Are you being greenwashed?
So asks the Summer 2008 issue of “Soap Dish,” published by The Soap Fairy owner Scott Blackson. The Soap Fairy has been unconsciously green since its humble beginnings in 1997, when Blackson would drop off soap he had made to friends and family or leave it as a tip in a restaurant — hence the name, The Soap Fairy.
Blackson emphasizes that the word “green,” and its counterpart “natural,” are unregulated and therefore meaningless.
“Anyone can say anything is ‘natural,’” said Blackson. “It means nothing. I always tell my customers, ‘Read your labels!’ What it says on the front of the product is what they want you to believe is true. Read the ingredients. What they says here is what the government forces them to tell you about the products. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, is it really something you want to put on your skin?” he asked.
The Soap Fairy makes all of their soaps from a simple blend of olive, palm and coconut oils. Sodium hydroxide is added and, according to Blackson, the “batter is stirred much like one would make cookies or cake.” Then oxides or mica (a glittery component) is added, as are the colors, herbs and essential oils.
“It’s kind of like the chocolate chips when you are baking cookies,” he explained of the latter ingredients. The mixture is then poured into molds. The molds are incubated for 24 to 48 hours to generate heat, and — voila! — handmade soap.
Blackson then cuts the soap with a block-cutting machine, and the soap is labeled and put into flats, from which it should be sold within three months. Because there are no preservatives, Blackson recommends using the soap within a year.
The soaps are noticeably free from sodium laurel sulfate, a sudsing agent that is in everything from toothpaste to laundry detergent to body wash and shampoo, and depending on the research, can be blamed for everything from dry, irritated skin to gene mutations. It is also free from animal fats, something that was important to Blackson, who is a vegetarian.
“I had been a vegetarian for 25 years, and I thought, ‘There has to be a way to make vegetable-based soap,’” explained Blackson, after he had a signed up for a soap-making class while pursuing his master’s degree in natural health. “Christmas that year, I gave it away, and people started to say ‘I’d buy that.’ One thing led to another, and we incorporated in January 1997.”
In addition to having control over the ingredients in his soap, Blackson also enjoys the art of blending the colors and textures and scents. Currently, The Soap Fairy offers more than 60 different varieties, with some of the most popular ones being Lavender, Lavender Oatmeal, Citrus Sunrise and Ocean Breeze.
The Soap Fairy has grown from its humble beginnings and now employs seven people. It offers soaps, lotions and body scrubs for both men and women. They have wholesale agreements in Colorado, Asia and at home in Delaware. In addition to the retail store and manufacturing plant in Milford, customers can purchase exclusive scents made with lavender from local grower Lavender Fields from their store in Milton.
Blackson also teaches soap-making classes in Washington, D.C., and although his love is mixing and blending scents, he also personally manages day-to-day operations, such as payroll, bills and employees.
As for other “green” aspects of the business, all paper used by The Soap Fairy is printed on both sides; Styrofoam peanuts are collected from other area stores and re-used; and instead of just sending cardboard to recycling, they are re-using packages to send out shipments. While not everyone may be keen on the idea of receiving a gently-used package, Blackson said it is important to him to be conscious of waste.
“It’s baby steps. And there is a little bit of stigma, especially in Lewes, where you have stores with these beautiful plastic shopping bags. Just recently we switched to a plain white paper bag — we were handing things out in Walmart bags. It’s just the right thing to do.”
As for the peanuts, he said, “We already have enough of them to last the next million years,” so why not try to re-use them?
He admits that he is not purist by any means, but as a business owner and an artist, he knows that compromise is what will keep them afloat.
“You have to balance what people want with the best, healthiest way to get it. I have soap-maker friends who are purists, but the bottom line is people don’t want to buy beige soap. You can’t be an eco-friendly business if you are not a business.”
The Soap Fairy Inc. has two locations. The Lewes retail store is located at 130 Second Street and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Milford manufacturing plant and retail store is located at 215 N. Rehoboth Boulevard, just north of Route 14. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. p.m. Orders can be taken online as well, at www.soapfairy.com.