Interview with Eleodia Flanagan of Siren Soaps Alaska
There was a bit of a gap between this and the last interview because I was out of state (getting some sun) but here's the next one with Eleodia Flanagan. We talked about how she gets inspiration for her soaps, the fact that we both like sci-fi and fantasy novels, and more. Let's go, let's go!
Introduce yourself and tell me about Siren Soaps Alaska, and how you got started.
ELEODIA: I'm Eleodia Flanagan, and I have Siren Soaps Alaska. And we're a small micro business on the east side of Anchorage. And we make soaps, and lotion bars, and body butters, and scrubs, and lots of bath bombs, and bath bomb cupcakes.
Very, very cool. Of all of those products, you started with the soap?
ELEODIA: Yeah, we started with the soap. My family actually homesteaded up here. So, I was raised in a don't-waste-anything household and a do-it-yourself household. And then, I also watched lots of members of my family have their own businesses, large and small. So, that was kind of a natural thing for me. And then, I used to help my sister-in-law and my mom at different craft shows and art shows. So, I kind of had an in into how to go about doing it and help with getting it started.
Yeah, totally. So, what was it specifically that you were like, "I want to make a soap"?
ELEODIA: Well, I have some background in cosmetics and fragrance. And then, so many members of my family are artists, and I love color. So, those kind of come together to make it a perfect thing for me. As well as making soap is a lot like baking in many ways, especially if you have to do more precision baking, be very precise with the chemicals, and understand the formulas. But those all come together to make it a really fun thing. And then, both my kids and other family members have very sensitive skin and numerous allergies. So, it started out with making a few batches instead of spending $12 or $20 on super fancy, expensive soap, and doing it myself. *laughs* And then, more people asked, and more people asked, and it just made sense to start expanding it. Plus, my husband said that my hobby has to pay for itself. *laughs*
*laughs* Well, there you go. So, how do you come up with your ideas? Where do you get your inspiration? And then, once you get going, what's your process like?
ELEODIA: Well, soap is kind of perfect for me because I can put a lot of forethought into the inspiration of color and fragrance. But then, you can cut it within two days. So, I see it right away. I get that instant -- it's like when you paint a room, and you get that instant gratification of how good it feels. And I get inspiration from all sorts of things. Like I get inspiration from nature, from a fun fragrance oil I try because I test out many, many fragrance oils that don't get there. It's kind of funny because I usually have, at least, 50 or so fragrance soaps at a time. *laughs* So, I may have a small problem with fragrance and really loving fragrance. But my customers seem to love it, and they seem to really enjoy having such a big selection. So, I have everything from our glacier soap, which is in a few of the boxes, which is peppermint and eucalyptus. And it's only essential oils. And it's colored with sea clay, and bentonite clay, and Kaolin clay, which, really, the Turnagain Arm was my inspiration for that and Portage Glacier. It's the colors and the freshness of those scents, that particular blend.
And the name too.
ELEODIA: And it could be a little tingling when you put it on your skin because of the peppermint. But then, I also have some blueberry-thyme fragrance. And that one, definitely, it's a creamy colored soap with dark, dark, purple-blue, like a great fresh Alaskan blueberry and a darker green. Blueberry plants have a darker green, so I kind of stayed close to nature with that. And then, sometimes, the color that I have will inspire me. I have a summer soap that I do every few years as a limited edition. And it has eight colors in it, like neon orange, and it looks like tie-dye, and it smells like ripe pear. And so, I was like, "What fragrance do I have that gives me enough time to work with my soap that I can do nine colors with?" *laughs* I could come about it in a lot of different ways, but I feel like there's always inspiration around in so many things.
Just have to open yourself up to it.
ELEODIA: Yeah. And, sometimes, my kids will ask for a specific thing. I mean, my littlest wanted to have a cherry lime fragrance. So, we made a cherry lime soap. Because then he bathes. *laughs*
Incentive! Sometimes, is it kind of an instant thing where you think about it, and you know exactly what you want and you can envision it in your mind as far as the colors and the whole theme behind the soap or does it sometimes take a bit more work to nail down an idea?
