Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Bonnie Ferguson and Chris Seaman, husband and wife and owners of Pastry Moon Soap. You can find Pastry Moon online at pastrymoon.etsy.com and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pastry-Moon/164089193603580

This interview has been edited for length.

 Do you want to start by walking me through the soap making process?

 BF – