Holiday Schedule

Thank you for a wonderful 2014!
I am now closed from December 22, 2014 – January 6, 2015
You may still place orders during this time; however they will not ship until my return, January 7, 2015
I will still be answering emails, so feel free to contact me with any questions.

Happy New Year!!


Shipping Deadlines

USPS says the shipping deadline for priority mail (to be delivered in time for Christmas) is December 20.

I say the sooner the better!


Holiday Closing, Important Price Information

Difficult Decisions

I have made the difficult decision to raise my prices starting in 2015.

It was doing this, or shutting my doors.

Since I started in 2000 I have been lucky enough to have been ahead of the ever rising prices of materials. As material prices rose, so did my sales. This let me purchase in higher and higher bulk, and keeping the supply prices around the same. But inflation has outrun me.

As of January 7, 2014:

Soaps will be $5 each or 10 for $40.

Lip Balms will be $3 or 4 for $10.

All other products will remain the same as the current pricing for the duration of 2015.

Holiday Break

The last day I will be open this year is December 21. The last orders for the year will ship December 22.

I will reopen January 7, 2015.

Orders placed between December 22 and January 6 will begin shipping in the order they were received starting January 7.

My annual inventory reduction sale will start January 7.

New product pricing will begin January 7.

Thank you all so much for your continued support and I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Have a Safe and Joyous New Year!

So take this opportunity to stock up :)

Thank you for your


When is it too much information?

Social Media. It is a strange bedfellow. In one short post you can gain viral fame, or total infamy. But besides viral videos and posts, most of us try and use social media to keep up with friends and family, and customers.

But where is the line?

I had an issue that has only recently been resolved and it has me thinking about all communication, including social media and where it should begin and end, especially for people like us, people whose face is the business, people who don't have an army of communication experts to hide behind and to help us when it all goes bad.

My story is short, well six months short: (Sorry mom, I know you are just reading this and I hadn't told you, but we didn't want anyone to stress. Love you!)

I had a customer contact me after a show asking to get together for coffee/lunch. I told her we could get together when I had time in my schedule but it would be at least a month. Then things started getting weird. My concept of being nice, but saying no, over and over, did not get me the response I hoped for. I began to escalate my "stop contacting me" responses, ending with one explaining that further contact would cause me to go to the authorities. Which I ultimately had to do. I cannot thank the Emmaus PD enough for being so professional, understanding, and for contacting this person, and for explaining the line between "pay attention to me" and "I am harassing you". I have been assured that further contact can and will end in her arrest.

One thing I found dealing with this is exactly how hard it is to deal with this when you are an artisan who moves from show to show. So many municipalities, so many different departments would need to be told of the situation prior to arrival in the area. We are exhibiting at public events (and even private ones) where there is no way to bar someone's entrance. In fact, we need to announce what public events we will be at in order to help build our business. We are giving everyone all the information they need to stalk or harass us at places that are almost impossible to preemptively bar them from, and in multiple locations making law enforcement as difficult as it can get. Yes, it really is as scary and creepy as this sounds.

Lets not even talk about artisans who work from their home. Luckily, I use a PO Box and there was no way to be found other than following me, but so many actually invite people to and into their home for business!

And as for social media, well that just adds to the ability to have a unnatural connection to you. Posting pictures of your home, your family, things you do like vacations, this all adds to our relationship with our good customers, but it also can add to the information that nefarious ones have too. I admit, I have been bad and not had a good handle on the line between personal and professional information. I can say that I will be taking time this winter when I don't have shows to go through all of my social media and look at how it is all connected. I plan on taking down lots of photos and posts and wiping as much information as I can from the past. But I also am taking a good look at how I post in the future.


Why Bug Off is now Woodland Wonder

Some of you may notice that I am in the process of changing the labeling of my Bug Off Lotion Bars to Woodland Wonder (there are just a few dozen of the old labels still around, so this should be done very soon). I am a soap and cosmetics maker, not a pesticide producer and I believe in following laws and requirements to my best ability. This is both a federal EPA and a state issue, so here is the short story.  

·         Minimum risk pesticides are a special class of pesticides that are not subject to federal registration requirements because their ingredients, both active and inert, are demonstrably safe for the intended use.

  • ·         The product must contain only approved active ingredients. The active ingredient of a product is the ingredient that kills, destroys, mitigates, or repels pests named on the product label.  The Orange Oil and Catnip Oil I use in my formula are not on this list of approved ingredients.
  • ·         The product must contain only those inert ingredients that have been classified by EPA as Inert Ingredients of Minimal Concern.  The cocoa butter and almond oil I use in my formula are not on this list of approved ingredients.
  • ·         Even if I changed my formula and was compliant to the above federal ingredient requirements, there are still further rules to follow, including more complex labeling laws, and state registration requirements. If I were to remain making my lotion bar as is and claiming insect repelling properties, I would need to register as a pesticide producer in the state of PA.

Because my product is not compliant, I have removed all claims of repelling pests of any kind. However, I know many of you still like the scent and have personal anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness on your own. Therefore, I have renamed it Woodland Wonder and it is being sold as a “normal” lotion bar. The formula has not changed in any way, just the labeling.  

If you are looking at other handcrafted (or even mass produced items) that claim to repel insects, you should also look for the following information on the label:

  • ·         The active ingredient(s) must be listed by name and percentage by weight.
  • ·         The label cannot include any false or misleading statements, and claims that minimum risk pesticides protect human or public health are prohibited.
  • ·         Minimum risk pesticide labels may not bear claims to control rodent, insect or microbial pests in a way that links the pests with any specific disease.
  • ·         The product is made in the state, it should be registered in the state of PA. You can look them up by company here: http://npirspublic.ceris.purdue.edu/state/state_menu.aspx?state=PA
  • ·         If you are interested in seeing the lists of approved active and inert ingredients you can find them here http://www.epa.gov/oppbppd1/biopesticides/regtools/25b_list.htm


Knight in Shining Armor

Iron Oak Creations came to my rescue after my last post. After getting them all the parts and pieces, today I am getting back four beautiful and functional displays. I will never go anywhere else ever again.

What amazes me is that I didn't even think about Don as I primarily think if him as a blacksmith artist. I have known his family for years and his daughter Sarah even helps me at Kutztown, you may have even met her.

It was just one of those time when I am so busy that I wasn't thinking clearly. I was just trying to get something completed quickly. By the way, the other guy has disappeared off the face of the planet. Won't return any emails, won't reply to my feedback on Etsy. Just a terrible way to treat a customer.

So if you are looking for some awesome wood or iron work (or a combo of the two) check out Iron Oak Creations!!


The little things that eat up time

There are so many things that eat up my days and can make a normal day long and terrible.

Right now I am having trouble with a vendor. I ordered some custom displays. I even sent photos of what I am currently using as a reference with new dimensions. There is not enough time to explain to you all the ways this order has gone wrong. 

Fixing it will take hours. Either hours by mail and by phone getting the vendor to fix it, or hours myself running to Home Depot, measuring and cutting wood, and doing it myself. These are not brain surgery.  Given enough time I could indeed make these myself. But I decided to spend money to let a professional do it, while I could concentrate on doing what I do best. Now I will spend hours anyway. I am trying to decide if it is worth the argument over getting it right or getting money refunded. Especially because I feel that I may be fixing it myself in the end anyway. How much time do I want to spend on this? 

I tried to do this right. I had references. I had testimonials, I had finished photos of similar projects. There are just times where everything goes wrong anyway. And honestly they are states away. Once again I am kicking myself for not finding someone around the corner who could have done this. I just felt since it was a small company it was worth not reinventing the wheel for four small displays. Now I wish I could ride over and deal with this face to face. Yet another reason why local is better. I should learn not to steer away from my basic belief system. It always goes wrong. 

Argh! So all I can say is that this is my fault too. I should have made sure they understood exactly what I was looking for and I should have had them send me photos of the work in progress. But hindsight is 20/20. All I can say is that I tired my best and now I have to clean up my mess. I just hate to have to deal with these things that take up so much time for such small return.


Getting Ahead

I can't believe it is already September. I am looking at just 10 more weeks until Chriskindlmarkt starts. And there is so much to do!

There are so many things that I do special just for that event. I make 8 sizes of gift baskets, 2 sizes of soap samplers, felted soaps, (not just for) wool wash, sachets/travel soaps, and much, much more!

It is a challenge each year to keep my display interesting and up to date without spending an exorbitant amount of money. This year this means I have bought 15 new displays (that all need to be painted) and I need to look into some new shelving and possible some new lighting as well. I really wish I could get to a place where I just like everything and could keep in the same, but then again I think that would be boring for both me and for you. My display is constantly changing and adapting, adding and subtracting, and trying to be both durable and portable at the same time.

Most of the new displays aren't just for Chriskindlmarkt, they need to be replaced. Years of wear and tear are just demolishing them and they can't be glued or nailed back together any longer. I just think that if this sort of thing needs to happen there isn't a better time than just before one of my biggest shows of the year. They only have to be loaded in and out once and then they are ready for next year's abuse!

One trouble I have at this time of year is keeping my inventory at an acceptable level. The other day I started making mini soap samplers and about halfway in ran completely out of mini soaps. So on the list of things to do they went and now I have four weeks before I can finish the task of making all the samplers. So as I make gift baskets and such, the inventory gets low and I have to make things just to have on the table during the show and to be able to fill orders with. It is a challenge. Last year I started too late and ran out of things, this year I have already made 4 sizes of gift baskets and should have the rest done soon. I hope to have much of this all ready by the beginning of October so I can just know exactly what I need to finish making before Chriskindlmarkt starts!

Oddly enough this is my busiest time of year. I have a read deadline to meet and if things aren't made I won't have the opportunity to sell them. Come October 31, things slow down a bit and I just sell everything I have been frantically making. If I am lucky, I end December with an empty workshop and a long list of things to do, again.

So off I go: I have sachets to make! 


Do what you do best, try and hire the rest

It is very hard to go through the growing pains of a business that is gaining momentum. There are so many things that I used to do that are now just beyond my capabilities, or to be honest, a waste if my capabilities.

My web site has contact forms on it. Typically these are a fantastic way for customers to reach me quickly and easily. But they get an onslaught of spam mails. I held off purchasing a spam filter for the site for almost a year. In the year that I spent an hour or more a day scrolling through hundreds of emails trying to get to the important ones, I could have spent just $45 to make them all go away. Why didn't I? It was the principle of it. Just one more yearly overhead cost for something mechanical to do something I could do myself. Yep, that 365 hours I spent scrolling through junk email sure was the best thing I could do for my business. Not. This year I shelled out for the $45 and checking emails takes less than five minutes a day now. So worth the money. 

I just hired on an admin assistant. So many things just started to bog me down and keep me out if the workshop. After a show the data entry of names to add to the newsletter could take a few hours. Filling orders, then entering the information into book keeping software and a customer database was starting to take up so much time as well. Keeping the web site updated with pictures, show schedule, and fast buys too. It all was getting overwhelming and was keeping me from doing my best work, helping customers, making soap, and developing new products. So now if my mayhem doesn't scare her off, I will have help 5-10 hours a week getting some of this paperwork off my desk. 

I have been going through a relabeling of my products. I found someone versed in labeling law. Now I don't have to look up what size font my net weight should be printed in or any other legal requirements. I just shoot off the label size and the rest is magic:) 

am also exploring hiring a tax accountant. I've been doing my own taxes for years and I just think this is one more thing I should take off my plate and let professionals handle.

It is a hard thing to let go of things you have been doing since the business started. It is even harder to pay someone else to do them. What I have had to do is to take a good hard look at how much time something takes me, and decide if the cost is worth freeing up that time for something I am better at. It is letting the professionals in their field do the work so I can be the best professional in my field that I can be. 


Why we don't travel far for shows

No Traveling for Us!

Dad and I only travel to shows 60 miles or less from out home in Emmaus. But why?

We get to sleep at home at night! This saves money on hotel, food, and fuel. Savings we pass on to you.

We are dedicated to our local economy. We believe in making our money locally and spending our money locally.

We make a product designed for our local area. I formulated my soaps to lather in the hardest of water (and we have plenty of that).

We price our goods to complement our local economy. I price my items at a cost that I would personally be able to spend myself. I offer clearance items at discount prices to help reach everyone.

We believe in the environment. Not traveling keeps our carbon footprint small. Why bother making something natural just to kill the Earth traveling all over to sell it?

Why bother traveling when we are still growing here? We see an average of 5% growth each year without travel, so why do it if we don't have to?

We have awesome events right nearby. Kutztown Folk Festival, Musikfest, Chriskindlmarkt, Apple Festival at Peddler's Village: these are all shows that bring in people from all over. I am grateful I have these opportunities right here in my back yard.

If you don't live nearby and still love our products, then you are the icing on our cake! I keep a map in the workshop of all the places we have shipped to and it grows every year! I never thought my little company could reach so far!

Thank you everyone for all you do for us!


Why don't my Lip Balms contain SPF?

The short answer is: legally they can't. The long answer is...

There are three main types of products that are considered to be part of the "bath and body" industry: Soap, Cosmetics, Drugs (including over the counter).

 Is it a soap, a cosmetic, or a drug?

FDA interprets the term "soap" to apply only when
  • the bulk of the nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the product's detergent properties are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds, and
  • the product is labeled, sold, and represented solely as soap
Products that meet this definition of soap are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), not by FDA.

If a product
  • consists of detergents, or
  • primarily of alkali salts of fatty acids, and
  • is intended not only for cleansing but also for other cosmetic uses,
it is regulated as a cosmetic. Examples of cosmetic uses include making the user more attractive or by acting as a deodorant.

If a product
  • consists of detergents, or
  • primarily of alkali salts of fatty acids, and
  • is intended not only for cleansing but also to cure, treat, or prevent disease, or to affect the structure or any function of the human body,
it is regulated as a drug, or possibly both a drug and a cosmetic. Examples include antibacterial cleansers and skin lighteners.

And more confusingly: If a product
  • is intended solely for cleansing the human body,
  • has the characteristics consumers generally associate with soap, and
  • does not consist primarily of alkali salts of fatty acids,
it may be identified in labeling as soap, but it is regulated as a cosmetic.

How registration requirements are different
FDA maintains the Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program, or VCRP, for cosmetic establishments and formulations. As its name indicates, this program is voluntary. The FD&C Act does not require cosmetic firms to register their establishments or list their product formulations with FDA. In contrast, it is mandatory for drug firms to register their establishments and list their drug products with FDA.

How labeling requirements are different
A cosmetic product must be labeled according to cosmetic labeling regulations. OTC drugs must be labeled according to OTC drug regulations, including the "Drug Facts" labeling. Combination OTC drug/cosmetic products must have combination OTC drug/cosmetic labeling. For example, the drug ingredients must be listed alphabetically as "Active Ingredients," followed by cosmetic ingredients, listed in descending order of predominance as "Inactive Ingredients."

I get asked quite a bit if my lip balms contain an SPF. They don't and never will. It is because sunscreen is considered an Over-The-Counter Drug by the FDA. The safety of Sunscreen Gels, Creams, and Liquids is established by selection of ingredients that are safe and suitable for this purpose. In addition, these products are screened for photoirritancy, photosensitization, and photomutagenicity. Product safety is also established though strict adherence to the principles of Quality Assurance and Good Manufacturing Practices. This includes testing the compatibility of the product with packaging as well as shelf-life stability. Sunscreens are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as Over-The-Counter (OTC) drugs. As such, they must be shown to be safe and effective and the active ingredients must be approved by FDA.

The legalities and requirements of a company my size to make any drug (OTC or otherwise) is beyond my capabilities (and desires). Unfortunately there are some hand-crafters who do indeed claim to make a sunscreen product, this makes it more confusing for all consumers. Either these companies don't understand the laws, or they choose to ignore them. I may not personally even agree with the current structure of the law, but once I understand it, then it is my responsibility to follow it to the letter and run my business in both a legal and ethical way.


Customer Relations

When I started out in this business it really was just a hobby. I had made too much soap and needed a place to sell it so I could make more. The fact that anyone bought it and encouraged me to make more is really amazing to me. I look back and I think my first bars just sucked.

But I got more than I expected over the years. I didn't expect customer relations to actually include real relationships. Some of my best and closest friends I have met through my business. I have watched young couples bring by their new children and those children grow up (some are now in high school). Some who where in high school when I met them are grown and have children of their own. I have received sad letters and emails telling me of the passing of loyal customers as well.

I have made friends with other artisans, promoters, and their families. I have knit blankets for new babies, attended weddings, and even a few funerals.

I didn't expect to have what we now call my "soapy family". I didn't expect to see people so often, to care about them so much, or to have them care about me. Some of this has come with the rise of social media, where everyone can stay in better touch due to technology. But even before the rise of Facebook, I saw a web of relationships that I am grateful for.

I feel as though I run my business and my life in the essence of the old fashioned way. I don't advertise, I rely on word of mouth. I rely on people giving my products as gifts and introducing new people to me. I rely on my customers giving birth and raising my next generation of customers. There are children now that have never really used anything other than handmade soap and that fact will be what keeps our little industry strong into the future.

On the days that I am tired, that I am sick, or that I am just frustrated, it is the customers that keep me going. I started out doing this for me, and now I do it for you.


Know when to fold them

The most difficult thing I have to do when I am at a craft show is to figure out how to give my time to my customers. I wish it were really as simple as saying "treat everyone equally" but that just isn't realistic at all.

I try to do just that, but there is always the time that you get the difficult customer. The one that asks you the in depth questions, sometimes the same questions in different ways. I had one last year that went a little like this:

Q: are these good for sensitive skin
A: yes, they are all considered hypoallergenic, but you need to use caution. If you break out harvesting lavender from your garden, I would avoid my lavender soap, because it has real lavender in it. Hypoallergenic is not a 100% promise, it means most chemicals that bother the most people the most often are not present in my products.

Q: But these are for a gift, how will I know what bothers them
A: I would try something like the Oatmeal, Milk, & Honey. But all my products have their ingredients either listed on their packaging or on my web site, so the person who you are giving them to can look them up and decide for themselves if they want to use it or not.

Q: But I don't want to get them something they can't use.
A: I am sorry ma'am but I don't know the intended recipient. I can only tell you that I have been making products for 14 years now and haven't had a complaint about the soaps I am suggesting to you.

Q: you've made Oatmeal soap for 14 years
A: Actually more, but it was more of a hobby before 2000.

As this goes on and on, at least 12 more customers come and go. Some stop and tell her they have been using my products for years. Some get upset that she is obviously monopolizing my time. In the end she decides again buying anything and leaves. Should I have given her so much time? I think so...the questions she was asking aloud are often things people think to themselves. I had no problem with answering all of the questions in the most honest way I knew how.

Another example:

Q: what makes these washcloths better than store bought?
A: they are 100% cotton, all hand knit, and have two different textures for both your body and face

Q: but how did you make this one yellow?
A: I don't know much about the dye process. I buy the yarn already in colors and just knit the washcloths, sorry.
Response: But I thought you said they were hand made

OK, I have to tell the truth. I know quite a lot about dying techniques. I like the chemistry behind it. I love to knit. I like to learn all I can about the things I like to do. But in this instance I chose to not get into the intricacies of  dying yarn. I am a soapmaker, not a yarn dyer. The washcloths are made as an adjunct product, they are not what I make a living at. This customer had never even picked up or smelled one soap. Giving an in depth answer would not have helped me in any way. It probably wasn't a sale, or if it was it was for something I consider secondary. What I would be saying wouldn't be teaching anyone else in my booth anything relevant to my products, and the time I would take to explain could have taken away from real potential sales or relevant questions.

