If you're typing her e-mail address, you'll write to "soapgranny," and when you get a reply, she'll list her title as Soap Bartender. Clearly, Maggie Hanus, the brains behind A Wild Soap Bar, knows (and loves!) her soap.
Surf to her Web site, and you'll find soap made with everything under the Texas sun: sunflowers, yucca root, wildflowers, pecan pralines, wild carrots, mesquite, and much, much more. We asked Maggie to tell us more about the importance of all-natural soaps, and she gave us a wealth of helpful resources that we're pleased to pass along to you.
Green America: Where are you located, and what does your business do?
Maggie Hanus: A Wild Soap Bar is a family-owned micro-business located on 20 wild and wooded acres near Austin, Texas. I taught myself to make handmade soap back in 1995 in the kitchen of our owner-built log cabin home and haven't been able to stop ever since! Our passion is to provide you with truly natural products that are safe for all living things and a joy to use while raising awareness of the environmental necessity, economic value, natural beauty, and therapeutic properties of wild native plants. To accomplish this, we donate a portion of our profits each year to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and United Plant Savers.
Five shades of green.
What makes your company green?
Maggie: Unlike many so-called "natural" soapmakers, we've never used toxic synthetic fragrance oils to scent our products. We use only pure essential oils, the way Mother Nature intended. Each original recipe also includes wild native plants, organic botanicals, natural colorants, and healing earth clays. Our products contain no sodium lauryl or laureth sulfates, synthetic dyes, antibacterial triclosan, parabens, phthalates, TEA, preservatives, artificial foam boosters, or other harmful petro-chemicals. With all of the good things, and none of the bad . . . we make it easy to be clean AND green!
We strive to run our business in an eco-friendly and socially responsible way. We re-use all boxes and packaging materials that we receive and use biodegradable corn starch packing peanuts. All company literature and product labels are printed on recycled de-inked 100% post consumer waste paper. We reclaim the water vapor that accumulates in our soap drying room and use this pure distilled water as the liquid basis for our soaps. Our natural products are biodegradable, cruelty-free, mostly vegan (we use raw wild honey, goats' milk, and unbleached beeswax in a couple of formulas) and minimally packaged or not packaged at all. In addition to reducing, reusing, and recycling, we offset 100 percent of our manufacturing and shipping carbon emissions with Carbonfund.org and encourage other businesses to do so. Our employees enjoy a peaceful, safe, rural work environment, flexible hours, a living wage, and creative input into company policies.
What did you do before you became a green business owner?
Maggie: Before plunging into the soap business full time, I ran a YMCA afterschool program for about 80 kids in our local elementary school. I really enjoyed working with children, but I have to say that soapmaking is usually less stressful and a whole lot quieter for sure!
What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Maggie: One of the biggest challenges we face is sourcing local and sustainable raw materials and we're constantly on the lookout for ways to improve in this area. Another significant problem I face is trying to wear too many hats. Building a successful business from scratch is an INCREDIBLE amount of work and I caution people to take a cold hard look at everything it entails before thinking you're going to start your own fun little business and get rich quick. I work a minimum of 60 hours a week, usually more. Good thing I love what I do!
What’s been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
For Spot cleaning.
Maggie: Seeing our family's products on the shelves of major health food and grocery chains is definitely rewarding, but hearing how our natural products have helped countless people with skin sensitivities and chronic skin problems is the real pay off.
When they realize that the synthetic chemical-laden products they've been slathering on themselves are actually causing them harm and they make the switch to truly natural ones, well . . .. you just feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that you've helped so many people (and the environment) in a meaningful way. We're also proud of our natural dog shampoo bars. They've helped a lot of dogs with chronic skin problems and their owners are always very grateful. When people keep returning for more, you know you've got a good thing going.
What is the most hopeful sign you have seen recently from the green economy?
Maggie: The steady trend towards mainstream natural and organic bodycare products is exciting. At the same time, there are lots of unscrupulous companies out there hopping on the bandwagon by adding a pinch of organic herbs and a botanical-sounding name to their conventional toxic synthetic products, so buyer beware. Your best defense is to read labels and to inform yourself. Learn which ingredients are safe, which ones are truly natural, what it means to be USDA certified organic, and which products to avoid. A few helpful resources are www.naturalingredient.org, www.cosmeticsdatabase.com , and www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/index.cfm.
What advice would you give to green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Maggie: My best advice for budding green entrepreneurs is to think big but start small. You're probably not going to incorporate every green principle into your business right off the bat. Take baby steps, do what you can, feel good about your accomplishments, and make all business decisions with sustainability and the bigger picture in mind.
What’s the next green step you’re working on right now?
Maggie: The next green step for A Wild Soap Bar is to develop a line of USDA-certified organic products and to gain organic certification for our manufacturing facility. Organics are the wave of the future, and we plan to be a part of it.
What green product can you not live without?
Maggie: I simply cannot live without my Lafe's Natural Crystal Deodorant Stick (nor would anyone want me to)!
Questions from readers:
Q: You make a doggie soapbar, and I have a cat with sensitive skin who sometimes needs a bath: Do you have a product for cats? (Maybe with catnip?) — Martha
Maggie: Sorry, Martha, but we only make soap for dogs which should NOT be used on cats. Cats can't metabolize certain essential oils which means they can accumulate in their body and become quite toxic to their system.
Q: I have very dry skin, and am 66 years old. I live a relatively healthy lifestyle in a rural area of Idaho looking over a lake. Idaho air is dry, and with global warming, getting drier as we have experienced drought conditions for two years now. I need soaps that don't dry my skin as they clean it. What kinds of herbs in soaps can give my skin moisture while cleaning it? I would like good soaps not only for myself but for friends as well, and of course each of them have different skin types. What kinds of herbs are best for different skin types? Thanks so much. — Jaquith
Maggie: Our natural olive oil soaps are great for ALL skin types because they moisturize, balance, and protect the skin's surface. We hear every day from people with severely dry or irritated skin who have been very pleased with the relief they've achieved by using our natural soaps on a regular basis. Even if you have oily skin like I do, the worst thing you can do is dry it out with harsh soaps, which will only cause your skin to produce even more oil to try and compensate. So feel free to choose any of our soaps for proactive skin care. The Honey Oat and Wild Carrot soaps contain goats milk which is very helpful for severely dry skin and people with very oily or acneic skin have reported good results by using our Yucca Root Shampoo & Body Bar.
A few herbs traditionally used for dry skin are aloe vera, oats, fennel, mallow, evening primrose, and orange blossom. Herbs for oily skin include lemon, lemongrass, cucumber, and witch hazel.
Q: Can you comment on some of the advantages of using your product? Because you use organic ingredients does your soap lose strength with age or does it have a possibility to "turn bad"? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Where can I get your soap or how do I order some?— Robert
Maggie: The biggest advantage when using our natural olive oil soaps is that they don't dry your skin out. They're very moisturizing, extremely mild, and they feel good on your skin! Another advantage is the aromatherapeutic properties from the pure essential oils. But probably the most important advantage is that they're made with natural ingredients that are safe for our families and safe for our world. Our handcrafted soaps will remain fresh and fragrant for at least 6 months (usually they last MUCH longer) but we recommend you use them within that time frame. You can order our soaps online at www.awildsoapbar.com or visit the "Find Our Products" page to locate a store in your area.