She Blinded Me With Science, or Is My Lotion Really Going to Give Me Cancer?

Working on a tiny midwinter update & doing some light readingūüėČ This article’s a few years old, but raises some interesting data regarding mineral oil-based moisturizers & tumor growth:
I dropped out of college after a year & a half, but one of the classes that has always stuck with me was an animal behavior & cognition class. We talked about how stupid chickens really are (not very, as a matter of fact), & how trainers arrest behavioral development in sheep guard dogs, but mostly, we learned how to read & dissect scientific papers.
There is a LOT of bad science out there. A LOT. And a ton of it gets poorly referenced in click-bait-y “expose” journalism that relies on reactionary rage to get us all in a lather about what’s really in our food/cosmetics/medications/etc.
That’s how I found this article: a friend had posted a “YOUR LOTION IS GIVING YOU CANCER” link on FB, & I went digging through the links until I found the original data source. Then I went over the study itself, looking for consistent control methods, sample sizes, & overall good scientific method – if any of those things were weak or non-existent, the study would prove nothing.
Turns out, this is a pretty solid start, with some data that suggests mineral oil-based moisturizers encourage tumor growth in existing cancerous subjects. No, your lotion is not giving you cancer. But if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, this study suggests you might want to ditch the mineral oil.
(FWIW, I don’t use mineral oil in any PBSW products, nor have I ever. It’s an occlusive, preventing moisture from leaving the skin, which is awesome.¬†But it’s a REALLY GOOD occlusive, meaning that it forms a formidable seal over your skin,¬†triggering breakouts & irritation for many users. It’s also a petroleum product, which, really, isn’t something we need to be slathering all over our bodies; not when there are equally effective plant- & animal-based oils available.)
So, go forth, browse the internet as you will, but¬†always remember to do your research. Friends don’t let friends perpetuate bad¬†science¬†:)
Posted in Behind the Curtain, Science!, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

20K Gold, or How I Sold a Truly Ridiculous Amount of Soap on Etsy, or The Part Where She Bangs on the Table A Lot

Well, kids, here it is, the day I hit 20 THOUSAND sales in my Etsy shop!





When I opened my shop 5 1/2 years ago, I never expected to sell more than a few bars of soap, let alone quit my day job & build an empire. But, thanks to some major ass-busting on my part & a community of incredible customers, here I am, sitting pretty at over 20K sales.

I get asked a LOT about my growth¬†on Etsy, & what new sellers can do to really nail that kind of success for themselves. The truth is, there’s no one recipe for success, & there’s no map I can draw that will lead every maker to the same peak, as it were. But, with this post, I’ll try to distill some Best Practices that will hopefully demystify things a bit, & help you get your business on the right path.

Disclaimer: I am a college drop out. I have absolutely ZERO formal training or education in business. I don’t know what a supply chain is, let alone how to use one. If your dream is to get on Shark Tank/find investors/go public/build a brand that you can sell & make big bucks, this information is very much not¬†going to help you. I don’t think. But maybe it will? I don’t know.

Oh Cherry baby… #nofilter #soap #paintboxsoapworks #therhinestonehousewife

A photo posted by The High Saponatrix (@paintboxsoapworks) on

Make What You Love to Make

Rule #1 of building a micro business – you are going to be living, breathing, & completely saturating yourself in¬†the thing that you make, so be damn sure it’s something you really, really love. Don’t start a business making Shrinky-Dink eye patches¬†unless you are 100% OK with them taking over your entire existence.

Loving what you make also pushes you to get better at what you make. Your main push to make a thing shouldn’t be “because it’s easy”.¬†One of the most soul crushing things I can hear from a maker is “Oh my gosh, these are so easy to make, I can just crank them out & I don’t even have to think about it!”…

I am a firm believer in hard work. Work makes us better human beings. Work adds value, to things, to life, to ourselves. Making a thing that challenges your abilities & forces you to learn, adapt & grow has inherent worth, long before you put a price sticker on it.

Skill: it’s the new sexy.

