Today, I’m interviewing Jennifer Monsini, The Hippie Farmer! Jennifer was recently added to our admin team in Saponification Nation. So, I thought it would be fun to introduce her to everyone and to learn more about her and her soapmaking journey.
Amanda: Tell us about how you got your start in soap making.
Jennifer: I got into soap making about 5 years ago from a friend whom I met through a cloth diapering community 15 years ago. I had bought a farm and purchased goats, as she had, and I had hopes of selling Goat Milk Soaps to be able to afford my animals. Little did I know the extent of what I got into after that in regards to soaping and much more! I fell in love with it and its been a wonderful adventure.
Describe your first batch of soap. What do you remember about it?
OH gosh. I think back to my first batch of soap! I have come a long way. HAHA. As you know goat milk tends to yellow. Well I had a very off white, yellow soap. It was plain with lavender essential oils and lavender inside (which does turn black). It was kind of ugly. Nothing like what I make today!!!
How would you describe your style of soap making?
Shabby Chic? With a tad of rustic? Or maybe Elegant Rustic? Hahaha… Its cold process so I don’t feel its as rustic as a hot process soap. And people like to tell me how beautiful it is. But I to tend to stay pretty plain. I think the most decorated soaps I’ve done has been the mermaid or shell/beach soap. Otherwise… I’m not so great at all the creative aspects of soaping. I soap for functionality, I guess.
Where do you find inspiration for the soap that you make?
Soaponification Nation! Everyone is sooooo creative. It definitely sparks my creativity (hence those beach soaps). I just wish I had more time to be creative. But two little ones and a teenager keep me pretty busy.
How has your soap making evolved from when you first started?
It’s evolved greatly! Mainly in looks, to what I use for ingredients, to creating my own recipes. You name it, it’s evolved. And it’s still evolving; I’m still learning. I don’t think that will ever end.
Have you ever had any big-time soaping fails? What did you learn from it?
OH BOY HAVE I!!! And I like to post them. From lye still in the bars (EECK) to volcanoes, to wrong colors, to really ugly ugly soap, to weird gelling…I’ve probably encountered every fail possible, except maybe leaving a spatula in my soap, which may be in my future. Hahaha. Yes I’ve learned from every single mistake. Although, I still haven’t learned not to experiment with 10lbs of soap. I need to learn to experiment with a little mold. HAHAHA!
What is your favorite soap to make for yourself?
My favorite soap to make has to be…. my latest beach soap. All the shells on top are goat milk soap. I make them and save them up as I soap (Takes probably about 2 months). I use Japanese indigo as the water and Orange Peel Powder as the sand, which is on top. There is pink sea salt and pumice sprinkled with the shells. The essential oils are Ylang Ylang, Bergamot and Patchouli. Its absolutely amazing. I wish I could make more of it as a single time but it’s time consuming. But this soap is just gorgeous. It screams a Bermuda Beach.
Where do you soap? Do you soap in the kitchen or do you have a dedicated space?
I proudly just converted my entire garage to a workshop! Its gorgeous… amazing… and of course not enough space. Is there ever enough space? But it beats working out of your kitchen and a spare bedroom (or shall I say kids play room). I’ve been very lucky and blessed to be able to have this workshop.
How do you find time to balance your personal and soap life?
EECK! It’s hard. I have always been a creative person, always making stuff. But I do struggle to find a happy medium. I have to dedicate times for both for sure.
When did you decide to turn soap making into a business? And what was the process?
I turned it into a business after selling soap on the road side of our farm. People fell in love with it and have kept me going by buying it all.
What was your biggest struggle during the process?
My biggest struggle is with how big it’s grown and how to grow with it. Having the computer programs to keep track of things is also hard as I don’t have time to be on the computer as much as I would like, because I have to keep up with production of products.
What’s a typical day by day in your soaping business week?
WAY TOO BUSY!! I have two little ones and a teen. So between diapers and dropping the teen off at work, I have to make about 600 bars a week (shave, body and shampoo) and also attend my farmers markets. I also run a farm stand where I do most of my selling.
What is your best-selling soap? Please tell us about it.
Lavender… PLAIN OL’ LAVENDER BARS. HAHA.
Who is your all-time favorite supplier and why?
I love love Jedwards… Bulk Natural Oils. I live in Massachusetts and I’m able to pick up right at their warehouse. I work towards bringing my carbon print down, and less packaging etc. Their oils are top quality too. They have been absolutely wonderful.
What is your favorite mold and why?
The Silikomart Gem100. Those are to die for. I wish they weren’t so expensive cause I need so many more of them. They are just a dream to work with and the soaps come out so beautiful.
What base oils could you not do without and what properties do they give your soap?
Coconut oil. I LOVE IT! I do dish soap now and love just the plain coconut oil. I go through it like crazy! And the cleaning properties of it is amazing. I’ve also switched to using Rice Bran Oil which I love. I feel like it’s a creamier bar with it. And of course castor oil… can’t live without a little of that in a bar.
What is your favorite soap making additive and what does it contribute to your soap?
I love activated charcoal. I do a lot of bars with that. It helps my skin so much!!
What advice do you have for those just getting into soap making?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And don’t let it discourage you from continuing to soap. Everyone has made not so pretty soap before.