Member of the Month:
Christine EhrhardtBy Lisanne V. Jensen
Christine Ehrhardt's first batch of handmade soap was therapeutic for her skin, but an unexpected byproduct of her creation was inspiration.
"Stumbling into this hobby/business/obsession has been a huge liberating event that keeps evolving into a new event," she said. "I have discovered a stronger, more confident, opinionated me."
Ehrhardt, 39, of Rochester, NY, lives with her husband, Eric, daughter Kayla, 15, son Kilian, 12, and daughter Rylea, 7.
One day at the library, Ehrhardt could not find a novel that grabbed her attention to read. On the way out the door, she happened to see The Soapmakers Companion on the new bookshelf.
"I guess I never thought about where soap came from before that," she said. "I didn't even know that people could make it!"
She made her first batch of soap about four years ago, and it turned out well ~ but her second batch was not quite what she had hoped for (although she reported that her husband really liked it). Ehrhardt started her bath and body business about a year after she created her first soaps. Her Web site, Body and Soap, is still under construction. Her husband strongly encouraged this venture, although she kept resisting because she said that she was not a businessperson.
"He just kept saying this soap is too good not to sell, and we will never be able to use all this if you keep on making it!" she said, laughing.
After making cold process (CP) soap for a while, Ehrhardt wanted to try making lotion from scratch, then lotion bars, then eye and neck pillows, incense, bath salts, bath bombs, and so on. So soapmaking, for her, was a gateway toward other toiletry creations.
Business-wise, the first item that Ehrhardt created was for a fundraiser for her kid's dance school. She made melt-and-pour (MP) soap in the Milky Way Celtic knot molds and sold them at a local Irish Festival.
Her family does not really help with the actual process of her soapmaking, but her daughter Rylea likes to help with the packaging and her other daughter Kayla likes to help at the craft shows.
"The other day, I mentioned to my son that I was considering a job," she said. "He said, 'You already HAVE a job (here is where my breath caught). You're a mom.' Yikes, I thought that he was going to say 'soapmaker'!"
Ehrhardt makes soap by using mostly fragrance oils (FOs), but she says that she loves the idea of using mostly essential oils (EOs) in her soaps and has a kitchen cupboard filled with EOs that rarely find themselves into a bar of soap.
Her soapmaking goals include trying to create liquid soaps, and she has all of the necessary materials gathered together. Right now, she's working on the whole range of items that she offers for her business, getting ready for upcoming shows, and preparing for home parties.
"Each time I think I am close to being restocked, I notice something else that is getting close to being gone," she said. "It's funny, I don't seem to remember selling that!"
Ehrhardt tells beginning soapmakers, "Don't be afraid to try a new technique. That is what makes any hobby interesting. Read and learn all you can about it and then jump in, wearing goggles and gloves, of course!"
"It is most frustrating when it seems that I just don't have time for the kids, which has always been the most important thing to me, yet I'm torn because I need to finish packaging or paying bills or making orders for supplies or ..." she said.
Ehrhardt says that she sells many loofah soaps made with M&P soap, body powder, lotion bars, and lavender eye pillows. And people in her area seem to be finally noticing the pleasures of using handmade soaps (hers are made with hempseed oil and goat's milk as the selling point), she said.
Last summer, the Ehrhardt family bought a house that has a complete one-bedroom apartment attached. She has a kitchen solely for her supplies, the living room area is her shop and sewing area, and now she has an office. She said that not many customers come to her shop yet, but when they do, it's nice to have things out where they can see everything.
Ehrhardt receives soapmaking inspiration from her online friends, who she says are "full of ideas." She explores those ideas, and then sometimes a person's questions will send her imagination off on a tangent. She also receives inspiration from her two daughters, who are of different age groups.
"I love feeling, smelling, and using each type [of soap] that I make so much that I infer into the bars that bit of me," she said. "I'm just sure each new owner will love it just the way I do ~ strange, huh?"
Ehrhardt says that she sends a bit of herself with every bar of soap that she sells ~ creating a truly personal product and endless inspiration for her.
"I'm not sure that I'll do this for the rest of my life, but now I know that I'm able to explore new interests and learn enough about it to earn money doing it," she said. "I always wanted to work for myself. I do hope I'm still on this journey when Rylea graduates high school; I know it can go places."