Soapwalla is turning ten. Ten! Can you believe it?!
It’s still mind-boggling to me. This kernel of an idea that was radical when I started over a decade ago – crafting quality skincare from ingredients you can eat; that is for all humans regardless of age or gender or cultural background; that is made with effectiveness and safety (not profit) in mind – I nurtured into a thriving company. One that is represented in 280+ retail partners in 30+ countries across the globe. With an out, queer, female founder who is vocal about their social justice leanings. With an all-female crew. With some pretty fierce principles that we’ve never compromised for the sake of growth, profit, or influence.
When I premiered Soapwalla in 2009, there were only a handful of us in the natural skincare world. Because the movement was so small, we all knew and supported one another. It was kinda magical, this concept that business owners who were arguably in competition with one another could instead work cooperatively to convey a message that was so much larger than our individual selves. Back then, Etsy was the main platform upon which many of us shared our wares. That’s where I released Soapwalla’s all-natural yet effective deodorant cream that you applied with your fingers, eliminating the need for plastic gadgetry or aerosol propellant, and addressing the taboo of touching one’s underarms. This was a foreign concept to most consumers then, but the conversation I’ve had thousands of times at this point – how to manually apply deodorant – is one I still relish. If I can help someone show a little love to a maligned and often scorned body part, it’s a good day.
Ten years ago, a nascent social media culture also began to take hold. There were only a few platforms available to us, but there was also less noise. I don’t want to romanticize those days – there is plenty that is decidedly easier now that we have so many ways to connect with one another – but a decade ago, it was effortless and uncomplicated to clearly communicate my message.
The early 2010s were also the reigning period of blogs, which were *so* powerful a medium for communicating. I am eternally grateful for a few well-read bloggers who gave Soapwalla much-needed exposure early on. Those first reviews, and an organic, word-of-mouth approach to marketing enabled me to craft a company that’s never taken one cent from investors. It hasn’t been easy, but this choice to stay financially independent has allowed me to retain 100% control over Soapwalla’s vision and principled actions.
Small businesses like Soapwalla weren’t taken seriously by the powers that controlled Media-with-a-capital-M, and we relied upon these egalitarian social platforms to communicate our existence and uniqueness. Fewer people on those handful of platforms meant that it was easier to be found and heard. Everything felt sort-of exclusive, like we were part of a secret club that the world at large didn’t know about. It’s invigorating, that feeling of exclusivity, but not necessarily great for long-term business growth.
Today, I look at the clean skincare industry and I’m awed. Overwhelmed, really. Some days I barely recognize it. I certainly didn’t predict in 2009 how much our messaging would resonate, how thirsty consumers were for safe, effective personal care. For companies that were truthful and transparent and humane. For products that were inclusive and accessible. In 2018, an average of 100 new ‘green beauty’ brands launched every single day. Every single day! Media-with-a-capital-M and biggie-biggie corporations got in on the movement, too, partnering with or outright purchasing smaller companies that started right around the time that Soapwalla launched. The natural beauty/clean skincare industry is a very profitable marketplace these days – to the tune of $15 billion. That’s a lot of green (pun intended).
The past few years, our primary sources of communication with clientele – email, blogs, in-person connections – switched to chiefly social media interactions. Instagram is our most popular and successful social media platform. That makes sense – we don’t have smell-o-vision (yet!) so the best way to experience skincare in a virtual world is through imagery. Thanks to social media, we can connect with people halfway around the globe. How incredible that is, truly. Our content is only a click away at any given moment. We can be funny and irreverent. We can offer 12,000 people a personalized tour of our studio with little prep and no equipment. We can show you how we make our most popular products. We can throw a party for our favorite childhood dinosaurs on a Thursday afternoon (we really did that. Thanks again for the paper hats, Megan!).
With Instagram’s popularity, though, comes promotion costs, ever-changing algorithms, guerilla ad campaigns, influencer platforms. A looser concept of authenticity. Issues around accessibility. It’s inevitable, the commodification of something so beloved. It’s not good or bad. It just is. As with everything else small business-related, we simply must navigate the new iteration of social media as it works today. Heraclitus, who said “The only constant in life is change,” must have also owned a business!
During this decade, while we grew a new kind of partnership and rewrote the story on what a natural skincare company (and company owner) looks like, I was dealing with a chronic illness. I’m thankful for my systemic lupus diagnosis – I really am. It offers me the opportunity to continually educate myself on what my body needs to stay happy and healthy. It requires me to examine my life day in and day out, and to make sure what I am doing truly serves me. It reminds me of mortality. Last year, I had major surgery to remove several benign tumors and fibroids. It was terrifying. It also allowed me to take this year to think about what I want my next decade of work to look like.
And so, after lots of thinking, and teeth gnashing, and daydreaming, and brainstorming with my AMAZING team of Soapwalla employees, I am doing something that is unheard of in business. I am dismantling the standard protocol: grow grow grow, never stop to rest, never slow down that upward swing.
Instead, we spent the last year examining every single aspect of the business. We are throwing out what no longer serves us – old packaging, old ideas. We are rebranding. We are changing our look and we are changing our outlook. We are throwing away the rules for ‘success.’ And we are still doing this all on our own, without investor funding.
I’ve worked my tush off this year to completely overhaul Soapwalla. If you haven’t seen a sneak peek of the new Soapwalla, you will soon. We have a new, streamlined aesthetic. We have a new logo. We are still there – you will see all the elements of our old selves, just dusted off and ready for our second decade. Our teen years are gonna look GOOD.
Our new labels and cartons are post-consumer recycled and FSC certified. Gorgeous glass is replacing plastic. And I do mean gorgeous – I scoured the planet for the most delightful and luxurious-feeling jars and bottles I could find. The pumps, sprays and lids are equally stunning and environmentally friendly. The entire line is geared toward sustainability and reusability. My goal is for you to adore our new packaging so much that you use it for years on end, replenishing from our bulk refill program that will be unveiled in 2020.
We have a renewed commitment to our original principles: clean, safe, trustworthy skincare that is for ALL humans. If you have skin, you are our ideal client. If you have particular skin needs, we are here to help you. If you want to feel good stepping out the door each day, we support you.
I’ve always been rebellious. Even as a small child, when someone told me I couldn’t do something, that was the best motivation because you’d better believe I would prove that person wrong. Since day one, I’ve done the same with Soapwalla. Over the last decade, well-meaning friends and associates have told me, “You can’t sell genderless skincare.” “You can’t become profitable without investment money.” “You can’t sell products without PR.” “You have to create a problem and then sell the customer the solution.” We didn’t follow any of that advice – we did the exact opposite. And we’re still standing.
We’re going to disrupt even more this next decade. Soapwalla 2.0 is going back to basics. We are paring down so we can double down on our founding ideals. We are renewing our focus on quality over quantity. We are doing all of this by hand - our badass all-female crew mixing, pouring, labeling, cutting, shipping. Thriving.
We are throwing all the rules out the window because the world is changing and so are we. It’s exciting and scary and radical, which is my favorite place to be.
Thank you for sticking with me, with Soapwalla, for the last 10 years. I hope you stick around for the next 10.
Rachel Winard, Soapwalla Chef