A Humble Beginning
It all began in September 2003 when my creative spirit took wings, and I bravely stepped out into a new venture. With being a homemaker, but having no children, I needed responsibility of interest. I already made candles for my own use. I had tried a few batches of soaps, and I knew I wanted to try and sell them, but I had very little faith that anyone would want to buy them. I made numerous small batches of the melt and pour glycerin soaps and filled a large container with the finished soaps. Once the box was full, I knew the next step was needed.
I put the soap filled container on my express wagon and pulled out along the country road. I pounded in a small, crude sign with black letters painted on saying “Soap and Candles.” I stood back to see what would happen. The first day two curious customers stopped, and each one made a purchase. My heart was thrilled! I was inspired to keep on. A month later, when cold weather set in, I had to move indoors with my display of soaps. I set up a table in our enclosed porch, adjoining our kitchen. I added new scents to expand my line. When someone from as far away as Oklahoma found us and stopped, I again was encouraged. Locals showed support and purchased Christmas presents for family and friends.
A year or so later, I wanted to try the true soapmaking, all made from scratch, which involved working with lye and all the raw ingredients. After one batch, I was hooked. My creative spirits soared while designing new soaps for color and texture.
Next, I added lotions and salves to my line. I did research on the value of wild plants and herbs, creating my own formulas from the results. In the beginning, I would wild-craft or grow all my own plant material used in my soaps and salves until the demand outweighed my limited labor. Now I bury most of my herbs in dried bulk volume.
A Growing Business
What started as a hobby, I soon valued as a business. I chose the name “Garden Path Soap”. For years I’ve kept the name “alive” by strolling down my garden path to pick herbs for soapmaking.
The first five years I struggled in finding enough sales. Then wholesale orders started coming in, and retail picked up. My soapmaking kitchen was upstairs. In another bedroom, the furniture was removed. I installed the shelving for my soap curing racks and for supplies. As the demand for my products grew more and more, supplies needed to be carried upstairs. Purchasing 25 or more 5-gallon buckets of soapmaking oils at a time, 50-pound slabs of wax, dozens of jars and numerous other supplies, it became a tiresome chore and strained the muscles in my back.
The porch showroom was also bursting at the seams. My display shelves were packed. More than three or four people shopping at a time made it crowded. A change was needed. In 2014, 11 years later, the business was moved to the current location of approximately 1700 sq. ft. With it now being all on one level, much larger workspace and storage area, it significantly improved production. The retail store is four times larger and allows for a less congested shopping experience.
The Making of Natural Homemade Soaps
Soap making is traditional art, made with fats or oils, lye (sodium hydroxide, originally derived from wood ashes), and water, milk or another liquid. Lye is a key ingredient to turn the oils and water into soap. It is a harsh ingredient that must be handled carefully. When mixed with water, it automatically heats up to 275°. That’s too hot for soapmaking. We let it cool to around 100°. Oils need to be at the same temperature for soapmaking to begin. Mixing the cool lye water into my pot of oils, I need to stir quickly. After some time, the mixture starts to thicken. It’s poured into the molds. When all my 12 molds are filled, I cover them with blankets to preserve the heat so the lye can continue to do its job.
Fresh, raw soap is still quite harsh. I let it sit overnight, and by the next day, it still feels warm but has firmed up. Though still somewhat soft, it’s at a perfect stage to cut into bars. We use a homemade wire string cutter. Next, each bar is polished along the edges and put on the curing shelves. There it sits, and air dries for 3 to 4 weeks or longer. As the water evaporates out, the bar hardens and will then last longer while using.
Are Lye Soaps safe and natural?
I get lots of questions of how these soaps can be called a safe and natural when made with such a harsh ingredient. It’s an honest question, and it’s my pleasure to explain it.
You cannot make soap without lye. The lye is only active for a day or two. Once it has turned the oils into actual soap, it will then dissolve out. In other words, it neutralizes. The PH drops down. Then it is safe to use. There should not be any lye left in the properly made soap. I also add extra oils—more than the lye can use up. This makes a milder soap and helps condition the skin. I hear it again and again from customers of how these soaps have helped with eczema, poison ivy rashes, dry skin, etc. I also make a shampoo bar soap, which helps with dandruff, dry, and itchy scalp.
Visit Garden Path Soaps
A unique treasure trove of homemade natural soaps, handcrafted in small batches. Over 30,000 bars are made per year. From herbal lye soaps to extensive glycerin varieties, you will also find herbal salves, lotions, lip balm, bath salts, body scrubs, natural palm wax candles, gift items and more—all made on site in our working kitchen.
I have three part-time workers. Wednesday and Thursday are our big days of production, which is when I have help. If you stop by on these days, you might find us either making batch after batch of lye soaps, until my 12 wooden bold boxes are filled (that’s a total of 145 pounds or 480 bars), or else cutting up these big blocks into individual bars. Alternatively, the worktable might be laden with hundreds of jars of salves waiting to be capped and labeled. Lotion might be in the making. It can also look like a patchwork of color when a new batch of candles are made, all in colorful rows waiting to be labeled with the hangtag tied one.
Stop by to watch us make our products and thrill at the shopping experience where the sniffs are FREE. Choose from our large selection of over 65 fragrances in various products we create here at our facility:
Garden Path Soap
342 Beechdale Road
Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505
~Sylvia B. Fisher