So I one thing I have learned over the years is to know when to fold them and walk away. Not every question has to be answered, not every customer deserves your undying attention, and not everyone who walks into the booth is going to be a sale, no matter how much time and energy you give them. It is all OK.  Just try to be fair with your time, try and make everyone feel welcome, and if someone out stays their welcome, know when to give up and tactfully move on to the next customer.


Craft Show Attendance

I have been in deep discussion lately with family, friends, and colleagues about why exactly the general public attends a craft show.

I have to admit I very rarely attend an event unless I am either selling at it, or looking at it as a potential for future participation. This means I look at things from a completely different view point than 99% of the other people there. I am watching how many bags people are carrying, where the artisans park, how close the booths are to one another, the quality of the items being sold, the types of things being sold, the way the show is laid out, and even the porta potty situation.

I believe there are three types of shows. The first type typically takes place at historic houses, churches, and small parks. These shows attract a very local demographic. Sometimes even just the town the event is held in, or from just a few blocks from around the event, or in the case of religious buildings, possibly just the parishioners to that particular house of worship. People attend because they are loyal to the event and/or where it takes place. They are there to show their support of something. Most artisan participants are from nearby as well. Local example: Moravian Historical Society Craft Show

The second type of show is usually a little larger. It takes place in a little bigger city, on main street or the like, sometimes in a large park or social hall. This show gets a larger diversity of attendance. I think people may dive an hour or so to get there. They plan a day: a meal, the show, a relaxing drive. The artisans that participate are both from the vicinity and from a little farther away. You may get a few that come a long distance but more because they know the area somehow, through friends or family. Local example: Bethlehem Mother's Day Craft Show

Finally is the regional show. Artisans will come from several states away to participate. Customers come as part of bus tours and could plan vacations around the event taking place. They expect to see the best work from a larger area and even some from other regions of the US. Local example: Kutztown Folk Festival

So here is what we have been talking about: If a there is a show that falls into the second category above (mostly local talent exhibiting), do you as a customer go there to see and support this local talent? If they changed their format and you came to the show only to see your favorite local artisans were no longer there, would you stop coming?

In a society that has been trending toward buy fresh, buy local, buy small business, support your neighbors, do you care if an event stops supporting local and brings in more talent from far away? Or are you happy to see something fresh and new: they are still small artisans, it doesn't matter where they came from?

I think there are a few local shows that are trying to make the leap to becoming a regional level event but are pushing out local talent and are undermining their own customer base in the process. Other people think that competition is good, it keeps everyone striving for greatness.

Only time will tell.


Product Evolution

I love the way one idea can turn into something else, or how one product can evolve or spin off over time. There are just so many ways I feel as though my business just leads me places, that if I just listen to it and to my customers that all the ideas I need are right there at mu finger tips, waiting to be discovered.

A few years ago I met Alyson who owns The Maid's Quarters Bed & Breakfast. She really liked my soaps but they were too big for a weekend stay at her establishment. So we talked and worked out that she needed soaps about 1 once in size. Off to the drawing board I went (really it was off to home depot I went). I found some smaller PVC that I could use as a mold, and once I worked out some kinks (like capping it, keeping out air bubbles, and ultimately removing sticky soap from a small tube), figured out what thickness would produce the perfect sized soap. Mini soaps were born and I now make them in the six fragrances she wants to use in her establishment. This has also turned into my most popular soap for wedding and shower favors. Just this year I found the perfect glassine bags and off the soaps went to the Bethlehem Visitor's Center to be sold as guest soaps, and to the Knitter's Edge to pair with the mini washcloth kit they offered. I even had tiny little crates made that would hold one of each soap. These mini samplers have become a best seller and are hard to keep in stock.

My soap has always been round, so I think I got asked if I made a shaving soap almost every show. In the beginning I didn't, and it quickly became apparent that I needed to. Shaving soap became shaving mugs (made by my friend Bebe), then it was shaving brushes (made by my friend Ed) and now it has turned into two fragrances of shaving soap, plus soon an exclusive fragrance for another local wood turner, Brad, who makes complete kits (brush, razor, mug, stand). 

Ugly bars of soap started out as what I used in my shower. Then there were too many and they were trash for a time. I then realized they usually had a good half, and that if I cut them, I could use the good half in samplers. So for a time I used the good half and threw out the rest. I kept having customers come in to tell me they just used my soap to freshen their drawers and closets. I felt like they were spending a lot of dough for a drawer freshener, and that each sale that wasn't being used on someones skin was work that wouldn't be turned into a repeat customer, that soap wouldn't need to be replaced for a long time. So the extra soap that I was throwing out, began to be ground up and put into muslin bags to be sold as sachets. Then customers came by telling me they used the bags when they traveled as their soap. The cotton bags made a great washcloth and the soap inside lasted for about a week, a typical vacation,. That way they didn't have to use bad hotel soap or travel with wet bars of soap. This became part of my marketing of my sachets/travel soaps. Low and behold, the demand for the sachets stated to out weigh supply, and my line of air fresheners was born.

So next time you have an idea, a desire, or a special order, let me know. I never know where it will ultimately lead me. 


Bigot or just Jaded?

Bigotry is the state of mind of a bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats or views other people with fear, distrust or hatred on the basis of a person's ethnicity, evaluative orientation, race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.

Ok I can admit it, I could be considered a bigot.  I distrust other artisans based on a variety of characteristics. There are so many people faking it: not really making what they say they make, or making it; but not the way they say they do. If I have just met you, I don't trust you. There are things that make me distrust you more than others.

If I am at a show that I consider to be a "local" show and someone drives in from Montana in a huge box truck that they have been sleeping in for weeks, I have will have trouble believing you. The artisans I closely know are almost constantly in their workshops, making, doing admin work, researching, developing. For us to go out with three or four weekends of inventory and not come home in between would be a very tough thing to do and still have a business when we got back. I am not saying it can't be done. It is done, and quite often. But for me this is a red flag. I defiantly need to get to know you better before I trust you do what you say you do.

The huge influx of foreign and "fair trade" goods makes it hard for me to believe certain things are hand made by the artisan representing them. I am not saying the things on the display are not hand made, just not made by the person claiming to have made them. And honestly, especially if the artisan is a recent immigrant. I know this is AWFUL to say, to admit to. It is my biggest fault as a human being that I find myself thinking this way. I do my best not to, and I do my best to get to know the truth as quickly as possible as not to harbor or to pass on my distrust on to others. I blame this on the influx of foreign goods into art and craft shows that are advertised to us artisans and to the public as "juried" or "hand made". There are even tutorials on line on how to fake your photos to get into shows: photos that supposedly show you MAKING something! So yes, too many caucasian people selling things made in China (or other places) as their own, has made me doubt the people originally from China (or Guatemala, or any other place on earth) are making their own stuff. Is it awful to think: yes. Am I alone: no. Am I the only person gutsy enough to admit it and start a real conversation about it: maybe.