ELEODIA: It can go both ways. One of the hardest things about working with soap is fragrances like vanilla. Vanillin in vanilla turns brown when it hits the air. It oxidizes. So, I have to plan all of my vanilla scents around having a darker color in it, at least, to swirl around. And that can be difficult because, sometimes, it's like this kind of beautiful, fresh, strawberry-vanilla, and you want it just to be pink. Well, it can't only be pink. It's going to turn with some sort of funky brown. So, you have to figure out what your color pattern is going to be. And, definitely, there are some times that I text my girlfriends and be like, "Hey, what does grapefruit Bellini make you think of for a color?" because if you get it wrong, then people won't buy it because the color just doesn't jive with the smell.
It makes sense. So, let's talk about strawberry-vanilla again and needing to combine it with other colors. Was that something that you came through a trial and error? Like you did it one way the first time, and then you're like, "Oh, that's not going to work."
ELEODIA: Definitely. When I first get a new fragrance, I do test batches with it, so I can see what color it turns. And every so often, I'll have one not turn out the exact color that I wanted. And then, my family is really happy because they get to have that batch of soap. But, usually, by the time I get to my final product, I've messed around with it enough to know what I can do. So, when I did strawberry vanilla, I mixed a strawberry fragrance oil that doesn't discolor. And that was my pink and white part. And then, I took the vanilla and I put it in a little bit of black and so, it had like a little black swirl through the middle. So, you still get all of the fragrance when you're using the soap bar.
Gotcha. That makes sense. This is probably going to be a tough-to-answer question I imagine, but out of all of your soaps, do you have a favorite in particular or do you have favorites?
ELEODIA: I do have favorites. Warm flannel is one of my absolute favorites. And it's a very cozy-smelling, complex scent. It has everything from cinnamon to bergamot in it. So, it has some citrus and warm fragrances, spiciness. It's really hard to define that one, but it smells very cozy, especially in the winter to me. Another of my favorites is our signature ginger pop scent. It's kumquat and ginger ale. My oldest son actually helped me come up with that. And that's the fragrance that ROSE HIP Nail salon has of our tiny fizzies. We make little tiny bath bombs for them, and they put it in their pedicures.
ELEODIA: So, if you go to ROSE HIP, and you smell that, that's our signature ginger pop scent.
Right on. That's awesome.
ELEODIA: Yeah. And so, I also have a soft spot for the ducks because that was the first soap I made because my oldest had gone on a bath strike. And so, the duck kind of lured him into the bathtub, and it just seems happy. It's almost guaranteed to put you in a good mood, and it's very unisex. Everybody loves that scent. It's fizzy, and citrus, and fun.
Very cool. And you said your older son helps you sometimes?
ELEODIA: Yes. I'm a firm believer in kids helping out with businesses even if they're a small business and in things being kind of family-based. Even if I do love my time away when I go to Forest Fair without them. *laughs* And he was helping me do inventory. He was about five years old at the time, and I made him help me count the different fragrances when we were doing January inventory. And he just had smelt both of them. He was like, "Mom, you have to make a soap with these." I was like, "Really? Ginger ale, kumquat. Are you sure?" And he was like, "Please." I was like, "All right." The first ducks that I had made were unscented to try to make sure. I knew everybody was sensitive too. And so, yeah, we made a batch of soap, just regular soap with it, and it sold out, the whole bag, at our first open house. So, I was like, "All right." And it's become one of our signature fragrances.
Nice. You're like, "Any time you have an idea, I'm totally running with it."
ELEODIA: I do. I give them a lot of leeway, and I let them help because they think that, just like with food, when children help cook, they're more likely to eat it. The same works with things like soap and in business. I want them to understand that they can try things.
Yeah. Well, in the future too, if they have ideas down the road. They've been doing it, kind of like how you were saying, like, "I was involved in all these things." It's kind of the same thing, right?
So, when you were at The Spice and Tea Exchange the other day, and you were talking about -- it was the lemon verbena. You were talking about how that's particularly good in the kitchen for meats, and fish, to deodorize. Are there other soaps like that of yours where they're really good for a particular use?
