About the Olympia Soap Company
I first tried soap making on Johnston Atoll in 2002 and although the class was for melt and pour soap I am happy to write that my first experience at hands-on soap making was while firefighting on a small coral dot in the Pacific Ocean, a place not widely known about by the general public but spoken of with curiosity and amazement by those who are aware of the former nuclear testing site and chemical weapons disposal facility.
While a strange place to learn how to make a basic melt and pour soap, it was also the perfect place for the origin of the Olympia Soap Company. A mysterious yet toxic island filled with glorious wildlife that not many people would ever see in their lifetimes.
My interest in soap making before Johnston Atoll was brief, in my youth I was sitting in a creek somewhere in Western Louisiana near a lot of artifacts which I won't be discussing at this time. I had heard that there was something called 'Soap stone' which while very young I had easily mistaken for the very source of soap and wondered if the creek which had a clay like mud that gave easily underneath my hands in clumps was in fact the source of the cleaning product. While I was very wrong in my first questioning of the origin of soap and how it was made in the mid 1980s, I had by the early 2000s enough interest in the activity to want to learn more about it around 800 miles southwest of Hawaii in a windowless building surrounded by the Pacific Ocean.
Although my next hands on experience with soap making was Cold Process in 2016, fourteen years later, I had taken the time to study books on the subject while living in Antigua Air Station to even at one point consider making soap on the island but had a lot of other things to focus on while guarding the radar tracking station very few Americans have even heard of.
It was in Antigua however that I first started to consider the different recipes possible with Cold Process soap making and took to writing down a few ideas between security patrols and emergency calls.
The Island of Antigua had many gifts in regards to nature, Lemongrass and Aloe grew almost everywhere and when I did drink tea it was usually from 'Fevergrass' plants outside of the Fire Station mixed with water without even having to trouble with a tea bag. It was the easy access to natural ingredients while on assignment in the Caribbean that influenced my focus towards including primarily Essential Oils in my soap bars and keeping even the ingredients used for color and texture as natural as possible.
The formation of the Olympia Soap Company originally wasn't supposed to be entirely for just soap as I didn't feel at the time of it's formation as a business that my skills were on-par with some of the amazing crafters in the local area and I had to spend a lot of time learning the technique by creating every soap bar from scratch and with as many batches as you see listed on the Past Soap Recipes and Current Soaps page. Instead the company was formed in order to, and quite in a hurry, rent a studio space to continue visual arts from a wall. That activity can be read about in the Visualfreelancer section of this website.
While seemingly disconnected as an activity, visual arts and soap making as a personal focus can be very similar in it's effect. Both visual arts and soap making offer a great deal of distraction as the steps that are required to be memorized and demonstrated repeatedly can seem almost endless and the combinations for what is possible with each activity can lead a person into many different directions. With soap it was to achieve a technique and formula which created solid soap bars with few ingredients that are mostly made from natural ingredients. Sodium Hydroxide, distilled water, 1-4 essential oils, and either a natural powder or clay for color is what I made most of my original soaps with but later on started to include Sodium Lactate in order to harden the bar. While solid, my early soaps experienced consistency breakdown too quickly in water. A reduction of base oils and the addition of Sodium Lactate corrected the error I had become aware of in my original recipes.
The time it takes to make Cold Process Soap means that success or failure with each batch happens to some degree in slow motion. With an average curing time of 30 days, a flaw in the few hours of making the batch can lead to the entire bars produced from it to become imperfect leading to either a re-batching of the soap, only using the bars for personal use, or throwing away something that had been made, cooled, unmolded, and cured for a month only to find out the recipe didn't entirely work.
My sales experience is not as significant as my firefighting functions or soap making ability. While I have been a 'sales person' previously it is not something I bring forward in regards to conversation topics except for examples of many mistakes made. While I had sold knives, cars, and power surge protection equipment previously in my life, my actual sales total from independent attempts or on behalf of a company resulted in three knives being sold sometime in the late 1990s or early 00s. Two to a friend's mother and one to a family member. I can state that I've almost sold one car to a nice couple but failed at gathering any interest from potential lightning and power surge protection equipment in the State of Florida.
In regards to soap I have made significantly more sales than any other former job as I learned simply to present the soaps and not be so hasty at marketing. Those who were curious tried them, a large order at one point was received and hundreds of 1 oz bars made and shipped out, but a flaw in the formula wasn't able to be worked out before a medical accident removed my ability to make soap at all from December 2017 to September 2020. When a friend assisted me in re-learning how to make soap again and I was able to finally go through each one of the steps and my old recipes to come up with ideas on how to make new ones. I couldn't stop making soap bars for a brief time and donated what I had made to a local food bank and gave them out to friends and retail employees to see what they thought of the new soap bars which I had been making. While the volume of production was high, I noticed that the flaw in my formula still needed to be completely addressed and at last with the 'Smooth Coffee' and 'Lavender' Soap Bars made before summer of 2021 I realized that the formula as finally entirely to my liking although Lavender is not actually my favorite scent.
While re-learning how to make soap I did start to incorporate the use of Fragrance Oils as Essential Oils were not enough to achieve specific fragrances like Baby Powder, Coffee (especially coffee), and very strong smelling Pumpkin so I finally started to utilize more synthetic based ingredients in some of the soap bars to achieve specific scent notes.
I'm also a member of the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild and appreciate the guild for their focus towards the ethics, professionalism, and community of soap making.
My biggest joy in soap making other than using my own soap is having taught soap making and introducing the videos of Bramble Berry to my assistant Mrs. Hernandez-Yaskus who used my previous notes to help me re-learn how to make soap. Without her help I'm unsure if I would have been able to continue soap making after having been injured and she currently makes soap at home with her husband Cooper. Mrs. Hernandez-Yaskus utilizes different ingredients than I do which match her individual tastes and creative insights. I hope that it's an activity her family enjoys for years into the future.
Joshua S. Johnson