I also distrust anyone selling their products for under "industry standard" pricing. Of course there will always be some fluctuation in this depending on where you live and where you sell. However, if you have a 20 inch long silver necklace for sale for $20 I will either believe you are lying and it's not silver, or you are lying and you didn't make it (and imported it from overseas). With silver being about $18 an ounce here, there would be no real profit in that necklace for anyone taking the time to make it themselves. It is hard enough to compete with Wal-Mart, but to have to compete with the equivalent at a show a few booths down from you is almost impossible. I believe this is why some shows ask for a range of pricing when you apply. It is to help weed out people hurting the entire industry. As a friend of mine just stated today "to be the cheapest is a refuge for people who don't have the guts to point to their product or service and say- this isn't the cheapest but it's worth it"

I would love to think we as the human race are all honest. But we are not. We are human. A few bad apples have spoiled it for me. Am I a bigot? Maybe in the truest most base sense of the word. But I feel that I am more jaded- "made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience" than bigoted. I search out the truth whenever I can, I like my mind to be changed.


In Case of Emergency

I have been trying to add things into my business that help me be prepared for an emergency. The first thing I have done is to back up my computer to an off site "cloud". I have always had a back up hard drive, but what good does that do when it is on the desk next to my computer? If something bad happens to one, something will happen to both.

This also means that I have had to start taking some things that live solely in my head or in physical notebooks and start to transfer them into documents that can be stored and retrieved when not at home.

This started for me when I learned that the artisan who mad my air freshener blanks had had a fire, gutting her workshop and a good portion of her home. I am blessed, when my grandmother passed away, my mom and step-dad have kept her mobile home on their property and in working order. I always have a place to go, and I know I could make soap there and have an ad-hoc workshop in not too much time if it was ever necessary. But it is 4 hours away from here, and it doesn't have my notebooks, computers, or recipes. In order to carry on, I would need to have all that information at my finger tips.

I also make sure the fire extinguishers and fire alarms in the shop work and replace batteries every 6 months. My workshop probably has the biggest chance of fire in the house other than the kitchen. We always have crock pots on, small appliances going, heat guns and shrink wrap machines as well. There are quite a few things going on and they can be tough to keep track of.

I also have insurance. I am amazed by the number of people I know that don't have insurance to cover their business. Discuss this with your home or renters insurance and figure out what you need and get it. Figure out what business insurance you need as well. This is not wasted money.We live in a litigious society, take care of yourself. 

I think of all the years, all the time it has taken my to acquire the things I use every day in my work. I think of all the things I have acquired in my home as well. It is important to do all you can to be sure an emergency doesn't happen, but if it does have in place the tools to get yourself running and bringing in income as soon as possible.

It is so hard when you wear so many hats when you own your own business to not let things like this slip by because there always is something more immediate, or pressing to take care of. My hope is that if I make all this preparedness part of a routine, it will just take moments in my future to keep it going.


Now on Etsy Too

One way I can grow my business is by trying to increase my customer base past the art and craft show venues that I sell at. I have noticed that over the past few years, my online orders have been growing faster than any other part of my business. So this year I decided to work on my online presence.

It is pretty tough to be seen and heard online. I started a Facebook page and have quickly grown to over 600 likes! But one thing I have learned, the people who subscribe to my newsletter, read my blog, like my Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed typically are already loyal customers or have at least seen or met me at a craft show before finding my online presence. It is very hard to just naturally grow your web site with people who have never heard of you before. I have also noticed, I think handcrafted soaps and toiletries can be a particularly tricky business to grow online, since there is no way for a prospective customer to smell or feel a product before trying it for the first time. This is actually one reason I try and keep my products at a reasonable price, people are more likely to try something if it just "costs a few bucks". If they love it then they are both happy with the product and the price too.; a combination that hopefully keeps people coming back again and again.

So to try and reach more customers and to help existing customers have more buying options, I have expanded into having an Etsy store. The store can be found at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ANaturalAlternative and has 30 of my best selling products. If you purchase on Etsy I really would appreciate it if you favorited my store and any of my products you love most.

I have also added a "Shop Now" button to my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ANASoaps). There are still a few glitches to work out on this page (right now you need to message me the scents you want if buying certain items, there is no drop down menu to choose). But I am hoping to get some of those quirks worked out this week. But in the end, the same top items available on Etsy will be available here.

Lastly I have a shopping cart through the Handcrafted Soaps and Cosmetics Guild (where I am a certified member). http://www.soapguildstores.com/anasoaps/Default.aspx .This is a great way for people who are looking for handcrafted soap to see my products and to order from me as well. 

So no matter how you order, one of the way's above, through the main web site at http://www.a-natural-alternative.com, my phone, or by mail, every order is appreciated. Thank you!!


Why no pickups?

Growing a business comes with a lot of growing pains. Allowing pick ups, or even meet ups, is becoming one of those things. This year C and I decided that there would no longer be any pick ups at the house. He travels for work and I am often home alone. Having some stranger just come over to where I sleep at night is pretty creepy.

When the business was small and this wasn't asked for very often it really wasn't a problem. Typically something could be scheduled while I wasn't alone, but this is no longer the case. I went through almost 10,000 fliers last year, and additional business cards, and additional labels on products If my home address was on them, that would be like handing out my address to that many people. Yikes!

I have been trying to make up for this by making deliveries or meeting up with customers. However, this is proving to be too difficult on most days. Right now I have been trying for 6 days to figure out a schedule with someone so I could get her order to her. It could have been shipped twice by now, and the 6 or so emails I have had to take time to write definitely has taken more time than just putting the package together for the post office. When this is happening with one person it isn't that bad, but when three or four people are trying to schedule a meet up or pick up at the same time, it is insane! Time I sit in front of the computer is time I could be in the workshop making inventory for future profit. Instead it is time in front of the computer, and my days get longer and longer, just to meet my inventory requirements. It's just me and dad, we haven't been visited by any soap elves yet to do our work while we sleep.

Most people are great about deliveries. I offer to drop it off my next time out their way, they just drop a check in the mail at their earliest convenience.That system works great. I use very little additional gas or time since I am already out making other deliveries, picking up supplies, or running personal errands. Every once in a while the process is tougher, trying to sync schedules so a meet up can take place instead of just a drop off.

So as a growing pain arises this year, I have resolved to nip it in the bud and try to take care of it right away.Therefore there is a new policy change (it will make it to the web site in in shipping options etc by the end of the week).

As of 4/15/2014:

There will be no pick ups at the house/workshop by "new customers". A few standing pick ups remain, but no new ones will be scheduled. The rule of thumb is: if you have picked up before, you can do so again, but no one new.