ELEODIA: Yes, very much so. So, the lemon verbena with the citrusy scent has poppy seeds in it to give us some extra exfoliation. It's a great gardener soap and a great kitchen soap. The other one that's a great gardener's soap and kitchen soap is my espresso soap because coffee, also, will eat those odors. And I really love my espresso soap because, first of all, I love coffee. So, I love having things smell like espresso, but I also use Uncle Leroy's coffee in it. And he was actually with the blue bus at the first Muldoon Farmer's Market, and I was there as well. So, I've been drinking his coffee and enjoying it. And I started using that in the espresso soap. So, I like that it makes it extra local. Just like some of my soaps that really help if you have extra sensitive skin or have rashes, they have local honey in them. It makes it creamier and more soothing. And then, I also always have unscented soap for my people who are extra sensitive. So, we call it a Naked White Chocolate soap. It's a cocoa butter soap. So, it has a light chocolatey scent, but it's just fragrance-free. Sometimes, when you buy things that say unfragranced, they're unfragranced with a chemical process. So, if you're allergic to fragrance, you'll still react to it. So, we always have the Glacier soap. We always have Lavender soap. It's only essential oils and clays. And then, we always have one that has no color and no fragrance for our most sensitive people.
Very cool. Awesome. Yeah, it's good to have those options because, yeah, like you said, there are so many different allergies. People are just sensitive in different ways.
ELEODIA: There really are. It's nice to have something that's just very basic.
You mentioned Uncle Leroy. He bought a bit of ad space on the back of our product guides for our Midtown box.
ELEODIA: He's great. And so is Sweet Caribou right next door. Have you had their macaroons? They're amazing. They deliver. So, that's actually a really cool thing too instead of flowers. And they also deliver salads for lunch. They have like a little mini macaroon in them. But yeah, they're right next to Uncle Leroy now and they also -- I used to also do the Spenard Farmer's Market, and they would be there a lot of the times when I was there. So, we would sneak over and get a macaroon. They're so good, and they're in the same area. They're like a door or two between. So, you can get a macaroon, and then get a beautiful latte.
That's a good combo!
ELEODIA: Yeah. And I love how he roasts very small batches, like 2-pound batches. So that's really cool.
That's awesome. It's very cool. So, as far as events, are there any upcoming events that you can mention?
ELEODIA: I have an open house coming up on February 9th. It's a Three Ladies Open House. We do them two or three times a year. My sister-in-law has Threads of Fancy, and my mom has Boniface Studio. And so, we always do something together. And then, I'll be doing the Muldoon Farmer's Market usually every other weekend when summer starts, and Forest Fair every year. I always do the Girdwood Forest Fair.
Nice. So, for 2019, do you have any new things on the horizon, maybe something you can tease? If you're able to.
ELEODIA: So, we have some new lip balms coming out soon, which is exciting. And we experimented with some new combinations. And we always have limited editions for new fragrances that come out. So, we're working on those right now and getting them set up. It takes four to six weeks for the soap to cure. So, I'm working on the spring fragrances right now.
Nice. So, you do limited edition stuff and you just have them until they run out?
ELEODIA: I just make one batch. So, I'll make anywhere from 15 to 20 bars only, of that particular scent, and that's all that there is. Unless you custom order. We also always have new bubble bomb fragrances come out. So, that's a really -- I don't know if you've seen our cupcakes.
I think I saw pictures because I was looking through Facebook. And so, I saw pictures of them.
ELEODIA: Yeah. So, those are really fun because the cupcake part is a bath bomb and the frosting is solid bubble bath. So, you get everything in one. And I make them with cocoa butter and mango butter. So, they're really, really soothing and great in the winter especially. So, those will have new fragrances. Right now, we have Mermaid Kisses, Fizzy Watermelon Lemonade, which is ginger ale, watermelon, lemon, which is super, super awesome. And we always have Lavender Vanilla. Those are the three that we have in stock all the time. But we're working on maybe a strawberry and champagne for going into the summer. And maybe our Alaska Springs, which was one of our most popular fragrances. It's like not an ocean scent. It's like a freshwater scent with a little bit of green moss, and grass, and violet. So, it's just really nice.
You're out at the lake, and it's...
