Interview with Melissa Stewart of Alaska Soaps & Scents
Our next interview is with Melissa Stewart from Alaska Soaps & Scents! As the name might indicate, she makes soaps, lotions, and candles. If you got a Eagle River/Valley box, you know that it was lotions that made it in! We talked about the differences of using goat milk, the Iditarod(!!!), and more. Without further ado!
Tell me a bit about yourself, Alaska Soaps & Scents, and how you got started?
MELISSA STEWART: I am currently a stay-at-home mom with an adorable daughter and an amazingly supportive husband. I got started with Alaska Soaps & Scents thanks to a friend of mine who was helping us with our dog team in exchange for helping her out. I had mentioned that I wanted to learn to make soap for us personally and she mentioned that she and her mom used to have a business selling goat milk soap, so she taught me how to do it and we started the partnership. After she went back to college full time, I took over the business full time and it is now my business and I have been thoroughly enjoying it and learning and growing with it.
That's awesome! As things progressed and your business partner moved on, did you feel like it was a no-brainer for you to keep the business going? Especially seeing as how you enjoyed it and were experiencing success.
MELISSA: Yes, it was our plan from the beginning that it would be my business after a certain date because she had no long-term plans to stay in state, and I wanted a business I could do at home and earn an income and train dogs. This has also progressed to being a stay-at-home mom.
How does goat milk soap differ from other soaps?
MELISSA: Goat milk soap differs from other soaps in that the goat milk is a natural moisturizer. The milk in my soaps is from my own goats which I milk myself. We also use all natural ingredients so there is nothing in our soap that will dry out your skin or leave a residue on your skin. It lathers beautifully and does an amazing job cleaning you. My whole family, including my almost 2-year-old daughter, uses the soap and I think she is more soap obsessed then I am.
You talk about cold process soaps on your website and that that is what your soaps are. What's that process like compared to others? Did you choose a cold process out of necessity or preference?
MELISSA: Cold process means that we do not use heat in the process of making our soap. We actually start with our goat milk frozen when we make the soap and use the sodium hydroxide to melt the milk and then combine the mixture with the oils and mix them together until they are well blended. We then add color and/or scent depending on what soaps we are making and then put them in the mold. The trick in cold process is to keep it as cool as possible so that it doesn't do what is called rushing and tries to make soap in the bowl.
That's very cool. When you're keeping it cold, does it always just start frozen and then you begin the process, or do you have to do more to maintain a colder temperature throughout?
MELISSA: We try to keep it as cool as possible throughout, however the sodium hydroxide with the milk heats up and you have to get all the oils to a liquid so it isn't exactly cold but we try to keep it as cold as possible so as to keep it from getting ahead of us and turning into soap in a bowl.
What's been your favorite moment so far since you started this business and journey?
MELISSA: I love being able to engage with my customers, and educate them about my soaps. Another favorite thing now is watching my daughter get so excited about getting to work with the soaps and help me set up or take down at events or just simply smell the bars or soap.
What places can we typically find you and your products throughout the year?
MELISSA: The best place to consistently get our soaps is to order online. I do events throughout the year and we will be at the Alaska State Fair again this year. I try to post some kind of event schedule on our Facebook page. If you want to find out where we are going to be you can always message us on Facebook.
I read on the website that you've completed the Iditarod more than once! I've never talked to anyone personally that's completed it. I know it's unrelated, but can you tell me a bit about what that experience is like?
MELISSA: Iditarod is an amazing experience to which there is nothing to compare. I love my time out on the trail and I am looking forward to running at least one more race. The last one I ran I was pregnant with my daughter. You really learn more about yourself then you ever wanted to know out on the trail. I consider it spending 10 days out in the middle of nowhere with God and 16 (well 14 now) of my best friends. Also a fun fact, I am the youngest female to finish the race.
Wow, that's amazing! What made want to take part in the Iditarod that very first time?
MELISSA: I was born and raised in Nome, AK and my dad ran Iditarod the year I was born and has been Nome coordinator for as long as I can remember so growing up Iditarod was just a part of life. I was so excited when I learned about the Jr. Iditarod and I funded my 4 Jr. Iditarods by making and selling homemade bread and also selling newspapers. I won the 2005 Jr. Iditarod when I was 15 and finished in the top 5 my last 2 races and then went and ran my first Iditarod in 2008 when I was 18 for all of 2 weeks.
Out of all of your products, do you have a favorite soap? A favorite candle? A favorite lotion?
MELISSA: Soaps, I have a few I really like. There are some that I like to make and work with but personally don't like to use them in the shower. I think overall, if I had to pick one, ok maybe two, I really like the Cedar & Saffron and the Lavender. A favorite candle is a little harder to say, they are all pretty good and I have even played a dirty trick on my husband with our Cinnamon Roll candle. It smells enough like actual cinnamon rolls that I had one burning one day and my husband came home from work and got all excited thinking I had made cinnamon rolls but I had to let him down and tell him it was just a candle. I also really like the Ginger Lime candle and how fresh it smells. Lotions, I really like the Juicy Blueberry lotion but we have started a new one with an Apricot Peach scent that is pretty amazing.
That is a dirty trick! I could totally see myself falling for that. When it comes to perfecting the different scents for your products, do you have a specific process, is it trial and error, or something more in between the two?
MELISSA: When looking for scents I look through my options and then try to find something that I would like if I were the one purchasing the product. Now, that being said, I have some that folks have requested that I would never have chosen and don't exactly enjoy working with but there are people that like them and so I make them as long as they sell well enough. I have had several scents that we have discontinued because they didn't sell and so it didn't make sense to keep them in production.
Are there any upcoming products that you can tell us about?
MELISSA: There are ideas but nothing has actually come into the works yet. I am always open to suggestions for new products if there is something particular that a customer is looking for.
What was it about The Bear Box that made you want to take part in it?
MELISSA: I figured it would be a great new source of advertising and a way to get product out there in a new and unique way.
Anything else that you haven't mentioned yet that you'd like to? Words of wisdom?
MELISSA: Nothing comes to mind right off the top of my head.
A big thanks to Melissa for being in our box and for taking part in this interview! She mentioned that new Apricot Peach scent and it's one of the ones that made it into some of the boxes. It's also what ended up in mine and my wife's (my wife's :D) box. It definitely smells amazing! If you want to check out more of what she has to offer, check out her website or her Etsy shop. You can also connect with her on Facebook.