I busted my ass for years in the food service industry, & then busted my ass in client services for a while. When I started making soap as a hobby, I pushed myself to learn as much as I could about it. Then I busted my ass some more. Noticing a trend?

Working really hard to get better at something makes you work smarter, too. You learn how to make things more efficiently, how to finesse your materials to do things that they normally don’t want to do. You get stupidly excited when you find a new way to do something that shouldn’t work, but totally does. You cackle giddily at no one.

Being passionate about¬†what you do also makes it really easy to talk about your work, and talking about what you do is the fastest way to get to the next point…

Connect With People

Hiding yourself away in an airy, south facing studio at the top of the house & doing nothing but making felt nose cozies all day sounds like heaven, but at some point, if you want to pay the bills, you’ll actually have to talk to people.

Yeah. I know. You hate shilling. You hate “sales”. Your personal idea of hell is having to stand up in front of a room full of people & give a sales pitch about your nose cozies & why everyone needs one & why yours are the best & oh my GOD PLEASE BUY ONE, WON’T SOMEBODY BUY ONE.

The truth is, as micro businesses, sales pitches & elevator speeches aren’t what net us customers. What does?


I’m not talking about relationships with your family, or your besties, or even the regulars that you see every week at the dog park. Honestly, these folks are probably the worst group to pitch to, as they’ll tend to give very well-intentioned but really horrible business advice (see supply chains).

You want to start looking for other makers, other micro businesses, other people who value skill & substance over 3-for-$5 deals. Chat up the regulars at the local yarn shop. Get comfy in an online forum dedicated to indie beauty products. Trade contact info with the guy doing hand crafted furniture at the arts festival. Talk to anyone who will listen about what you do, why you do it, & why you love it. Hang onto the folks who talk back, & for the love of Pete, ALWAYS have business cards in your pocket.

Go out into the world (IRL or online) & sow the seeds of relationships, leaving a trail that people can follow back to you & your work. People will remember that awesome girl that came by the shop a few weeks ago & talked about raising goats & making cheese. They will remember the guy who gave really good advice on how to set up a composting system, & didn’t he¬†make concrete planters or something, I know he had a link in his profile…

Our work is nothing without people to share it with. You gotta get out of your own head & find your people. Find the ones who Get You, who get what you do & what you’re all about. And then…

Listen to People (but not all of them)

It’s all well and good if you love to make wire sculptures of Jeff Bridges, but if no one wants to buy a wire replica¬†of His Dudeness, well, you’ll have a hard time paying the bills.

Now, you can go all infomercial & try to figure out a way to convince folks that their lives are incomplete without a life-size 10-gauge aluminum Lebowski in their front yard… eeeeeh. This just sounds exhausting. And absolutely no fun whatsoever.

Or, you use the budding network of connections you’ve been cultivating to find something that people do want. Play around with your materials & your skills.¬†Make some prototypes & put them up on Instagram & see what catches people’s attention. Invite some local makers around for a beer & to talk shop & show them what you’re working on. Ask people what they are missing, what they need, what they are always looking for but can’t find.

Now, you’ll probably get a lot of feedback. Some of it will be really helpful. Some of it will be awful. There’s always someone who thinks that¬†crocheted doggie bikinis¬†is A Sure Thing, and yeah, the Poo-pouri folks are making a mint right now, but really, is that what you want to spend your time making? (If it is, get on with your bad self, you are a better person than I.)

Weed out the impractical, the also-rans, the ideas that run contrary to your personal standards, and¬†look for the genuine seeds of inspiration. Look for the ideas that speak to a larger audience. Look for the sparks that make you say, “You know what? I could do something with that…” & that keep you up at night with your brain on overdrive.

Fill. A. Need.

Even if it’s a tiny need. Even if it’s a frivolous need.¬†Find that spot where your skill & an empty space intersect. Take a thing that works okay & figure out a way to make it work better. Make something that’s already really useful really beautiful as well.

Let’s be frank: there are a metric shit ton of makers out there. If you’re going to make yourself stand out in a crowded marketplace, you need to come up with a really good reason why people should buy your stuff. “Because I worked really hard on it,” isn’t enough; people will not buy from you¬†just because you spent fifteen hours hand painting a Scrabble tile to look like a Cheez-It. A pity purchase isn’t how you net loyal customers.