I will deliver orders if 1) I can do it at my leisure within a 5 day window from the time of your order 2) it can happen during regular business hours 3) you mail your payment (or leave your payment) so there is no need for a scheduled meeting 4) if you need me to make a delivery that doesn't fall within these parameters there will be a $5 delivery surcharge 5) I reserve the right to say no at any time due to my personal schedule being over booked

There will be no scheduled meet ups in public locations (other than at art/craft shows). I no longer can meet you at Starbucks, in the parking lot at your Doctor, or at your child's swim practice.

I cannot tell you what anxiety I have been going through coming to the conclusion that these rules needed to be more than just in my mind. I was hoping that just a personal enforcement rather than a public display was all I needed. Writing them down and publishing them is lifting a weight off my shoulders and mind. I feel physically lighter as I type this.

Thank you for understanding these growing pains and for growing with me. It is not a bad problem to have and I am grateful that you all are here supporting me!


Worried about the "small" shows

I know that some people will disagree with me on this one, but to be fair much of what I am going to say here is perception anyway. To me this is the hierarchy of many arts & crafts shows / festivals what have you.

Small: these are local events. Typically they are put on my churches, community boroughs, historical societies and other local places and they tend to draw from a local community and demographic for their customer base. These tend to me inexpensive and draw anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people.

Medium: often these have started as community events but have a long history, are run by a professional promoter rather than by community volunteers, or are multi-day events. This to me is something like Mayfair, the events at Peddler's Village, and even Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Show. I expect 5000-20000 people to attend. They usually pull from a larger geographic circle due to the fact they have an adverting budget. Often they even get in buses of people through travel agency trips.

Large: These are long events, multi-day or multi-weekend. They are professionally run, have a jury process, deadlines for applications, rules about your set up, and maybe even a dress code. These can bring in up to 100,000 people or more, typically have a large cross section of demographics attending, and are the kinds of events that people make plans on attending, maybe even taking days off or a mini-vacation. Musikfest, Kutztown Folk Festival and Chriskindlmarket fall into this category for me.

Professional: To me the these are true "art" shows. Very exclusive and very expensive to participate in. These are shows put on my the American Craft Council, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, the Smithsonian Craft Show, just to name a few. Honestly, in my opinion most artisans you see at your local or even regional events are not at the level to be accepted into these types of shows, because if they are, few go back to the lower levels. This is a whole different animal than anything I know anything about.

So why am I on this soap box this week? Because I am afraid of the demise of the small show. I have been seeing a trend in the past year and that is an increase in the cost of these shows. I have one that jumped 30% between last year and this year, a few others by 20%. Here are my worries:

1) Higher costs keep out smaller crafters. Right now there is a great number of people producing wonderful high quality crafts, just on a small scale. The Etsy revolution has so many people making things after the kids go to bed, or on the rainy weekends, or after a hard day at the steady income job. They are exquisite craftspeople who often can't afford a huge display, an expensive tent, or even the time to put into long show hours or multi-day events. They either can't (or won't) take a chance on a higher priced show.

2) Higher costs drive out seasoned crafters. I have a very specific formula to figure out how "good" a show is and ones that fall into the "bad" category are switched out for something new the next year. This formula includes the show price. So a show that was "good" in 2013 at $35 would not be "good" at the $50 they are charging for 2014. Do I give it one more year or do I drop it and try something new? That is a hard decision to make. I am grateful I have the extra $15 to pay and give the show a chance in 2014, but some do not have that luxury and will go on to the next available show that weekend.

3) We talk. There is a huge social network of artisans and we talk amongst ourselves a lot. We share bad shows in a heart beat, and share good shows with people we like and respect. It is tougher to spread the word amongst us for a good show than it is for a bad one. I have seen great shows die in just 2 or 3 years due to simple changes: a new location, a new production staff, an increased entrance fee. That "good" show I referenced above, as of yesterday when I received the application (with the price hike) I would have passed it on to other people to try out, now I will but have to also say that for the current price, if I make the same income this year, I wouldn't do it again in 2015.

4) They are the "gateway". I am concerned about medium and large shows too but they are not the typical "gateway" into the industry. More often than not, people start with the small local shows to get their feet wet, figure out their display, build a customer base, and learn the ropes. Making these shows less accessible through higher fees may just have an industry wide impact over the next 5 to 10 years.

I just hope this is just a trend I see for a year or two and then things stabilize. It would be sad to let go of so much of my show schedule if things keep changing.


Confusion Creates Cash

Many moons ago I worked in a different industry than crafts and we used this saying all the time: confusion creates cash. I may be one of the only people to admit it, but it is true for most savvy businesses, no matter what your industry.

When I am approached for a special order, it is my job to walk you through the process. It is my job to send you samples, it it my job to quote you a price and a time frame for the work to be completed in. Those are all things I need to do if I accept special orders, and these are actually all things that I really enjoy doing.

I love the process of what I do. I love to sit down with someone who has a hint of an idea and work through all the possibilities and scenarios. I love to talk about what things will cost and how long they will take to make. I love the challenge of getting things done on time and in a manner that will make my customer insanely happy with my work. I love making people happy.

When it comes to orders of something for a special occasion I truly believe there is no higher compliment than someone being willing to share my products with their friends and family at a special event. Wanting my products to be a part of a special day filled with memories that will last forever just overwhelms me when I sit and think about how undeniably wonderful that it.

So far I have been blessed with very little drama in this area of my business. I think special orders are amazing, they keep my creativity flowing, they help me figure out what may be the next trend I should be watching, and they help me build my business- what better way to reach new people- they get samples of my work!

However, there comes a time where confusion creates cash. It may be a bridezilla scenario, it may just be a short time frame, it may just be plain indecisiveness. Approving a sample and then changing your mind after ingredients have been purchased will cost more. Wanting special labels designed and printed in just a few days, will cost more. Having a time frame so short that things needs to be sent overnight delivery just to get them here on time will cost more. If the only way I can physically get your order done on time is to pull an all-nighter, or to hire in help, this will cost you more. I am sorry but your confusion has created cash for someone. It may be for the delivery service, it may be for the graphic designer making your labels, it may be for the printers, and it may just be for me.

So just keep this rule in mind anytime you are asking any business to do something special just for you (even if doing something special is their primary business). You will save money by doing things early, being nice about it, and making timely decisions.



I am a horrible procrastinator. I really am. Every morning I start my day with "the list" of things to do that day. In theory this list is the 13 most important things I need to accomplish before I go to bed. It could be anything from making that batch of soap to paying taxes to making sure dinner makes it into the crock pot. But on any given day at least 2 things go undone.

As new things to do come to light, I typically put them onto the next day's list (or the day after) unless it is something that I just MUST take care of right then and there. These "little fires" as I like to call them are things that are just burning to be taken care of and if I don't deal with them right that second they could engulf me later on. These little things often add up to enough time or energy that I have to bump a few things from today onto tomorrow and then so down the line.My problem is that I like to use these little fires as an excuse to not accomplish something on my list. Typically it is something I don't like to do or don't want to do. I hate returning phone calls, it is a odd anxiety I harbor and will do anything to avoid, even though I haven't had anyone yet be mad at me for calling them back in a timely manner.

Typically on any Monday I am full up until Wednesday and starting on Thursday's list already. I try and put on some things I don't like to do. (writing this blog is actually one of them). Why do I do it then? because I think it is a good way to get out into the air some of the things that go on behind the scenes, I think it will be cool to look back on when I am 80 and see what was going through my brain back in the day, and I think it is a good way for me to work through some of my own issues, fears, and thoughts by putting them down on paper and sharing them with you. But it can be hard and time consuming and there are weeks I can't think of anything to write about so it just keeps getting pushed down the days until I just need to sit and so it because I am sick of looking at it on the page.

So here I am a great procrastinator. I get things done, often just not what I meant to do when I woke up that day. I have lists and lists. Daily lists, long term lists, and sometimes I actually accomplish things that matter. Typically I just get them done to get them off my list, the great motivator.

So it is time for me to go on to the next thing on my list for today. I hope I can accomplish them all without putting something off for tomorrow. Maybe that just be the first thing on my to do list: "Do it all".


Getting Leaner and Meaner

Ok, not really meaner, but I am trying to streamline the business this year. I am approaching the maximum number of things I can make/hours to be worked in a year. I figure based on growth the past two years, I have two more years before I am only sleeping four hours a night and only taking a day off when my husband kidnaps me and takes me out of the country by force (ok, really he just shows up with non-refundable tickets and I can't say no).

So what is an artisan to do? Well for one thing I am trying to reclaim hours by doing things a little differently this year. I have bought some new equipment that will let me double my production. (This amounts to a second crock pot and some new trays to hold the lip balm tubes). What I used to do was make a batch every time I needed some. This meant hauling out the equipment, making the batch, cleaning the equipment, putting it away, and then printing the labels I needed. If I needed two kinds then I would clean the equipment, make a second batch, and then clean the equipment again before putting it away. Now I can make two flavors simultaneously. It doesn't half my time, but it does shave off a good 25%.

I also have decided to use some outside services. Instead of printing all my own labels, I have sent some out to be printed, saving me hours at the printer making sure it isn't jammed. By the time I looked at buying the labels and the ink and then factored in my time dealing with the printer malfunctions, it was actually less expensive to have them printed for me. Plus if they come out badly or crooked, I can go back to the printing company for a refund, I didn't have that option when I did them myself. I am having my flyers printed and folded by a copy and print service now too. No more standing at the paper folding machine putting in 20 pages at a time. Now a big box arrives and they are ready to go. Once again, by the time I factored in paper, ink, and time, the service was worth it.

It is scary to spend money on things I usually do myself, but I am at the point where I have to look at things from a different perspective. Should I spend four hours folding flyers or making soap? Even though many things I would do at night while relaxing after dinner, is that really relaxing after dinner? Is it better for me mentally to spend that time reading a book, going for a walk, or even just doing research into my next product rather than the mind numbing hours of folding a flyer?

So each day I try and reflect and see what I could do differently and to save some time. Sometimes these ideas do cost too much, or are not yet feasible, but they go on a list for maybe some time in the future. I never know when I may need them:)


Tragedy and the Artisan

Every year or two I go through my list of the supplies I need and I research suppliers. Then I make a spreadsheet of each supply and three or more places I can get it, and what it currently costs. Why?
This is my backup plan. You never know when tragedy will strike and *poof* your supplier is closed. Instead of rushing around and looking for a new place to get something, I just open up my handy spreadsheet and head to the places on the list and go from there. True, the prices could have changed a little from my last research, but it will get me through an order or two while I research again what my other options are. There is nothing worse than needing something right away and not having a place to get it quickly.

On the flip side, sometimes there are things so special that there really is just one place to get it. My air freshener blanks are just one of those things. I have tried the three or four places I can get them and have decided on just one. And then tragedy strikes! The artisan that hand makes the paper that I use for my air fresheners has experienced a devastating house fire. Like me she is a small enterprise who works out of her home. Along with loosing her business and her house she has lost family pets too (a miracle, no human loss/injury). I cannot wrap my head around such devastation. I think it hits me hard because I am in the same situation. A fire wouldn't just displace me, but would close my source of income too. It is my ultimate fear.

But from my side as a business owner, through everything that happened there was an abundance of communication. I had just placed and order not a week before the fire stuck. I received a refund, an email, and a phone call explaining what had happened. Consummate professionalism. Amazing. I have tried other air freshener paper manufacturers, and I don't like any of them. There is no backup plan for this product in my lineup. I will make what I have left, and wait for her to rebuild. I will be here waiting to give her my order, my money, to help her rebuild her business one customer at a time. I would rather not offer air fresheners than to offer a product I don't like myself. And until that phone call comes, that she is ready to start again, I will pray for her and her family to find the strength to make it through this. 

Feeding the White Wolf

There is a parable (often attributed to the Cherokee first people, but I don't know how true that is) abut the two wolves that live inside each of us. There is the black wolf that is full of anger and hate, as well as pride and sorrow. There is the white wolf that is kindness and empathy, love and peace. Every minute of every hour of every day these two wolves flight inside for control. Which one will win? The one you feed.

For some people happiness, love, peace, forgiveness, faith and other positive feelings come naturally. For others (like me) these things need to be cultivated, nurtured, practiced, and strengthened. My positiveness is like a muscle, if I just let it go, it will weaken and be tougher and more painful to use in the future. This grey, cold winter has been hard for me to cultivate my positive, to feed my inner white wolf. I don't want to go out in the cold, the ice, the dark and see my friends, or go exercise, or buy fresh healthy foods. I want to sit in my warm, dark, spare room with my TV and my knitting and my tea. Alone for hours, day after day. I tell myself this is something I enjoy (because I do LOVE to knit) but there must be some other things to do too.

It is during this time of year that I make a detailed to do list each day and make myself accomplish it before I can retreat into my craft cave. It keeps the business on track, makes sure I get to the gym, and generally makes me feel like I have accomplished something each day. It keeps the dark at bay. When I do go and sit I try and watch light-hearted and educational things rather than the dark, edgy dramas I am typically drawn to. Those are OK in moderation, but an afternoon binge on a dark drama is ultimately seen in my dreams that night, and that is not a good thing.

So like everyone else during a hard, cold winter I am just itching for spring, to get outside, to enjoy the sunshine. Until then I need to keep up with accentuating the positive, to take care of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

How do you feed your white wolf?


Fragrance Library

Keeping a fragrance library is just one of the little extra things I do. It started because I had a dream that one day I would have a brick and mortar store and that behind my counter would be a fragrance bar, filled with bottles and vials of hundreds if not thousands of different fragrances a customer could choose from and have products made just for them. Of course, years later it seems that my dream of a storefront will most likely never take shape (my life just seems too fluid to tie me down to one location), but I still keep a fragrance library filled with almost 300 vials (and counting) of fragrances and essential oils.

Why do I still do this? Part of it is necessity, part of it is just fun. Now that I do many special orders (or fast buys) throughout the year, I find having samples at my fingertips hurries along the process. I rarely have to order samples from a supplier before meeting with a potential customer. I still may have to get some additional samples, but I typically have at least two or three initial ones on hand that a customer can start to sniff right away. If we are lucky, they like something in this first pass, I have enough of it on hand for their order, and I can get started making their product right away. Just Monday I sent out 6 samples to a potential customer and could have sent them at least 7 more variations on their theme. I only sent the 6 I liked best because I thought too many options can be very overwhelming so I decided that if they didn't like any of these I would send them more rather later.

The fun part for me is going through them when I am looking for new scents to make. This keeps me inspired. Typically I dislike using "out of the bottle" fragrances and typically mix my own variations, but this library gives me a starting point. I can open a bottle, decide if I like it, look at the scent description, and see if I can make a version that I like better. Often my fragrances are combinations of one or more "stock" fragrances that I mix together to produce something more complex and interesting than what I can get from suppliers alone.

Where do these samples come from? Typically from suppliers who send along samples of their new additions to their lineup. Sometimes I get just a small vial, sometimes I get enough to make 20 bars of soap. Also when I do a special order (fast buy) I purchase extras. If you ask me for vanilla-pineapple, I may buy 3 or 4 I think suit your desires, but also may get 5 or 6 more to have on hand for the future. Every scent that gets discontinued goes in the library so I have just a little bit for future reference too. I keep a spreadsheet of the fragrance name, vendor, recipe (if it is my concoction), fragrance description, year it was made/obtained, and price at that time. Each year I update this with new samples obtained throughout the previous year, with current discontinued fragrances, and delete those I used up. This way I can look at fragrance or essential oil names, or search the descriptions for key words in order to look for something specific. Then I can go to that particular vendor, be sure they are still making what I am looking for (and the same recipe too) and what their current price is and if that would stay within a budget (mine or the customer's).

So there you have it. A little peek into some of the behind the scenes workings here. Hope you enjoy!


The craftsmanship of a master is different from the elegance of an artist

I was watching a documentary on the history of Sushi and this quote grabbed my attention. It started me thinking about if there is really a difference between craftsmanship and art.

I started doing some research into the history and definition of "craftsman". Aspiring master craftsman would have to go through a series of career steps until they could produce a "masterpiece" and present it to a jury to determine if they were in fact good enough to join the guild and be considered masters. And now while many guilds do not exist as such, many trades still follow this model (think electricians and carpenters).

Florida State University has a "Master Craftsman Studio" that is an auxiliary (functioning in a subsidiary manner) to the College of Visual Arts, Theatre, and Dance (the artists). Here students see a working studio and are exposed to inner business workings including design, estimating, installation, and invoicing. It is meant to "demonstrate to students the confluence of creativity and entrepreneurship".  So here a master is someone who can mange transforming an idea to an item within schedule and budget constraints.

So are artists supposed to be elegant but not good business people. Is that where the concept of "starving artist" comes from? Do we loose some of our artistic nature if we are also can make a living at it? Is that why there is a pervasive belief that artists that become famous must "sell out" to do so?

So does a master craftsman automatically make art? I don't think that is right either. Things can be made beautifully, skillfully, and in a way that will last many lifetimes, but that doesn't mean they have a good visual aesthetic either. The items may last, but that doesn't mean that people will want the items hanging around that long.They can be made on time, and under budget , and the customer can be happy, but that still doesn't make the final piece art. Even if you try and call it art, time will tell the truth.

But looking at is another way I was thinking of "outsider" art and "tramp" art. These are beautiful things made by someone who has little to no formal training. It doesn't make them less of a piece of art, but they most often are not made by a skilled master craftsman.

So yes, I think there is a difference between craftsmanship and art, but the best have elements of both things, and if the artisan can make a living too, what a bonus!


Let me tell you about Fast Buys...

Every few months I send out a newsletter and post a Fast Buy to the web site, so I thought I would explain a little more about them here.

More and more I get asked to make up something special for a customer. I LOVE this challenge. Sometimes it is simple: please just make me something that has been discontinued. Sometimes it is more difficult: please make me something using these 10 ingredients, only organic, and by next week.
I do my very best to make a product that I think the customer will love, and one that is something I can stand behind. I won't make things using ingredients in proportions I do not think are safe for the skin or that will turn out to be an inferior product. If I cannot develop a product that is good enough for me to sell in my regular lineup of products, then I won't sell it to just one customer either.

Once I work through the research and development with the initial customer, I put the product out to a wider audience as a "Fast Buy". This helps me in a few ways. 1) I can gauge interest in a product and that may mean I will make it again in the future 2) I can make a larger batch: like cooking it is often difficult to scale down my batches and 3) I can reduce the cost by buying ingredients in larger quantities.

One of my most recent examples is the Fast Buy for "Love" soap. This fragrance was discontinued back in 2008 but has a small, loyal following. Typically once each year I get an order for either soaps or lotion bars in this scent. Here is how it works:

1) The initial customer asks me to make the product and I quote a price, and a minimum order. In the case of soaps, it is 10 bars.

2) I offer the product as a fast buy. Other interested customers place orders for the item, prepaying, knowing the ultimate ship date of the product. The initial customer and these pre-orders typically receive price breaks based on quantity ordered.

3) I tally the orders and return to the initial customer in order to verify the final order. If I have gotten enough interest, often the minimum order is reduced. For example if I have another person who wants 5 bars of the Fast Buy soap, then the initial customer will only need to purchase 5 bars themselves. If they still want all 10 bars, fantastic, I will make enough for everyone. But if they only want 5 now, that is fine too, I just can't make less than 10 of one type of soap.

4) After the order is made and shipped, any leftovers are placed on the web site under specialty soaps.  If they last a year, then they are put onto clearance.

So there you have it! This is how my Fast Buy system works. Keep an eye out on the newsletter and on the Facebook/Twitter feeds in order to see what is coming up next. Right now I have three items in the works that are supers specialty items and will be limited quantities, very exciting stuff!