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In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire helping to cement Cleveland's reputation as the "mistake on the lake". It's a reputation that unfortunately overshadows what the city had been: an industrial powerhouse - maker of steel, automobiles, machine tools and more. It was a cultural center too, home to world-class museums and performing arts. But like other rust-belt cities, decline set in, punctuated by burning debris floating on the Cuyahoga.
We don't hide from that event, or those that led up to it. We know what we are and where we've been. But there's something that still lives in Cleveland. It's something that years of sports heartache can't bury. It's tempered but not destroyed by vanishing corporate headquarters and vacant buildings. It's grit, determination, and self-reliance, taught by those that made this city great, passed down to those of us that remain.
The same boldness that built an 81,000-seat sports stadium during the heart of the Depression is building world-class healthcare and biotechnology today. Manufacturing is still here, as are those cultural institutions. The vacant buildings are being redeveloped. People are visiting the city again for conventions and events.
We're even celebrating our first major sports championship in over 50 years.
But let's be honest here. We're a small soap maker, located in an inner-ring suburb just outside the city. We're not saving the world (though many in our metro area are saving lives). But as we thought about what we are as a company, and what drives us, it is the desire to make something, and in our own small way, help our area recapture some more of what it once was; to better ourselves and the place we call home.
And just to set the record straight, if you live in an industrial area that has a river, your river might have burned at some point in the past too. River fires were not uncommon. Yes... We have a bit of a chip on our shoulders. We're working on that. :)
So, how did we get started making soap? Well, it all comes down to genetics. I don't mean that we were born to be soapmakers - genetically programmed to make dynamite bath & body stuff. It's because of the dry, itchy, irritable skin my husband inherited. I tried to find soap that wouldn't irritate my husband's sensitive skin and found that many “soaps” weren't actually soap at all – many are “body bars” or “deodorant bars” that use synthetic cleansers to clean your skin.
The end result was Shannon's Soaps™ – actual soap made with quality ingredients. I've added other bath and body products, like hand made lotions, bath salts, and bath bombs, all made with a focus on mild skin care.
Our Soap (Trust Us, Lye's Not So Scary...)
What is Lye Soap?
The name "lye soap" is actually a bit misleading. The finished product (if you know what you're doing) actually does not contain lye, but the soap making process uses lye to chemically transform fats into soap. The end result is a soap that cleans naturally, needing no synthetic cleansing agents.
Is Lye Soap Harsh?
You might be wondering: “If lye is dangerous, isn't soap made using it harsh?” The short answer is no. As mentioned above, lye soap is made from a chemical reaction that involves lye and fats. Careful calculations and measuring ensure that when the reaction is finished, only soap (and no lye) remains.
More About It
My soaps are made using traditional, yet modern cold process techniques. The basic method is still the same as our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used: lye + fats = soap. Unlike generations past, however, we have access to fats and oils that they never did. They made their soaps with the animal fats that they had cheap, easy access to: tallow from beef or venison, lard from pork. Since we have moved away from our agrarian roots, those fats are harder to come by, though at least one of my soaps, the Oatmeal-Mint, does contain tallow. Tallow, in combination with other fats, makes a very lovely soap.
In addition to no longer being agrarian, we have moved away from using animal fats for other reasons, philosophical or otherwise. With the exception of the tallow, my soaps are made from vegetable oils, fats, and butters. Fats, oils, and butters are all composed chemically of fatty acids, of which there are several varieties, with their own properties. I choose oils for my soaps much the same way I choose which oils I cook and bake with.
Palm and coconut oils are two of the most prominent oils in my soaps for different reasons. Palm oil is high in palmitic acid, which when reacted with lye, forms sodium palmitate, which makes for a hard bar with stable lather. It also is high in oleic acid, which is conditioning. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid (sodium laurate after the lye reaction), which gives a hard bar with cleansing, fluffy lather.
The other oils I use: olive, castor, sunflower, and to a lesser degree, shea butter, cocoa butter, and macadamia nut oils, are chosen for similar reasons. Some provide more conditioning, where others provide better cleaning. It's the mix of oils I use that makes the soap so nice.
About Me (Shannon)
...or Why I'm Not Afraid of Lye
I graduated in 1997 with a degree in Chemistry with a minor in Biology from John Carroll University, in beautiful University Heights, Ohio. It was there I learned to have a healthy caution around dangerous chemicals, but not to be afraid of them. A healthy caution meant that one followed safety regulations, like wearing gloves and goggles, or working in a safety hood. It meant that one was careful so one did not have to strip and shower in front of everyone after one knocked over a beaker of a carcinogen or teratogen. It meant washing one's hands both BEFORE and after using the restroom. And it often included walking out of the science building after a four-hour lab on a Friday evening still wearing one's goggles, because, well, they were so darn comfortable.
I worked for a while in a transplant immunology lab after graduation, but then decided I would rather be a teacher. A couple years later, I earned a teaching certificate in English from Cleveland State and worked as a seventh grade teacher, teaching science and English (and doing other things, like coaching our writing team, or moderating Yearbook and producing it digitally) for seven years.
I have been a stay-at-home mom for a while now, with all the work that that entails! My wonderful daughter loves sneaking bath bombs out of my work area almost as much as her twin toddler brothers love destroying it. I also enjoy cooking and baking, and make a fabulous cheesecake. I also have a small reef tank in my living room. My corals are growing well, but so is the algae, of which there is more than I'd normally like.
Now that I'm busy making and selling handmade bath and body products, the algae situation isn't likely to improve (Who has the time?), but I'm happy to dust off my lab coat, don my goggles and rubber gloves, mix up some lye, and make wonderful soap for my friends, family, and you.