This isn’t to say that you can’t succeed unless you literally reinvent the wheel. You just need to figure out how you could make it just a little bit better.

Pay Yourself

No, dammit, seriously, I mean it. Figure out what it costs to make one of your kimchi-stuffed marshmallows, from supplies & ingredients to packaging & printer ink. Then figure out how long it takes for you to make it, and add in an hourly wage for yourself. You are a maker, not a charity; if you want to quit that day job, you have to pay yourself.

More importantly, you have to value the work that you do before you can expect anyone else to value it. 

If you don’t factor in labor when you price your items, your prices will be too low. Contrary to popular opinion, low prices do not net long term sales, not in the hand made world. Price your work cheaply, & people will assume that it’s cheap in quality, too.

There are a ton of pricing calculators out there, so I’m not holding your hand through that process. Just make sure at the end of the day, your work is working for you.

meadow thanks

Be grateful

Here it is folks, the end game, benchmark, if-you-listen-to-nothing-else-I’ve-said-for-god’s-sake-listen-to-this moment.

Say thank you. Say it A LOT. Thank your customers. Thank your suppliers. Thank your connections. Thank your detractors.

And then thank your customers again.

Never let your customers think for one hot minute that you take their support for granted. 

Invite them into your work space; host open houses, post in-process pictures, share disaster stories, let them see you doing what you do best.

Give them something; get super pretty business cards to put in each order, make a coupon code just for returning customers, send freebies, make a behind-the-scenes video.

Let them know you’re listening; answer emails & convos, send a hand-written note, maintain an active Facebook page/Twitter/Instagram that lets your customers talk to you in public.

Our customers are why¬†we get to do what we do all day; without them, we’d be stuck in uninspiring¬†day jobs, getting flack & making money for other people. Our customers set us free. Never forget that.


So yeah, you probably thought this was going to be a post all about getting found in Etsy searches & how to tag your products… Whoopsūüôā

Here’s the thing: all of this, every last bit, will make you a better Etsy seller. It’ll also make you a better eBay seller, & a better Shopify seller, & a better Mid Atlantic Arts Festival seller.

And in the end, it’ll make you a better Maker. And isn’t that what this is all about?

Posted in Behind the Curtain | 3 Comments

So long, 2014!

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! After a week & a half of sloth & indolence, I couldn’t take it anymore & am spending the day in my happy place – making soap. BLISS.

Clean Slate in the mold, Mr Blue Sky on the hi-fi, coffee in my mug… #BLISS #paintboxsoapworks #soap

A photo posted by The High Saponatrix (@paintboxsoapworks) on

I wanted to take a minute to express my deep & heartfelt gratitude to every single one of you for your overwhelming support this year. 2014 slapped my ass and called me darling, and I could not be more thrilled by the way PBSW has grown in the past 12 months, let alone the past five years.

You read that right – January 1st marks PBSW’s FIFTH anniversary! For five years, I’ve been soaping my face off, & you’ve been there every step of the way. I couldn’t ask for a more passionate,¬†considerate, enthusiastic tribe at my back as I lead this soapy revolution. You guys. So much love‚̧

Well hey, kids, look who finally got her thumb out and joined Instagramūüôā #paintboxsoapworks

A photo posted by The High Saponatrix (@paintboxsoapworks) on

In between batches, I’m running a few reports from the past year. Just for kicks, you know,¬†because I like to make the numbers dance. Check it out:


That right there? Is a WHOLE LOT OF SOAP, kids. Thank you so much!

All that soap means big things for PBSW in 2015, so stay tuned for the exciting news!

Wishing you all a fantastic new year‚̧

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Make It Your Damn Self: Laundry Soap

Strap on those aprons, my little house elves! I posted a picture of my home made laundry detergent the other day & was besieged by requests for the recipe, so here we go!


