil out the alcohol – and it takes a little bit of extra care, but people are really impressed.” She also makes a soap using Absinthe – a personal favorite.
With a full time career in the health care field, she still works production on a smaller scale – working at home around child-care and nap schedules (right now she’s on maternity leave, with a two-month old at home!)—but her product line has grown quite a bit in response to suggestions and requests from her customers. Merryn finds the message boards at WSP are a great resource for finding recipes, and getting ideas for new scents. “My best sellers? By far the Creamy Sugar Scrub: it flies off the counter at shows, and the cold process soaps. People in this area are into craft brands and hand batched products.”
She concentrates her show schedule around the fall and winter seasons, and likes to choose shows that give back – donating a portion of her sales to the host venue or organization. Lately, she’s also taken on another cause: 30% of the purchase price of a specially-curated collection of products on her website will be donated to breast cancer research. Merryn herself was diagnosed last November, when she was 33 weeks pregnant, and she is currently undergoing chemotherapy. “There’s so much you can’t control”, she says but credits her soap-making as therapeutic, and a way to take back a little bit of control in a different part of her life.
ROBIN M LENHARD is a freelance business writer, based in Buffalo New York, and is a board member of Artists in Buffalo, Inc. Robin wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.