ELEODIA: Yes. You're grilling and fishing, actually, is more what I think of. Like you're in the mountain grilling and fishing, and it's like this beautiful fresh scent of the mountain. That's what that one is going for. And it's always one of our most popular fragrances. We're looking at maybe doing it in the bath bomb too.
Awesome. How often is that happening where you decided that you want to take an existing scent and put it in a bath bomb.
ELEODIA: More often. *laughs* Sometimes, it's customer requests. I make a black raspberry vanilla soap bar, and I had so many customers who requested that in a bath bomb that I was like, "All right. I'm doing it. Yes, you can have it in a bath bomb." And then, sometimes, it's color. I'll say like, "Oh, I have all yellow bath bombs. I need to make something pink." And so, I'll go, and I'll find fragrances that sounds pink to me, and we'll go about it in that way.
Got you. Get that variety, basically. So Siren Soaps, how did you come up with the name?
ELEODIA: So, I've always loved mermaids. It's a thing. And kind of an Alaska girl thing, but I also was raised to be able to take care of myself if I need to. And I think that sirens are not as helpless as mermaids. They definitely can defend themselves. So, that's why it was siren instead of doing a mermaid soap because I had thought about doing something with mermaids and bubbles, but I think siren has more oomph.
Yeah, totally. Very cool. I always like to hear the story behind the name.
ELEODIA: I was one of those kids and teenagers and still that always has some sort of fantasy novel or sci-fi novel. So, it's just the right alley for me. *laughs*
Those are my favorite genres too! As far as the business itself, for as long as you've been doing it, what would you say has been your favorite part of starting this business, starting this journey with Siren Soaps?
ELEODIA: I would have to say there are two things. One of them is seeing the look on people's faces when a soap triggers a sensory memory, a good sensory memory. They just get this happiness on their face or this glow. And it's just this great feeling. And that goes along also with my repeat customers. I love seeing my customers that come back because I know I did a good job if they come back for it. But I have to say I also really, really love the small business, and kind of the cottage industry, and crafting community here. They've been amazing. Like in so many places, I hear other people where people are catty with each other.
Cutthroat. Yeah, they don't understand that you can have more than one small business, and they help each other. You can even do the same thing.
ELEODIA: Yes. Yeah. People always are shocked at me when I buy soap from someone else. Like you can give 10 soapers the same three oils, and fragrance, and three colors, and they will have completely different lathers that look different, that feel different because we all have our own thing. And it's been a really amazing community. We have some of our soap in Dos Manos, and they have all local artists. And when I did a pop-up there, everybody was so welcoming and helps each other out. If somebody left a tablecloth at home, somebody else will have one. People cover for each other, and they're so helpful with each other. And I think that's a real Alaskan thing. Having been raised here, we would always kind of look out for each other. Somebody's broken down on the side of the road, you pull over and help them. And it has that same feel.
Yeah, I agree. I totally feel the same way. And that's a really good lead into my next question. What was it about the Bear Box that made you want to be part of it?
ELEODIA: I confess, I love subscription boxes. They're the best thing ever for me, especially up here in the winter. In the winter, you don't want to go to 10 different places and get 10 different things. And it's nice to try some little smaller bits of things instead of big ones to commit. And then, in the summer, I feel like we're so busy trying to be outside as much as possible. But there's the opposite problem. You're outside, so you don't want to be inside doing things. And the idea of doing things that are very local has always appealed to me. That's why I try to do the Muldoon Farmer's Market because of my family homestead on the east side. I was raised on the east side. I live there now. I've lived other places and end up moving back there. So, I love doing that market and using the coffee beans from Uncle Leroy or buying honey from the market, that sort of thing. And so I love the idea of Bear Box.
ELEODIA: Yeah. I was really, really excited. At first, I was like, "Do call me." *laughs*
Yeah, for sure. Every time we would come to an event, or LeeAnna would be somewhere, or Monica would be somewhere, and they'd always come back, "I talked to so and so and they were so pumped up." That's always a good feeling too. I mean, the products are really cool, and great, and awesome, and that's part of what makes this a lot of fun, but the community part of things is really great too. It's kind of like what you were saying with the community me being so tight-knit, the people wanting to help each other out, and being supportive. And this gives us another way to connect with everybody. Now, with our Facebook group, I love when I see someone from one business commenting on or liking a post from another business.
