Ledford pours soap into a mold at SLAB, which uses palm, coconut, olive oil and exotic butters in its handcrafted soaps.
// Photo by William Bragg
The growth potential of the handcrafted soap market has brought larger companies into the mix. And that, not competition from other small soapmakers, is where the real threat to this burgeoning industry lies, according to Tim Ledford of SLAB Handcrafted Soaps in Salem. “When large companies come in and buy smaller companies, they can dilute the brand and the organic and natural concepts.” If these companies sell inferior mass-produced products as handmade, he continues, they can turn customers off from real handcrafted soaps. To combat this influence, Fiesel, Ledford, Futoran and Gale continue to connect with customers and demonstrate the benefits of their products.
They also continue to look toward the future, refining their recipes and responding to consumer demand. Fiesel recently introduced vegetable oil–based soaps to her line of tallow and goat’s milk soaps as a result of consumer demand. Ledford, who has added two employees to his operation, will soon be moving to a larger production facility so he can keep up with his customers. He predicts the handcrafted soap industry will follow in the footsteps of microbreweries, creating a market that can withstand pressures from large corporations and continue to grow through innovation and creativity. And creativity is the hallmark of soapmakers, says Fiesel.
“There are a lot of creative avenues you can employ in trying to pursue that perfect bar,” she says. “It is a never-ending quest for the best.”