First, though, let’s talk about why we’d bother to do such a thing in the first place. Why spend half an hour making something that you can easily get at the store? For our family, there are several reasons:

  • Price
  • Ingredients
  • Scent

Even if you buy your detergent in bulk, chances are, making your own will be much cheaper. The recipe below nets us about 40 ounces of powdered detergent, for a total cost of $12 or less. That works out to about 30¬†cents an ounce, which looks expensive until you consider that you use less than half the amount of home made laundry soap as you do commercial formulas. Liquid detergents look cheaper, but consider how much you’re paying for a product that’s largely water…

On¬†to my second reason for making our own detergent – I like knowing what goes in my bath, body & household products. We’ve been avoiding surfactants & true detergents for several years, as I found that they tended to aggravate my husband’s skin issues & made my scalp itchy. Surfactants are awesome at making bubbles & lifting dirt, but there are enough concerns about its effect on the skin that we try to use products without them. Most liquid laundry detergents (and dish liquids, for that matter) are surfactant-based – even the “green” ones. Powdered detergents are usually better, but again, that leads us to my final reason for DIYing our detergent.

One of the underlying motivations for my starting PBSW is that I abhor most commercial scents. Dish liquid, shampoo, perfume, dryer sheets – ninety percent of them give me headaches. Being able to scent my own laundry soap to suit my nose (and our family’s needs) is a godsend. Our son’s in the middle of soccer season & the perpetual growth spurt cycle of elementary, so we need a detergent that cuts the boy funk, but that won’t trigger J’s asthma or my migraines. Find me a commercially scented soap that can cover all that…

Right, proselytising over. Let’s make laundry soap!

The main ingredients can be found very cheaply at the grocery store, or on Amazon, if you don’t feel like leaving the house. Essential oils can be bought for extortionate amounts at your local health food store, or you can buy them from one of my favorite suppliers here. I know I have a lot of indie perfume fans in the audience; yes, you can use your BPAL to scent your laundry soap, but it will be an expensive project. Try Nature’s Garden¬†for quality fragrance oils in affordable quantities instead.

100% organic coconut soap from PBSW

DIY Laundry Soap

Yields appx 40 ounces, a 6-month supply for a family of three

7-8 ounces of unscented soap (I make my own out of 100% organic coconut oil, but you can use your own favorite unscented bar, as long as it’s not billed as moisturizing or glycerin soap. I know lots of folks use Dr Bronner’s baby soap with good results. For the love of all that’s holy, please don’t use Fels Naptha – it’s far from unscented, & doesn’t exactly score high on the stuff-I-want-near-my-body rating.)

2 pounds of washing soda

2 pounds of borax

6-8 ml of essential or fragrance oil (I use a combination of tea tree, peppermint, lavender & fir or orange essential oils, as the whim takes me)

I highly advise using a mask & gloves during the blending process, as the borax & washing soda release a fair amount of particulates & can be hard on the skin during stirring.

First, the tedious part: finely grate all 8 ounces of your soap into a large bowl or bucket. I use a microplaner, & it takes me about 15 minutes. You can use the fine screen on a box grater as well, or run it through your food processor with the grater plate. The down side to the other two options is that you tend to get larger bits of soap that can sometimes clump in the pockets of your clothing, especially if you use cold water for the wash cycle.

Once your soap is grated, mask up & add your washing soda & borax. Use gloved hands to mix the three elements together, rubbing any lumps between your hands to break them up completely.

Once fully combined, add your scent, & use either gloved hands or a wire whisk to blend it in thoroughly. Pack into a large jar or ziploc bag, & voila! Half a year of custom laundry soap, at your service.

Tea tree, peppermint, lavender & fir needle

I use 1-2 tablespoons of soap per load in our top loading washer, & this recipe is generally regarded as safe for HE & front loaders, as well. I use 1 part white vinegar & 3 parts water as fabric softener, & to help combat any build up on both clothing & washer parts. If I need a spot treatment, I just mix a little laundry soap powder with warm water to make a thick paste.

So there it is, folks – go get your grate on!

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Hanging out with How I Pinch a Penny!

My friend Sarah, the tireless force of nature behind How I Pinch a Penny, invited me to her couch to talk all things Etsy, self employment, micro business and more! Check out two smart women talking shop & working the jazz hands!

