Founded on the promise of making the body care industry creative and diverse, Soap Distillery offers an array of natural cocktail-inspired soaps, body oils, and more. Founded by Danielle Martin, Soap Distillery products are made in small batches and feature no phthalates, nitro musk, artificial detergents, silicone, formaldehyde, or palm oil!
Could you describe your own sustainability journey? Any specific challenges or wins you’ve had?
Absolutely! As a company, the biggest challenge is the financial one. Using more sustainable materials often comes with a slightly larger financial and spatial/storage investment which can make things move slower than I’d prefer. We have to carry more inventory on hand initially to get the price breaks we’d like which ties both of those resources up. However, in the end, it’s worth it! We’ve been making strides so the patience is definitely there at least. One of our biggest wins is not accepting the “no” when it comes to creating natural scents that have personality. It’s so easy just to buy a fragrance oil that someone else has blended to smell like a thing you want, but it takes real purpose and drives to make those same types of scents as clean and natural as possible and blend yourself. And that’s a big goal as we continue to grow and expand our product offerings.
Personally, we’ve been able to do more at home than I thought we would, which has been great. We started with dish tools and it’s been much easier to make the switch than anticipated! I was expecting a bit more pushback from the home front and that hasn’t been the case at all.
You came up with the idea for Soap Distillery while sipping an Old Fashioned. Could you tell us a bit more about that moment and what your next step was?
I started making soap for a few reasons; I didn’t see a ton of product diversity within my normal natural body care outlets and I also didn’t see myself in most of the company owners. I started making soap just because I was bored of the same ol’. There wasn’t anything wrong with the products I was seeing, however; everything was well made, well designed, and felt great! I just wanted something different. At the time I longed for creativity and needed an outlet and this was perfect. So, I started making soap for fun, and at the time, I really needed a way to make a little extra money on the side. Etsy wasn’t new, but it was somewhat newer to me. I thought, “If I sell my soap on Etsy, I have to think of a way to allow my company to stand out from the crowd, or else I’ll get buried here!”. So, now I’m drinking an Old Fashioned and the juices of creativity are flowing… “What if I make my soap smell kind of like this delicious drink?”. Then BOOM. Soap Distillery was born!
Black entrepreneurs encounter many more challenges when it comes to starting, funding, and scaling a brand. Were there any hurdles you had to overcome while building Soap Distillery? How did you move forward?
Oh boy, how much time do you have?
The easy answer is a resounding ‘YES’. Starting a business, funding a business, scaling a business…all of these things are infinitely more difficult for entrepreneurs of color. That’s definitely not to say that other founders NOT of color have things easy as a whole, either. However, starting a business with no generational wealth, having 0 or bad credit due to lack of financial education, trying to focus energy on development when you’ve already got a million other familial responsibilities due to lack of resources within your community, and consistently being told ‘no’ from funding sources definitely make things inherently more difficult for founders of color. And, that’s only naming a few issues. I hate to tuck this in using the blanket term “systemic racism”, however, that’s the root of the issue.
The other side of this is appeasing customers who hold BIPOC companies at an insanely higher standard than the baseline that other companies have. I can’t even begin to list the number of people I have experienced over the last 10 years that have said something to the effect of “I wanted to support a Black business but this is why I can’t get behind you all”. And their reasons are unfortunately not fair by any stretch of the imagination which sets up a perfect “failure to start” system. You’ve lost before the customer even gets to try the product and it’s because they expect more from you because of how you look. We have to prove we are worthy when others are assumed to be such. Like, if your lead times are about 3 days and their orders don’t ship in 1 day, you get hit with the “why do all BIPOC businesses suck?” which is just tragically unjustified.
How do we move forward? We just focus on the good we’ve done and we have to accept our worth regardless of what the assumption of said worth is.
We recognize that people of color are often provided less protection from exposure to pollution and often have less access to outdoor spaces (among other environmental inequalities). Can you speak to how environmental racism plays a part in the natural products industry?
Really, it’s simple: how can you convince those who’ve been continuously subjected to environmental hazards, the same folks who live in these areas due to low income, to spend more $$$ on products that are healthier for them and the environments of others when everything else in their environment is not? It’s so easy to give up when your mere existence is a fight. If you’re drinking water that’s contaminated with lead and you don’t have the option to change that, wouldn’t you feel shut out by the natural movement? This is why the customer data tends to skew the same vs being wider-reaching. It’s certainly not because people do not want to be healthy, it’s because they cannot.
Could you tell us a bit about your giveback initiative Broadway Youth Center?
Absolutely! We LOVE the Broadway Youth Center. As someone who doesn’t have children, I’ve always wanted to do my part in assisting underserved youth. And as a Black woman, I absolutely understand what it’s like to be under-resourced purely based on what you look like and where you live. This is what brought me to the BYC and really, what has connected me to the Queer community as a whole. I really think that the Black community and the Queer community should spend more time together because we are truthfully fighting for some of the same freedoms. So, understanding that, I did some research and found out that the BYC has a wonderful program to assist homeless youth in improving their health, maintaining their health through lost resources, providing a number of other health-related services, and more. Supporting an organization that not only supports others in their journey of emotional freedom and stability was a no-brainer for us. Working with youth aged 12-24 also helps prevent these children from becoming part of yet another system that’s not designed to help them in any substantive way, and that’s where The BYC enters the chat. They understood the assignment.
What are some of the main goals of Soap Distillery, both in your community and in the sustainability space?
SO many! Our list is long, however, our main goals are to continue to develop more sustainable and unique packaging to phase out some of the heavier glassware we use, we want to offer more natural scent blends so that our full line is all-natural fragrance or essential oil blends vs most of the line, and to continue to spread awareness and truth within our community and business space. We are tired of competitors spreading falsehoods about their products and it’s time for some of this information to come to light. Unfortunately, in order to bring awareness, you’ve got to pay to play and we are using small bits of our growth to reinvest and make this happen.
What is your favorite soap scent?
Well, I can’t pick just one! I’ve never followed the rules to a ‘T’ so let’s say:
Standard Line: Negroni
Seasonals: Earl Grey
Clearly, I LOVE bitter citrus scents!
A newer brand at EarthHero, Soap Distillery has quickly become one of our favorites (both for our customers and our employees!). They offer long-lasting and luxurious products to make every day a little extra special. Check out more of their products here!