ELEODIA: It is funny cause people are down sometimes about social media and Facebook, but I feel like, for me, with the business, it's been a very positive thing. People can find me. I can contact them. I have people who want custom orders all the time. They're sensitive to something, a baby shower coming up, and they want something special for it or something like that. And so, it really lets you be in more places, kind of. You don't have to track somebody down. And people don't want to use their phone half the time anymore.
Right. I mean, sometimes people will say that it makes people less social and things like that. Not everybody is necessarily a super social person.
ELEODIA: Right. And you can block people who are negative. You just have to use it in the right way. All tools have to be used in the right way. It's been really good for us. We get a lot of our event stuff from people on Facebook and Instagram. That's where people keep track of what our events are and what we do.
Especially Instagram too. Obviously, you can post pictures on Facebook, but when you have something new, and cool, and you're sharing it, and got all the different colors and the variety.
ELEODIA: Yeah. And then, people, if they've seen something, they can pull it up on their phone and like, "This is the soap I wanted to try." We try to do Wet Soap Wednesdays. So, I take a picture of a soap when it's still wet because it starts with a liquid, and it turns into a pudding consistency before it sets up. So, I try to take pictures during the process. Then, people also can kind of demystify it and see what you're doing.
Behind the scenes.
ELEODIA: Absolutely. I'm just terrible at trying to get all of the behind-the-scenes pictures. You get so focused sometimes. Like, "Oh, I wanted to take a picture of doing that swirl."
Oh yeah, I'm sure. So, any final things that you'd like to mention that we haven't already talked about, or maybe any wisdom that you'd like to share?
ELEODIA: You just have to go for it. Certainly, take your family into consideration and everything. My business is growing around how my kids grow. The more they go to school, the more time I have to do other things. But you can start off in a micro-business, and small, and keep going, and make some really great contacts.
Networking and baby steps.
ELEODIA: We have great people up here. We really do.
Well, it comes back to people wanting to help out.
ELEODIA: Yes, exactly. And buy Bear Box. *laughs*
*laughs* Yes. Yeah. Thank you.
ELEODIA: I love that you're doing Alaska stuff. I think it's very cool.
Thank you very much. All the idea credit goes to LeeAnna. That's all her. She brought me on board, but the original idea is hers.
ELEODIA: I put the video of Nathan helping me unbox on my private account, and I had five people like, "What is this? Where's the website? How do I get it?" because they're my friends who moved out of state. And I think as it grows, I think you'll get a lot of people like that that have moved out of state or want a taste of it.
Agreed. It's been pretty balanced so far for subscriptions. But I feel like, in the long run, those will likely be the core of our subscribers.
ELEODIA: People want a taste of Alaska. They always have.
Either people who have never been who are excited about it and want to know more about it, or the ones, like you said, who has been gone for a while, and miss parts of it, and want that taste back.
ELEODIA: Yeah. Like when you did Kobuk, I was like, "Yay, Kobuk." And then, it's exciting to have the coffee, but, man, that samovar tea, that's what Kobuk is to me. That would be the sensory memory for me because that's what was always brewed when you went down that was free, and that's what it always smelled like before they merged the two stores.
It brings you back.
ELEODIA: Yeah. The samovar tea, and the candy jars, and stuff, that's what it was.. And I think you'll get people who, like some of the older businesses that you're like, "Oh my gosh. I remember that place."
Right, yeah. Well, thank you, Eleodia. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me and answer some of my questions.
ELEODIA: Thank you.
Thank you for being in our box and wanting to be a part of it.
ELEODIA: I'm really excited about it. I think it's going to be awesome.
Yeah, really, really pumped and really excited for everyone to get the soaps. There's a lot of varieties. So, I think, everyone's probably getting something different, which is nice. And yeah, we're excited.
ELEODIA: I tried to make it so it'd be a surprise no matter what. *laughs* Thanks again.
I just want to thank Eleodia for sharing her awesome soaps with us. Lots of variety! If you want to see more of what she has to offer, check out her Etsy shop. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.