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Selling out without selling out

So hey, I just wanted to publicly thank everyone for what is amounting to a a batshit INSANE opening week to the 2014 Weenie season. Seriously, that’s a whole lot of soap, & I am incredibly grateful for your enthusiasm & support!

sold out

I also wanted to apologize for the speed at which the new hot process & salt bars sold out – in some cases, within 24 hours of being listed. I knew you kids were excited, but I was in no way expecting things to move so quickly. A lot of you missed out on the bars that you wanted, & that’s not what I like to see.

“But Hayley!” folks have said, “Selling out’s a GOOD thing, right?” “Don’t make more right away! Let them get scared so when you do restock, it gets snapped up!” “Hey, you should put your micro batches on eBay instead, imagine what folks would pay!”

Here’s the thing: yeah, I’m running a business here, and making money is awesome. (Especially in August. Making money in August – when the tuition bill’s due – is AMAZING.) But the heart of my business is you, my customers. And I don’t ever want you to feel like I’m putting one over on you so that I can make a fast buck. That’s not what I’m here to do.

Selling out of a new product is an amazing feeling. I made a thing, a thing you’ve never tried before, & you bought ALL OF IT. RESULT! But selling out before everyone gets a decent shot at buying a bar? It’s like telling the whole class about the epic birthday party you have planned & only inviting your three best friends :/¬† It’s not my fault my new stuff sold so quickly… and yet it kind of is.

PBSW isn’t about impossibly hard-to-come-by products, stalking-the-update frenzies, or paying through the nose for rarities on eBay. It’s about good clean fun for everyone. And I want all of you to get to play.

As my hare-brained hobby grows closer to an established brand, it’s clear that I need to step up my game. I need to plan better, to start making bigger batches – & that’s exactly what I intend to do. Thanks for being patient while I get my head out of my ass.

I have supply orders en route, & restocks of the gone-in-a-flash batches will be in the shop by early October. Because I love you & you’re awesome, all four varieties (Cyprus, The Summer House, Rice Pudding & Smoked Salt & Pepper) will be restocked through the winter, & some may well end up in the general catalog, available year round.

Seriously, kids, I am humbled & awed by your enthusiasm for what I do, & I want to keep earning that trust & support for as long as you’ll have me. Thank you so much!‚̧

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Shakin’ it up, shakin’ it up!

Yeah, I know. A blog post! I’m as surprised as you are…

Happy summer, my little campers! You’ve been keeping me hopping this year, & for that I am eternally grateful!

Every few months, I take a hard look at my scent catalog to see if I’ve got any dead wood that needs to be pruned. Lucky for you, this time it’s not so much pruning as grafting…


As of the end of the summer, my fabulous wholesale client The Soap Box Company¬†will be assuming exclusive rights to a handful of PBSW classics. This is a fantastic arrangement, as it allows me to refresh the scent catalog without permanently discontinuing anything, SBCo gets some tried & tested blends that have a devoted following, and you don’t miss out on your favorite scents! Everybody wins!

So, without further ado… The following blends will be phased out of the PBSW shop, to reappear at The Soap Box Company¬†by summer’s end:

Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground

The Queen is Dead

Blushing Heart

Bluebird in the Lilacs

… and Pick-a-Duck, which has been in SBCo territory for the past year, will officially be an exclusive for them, as well.

I’ll also be working on some new exclusives for SBCo, including a new resinous blend & something fruity! Good times!

Meanwhile, I’m facing some supplier issues, & certain long standing components are no longer available. Effective immediately, The Olive Tree,¬†Big in Japan¬†& This Charming Man¬†will not be restocked. Black Bart¬†will be reformulated in the coming months, & several seasonal blends will either need to be retooled or discontinued. It guts me when this happens, especially when the supplier in question offers such amazing fragrances, but what can you do?

You can make shiny new blends, that’s what! I have a test batch of a staggeringly beautiful unisex/men’s blend curing, plus lots of little test cups of potential new scents. Never fear, my brave little troopers, PBSW will forge the wayūüôā




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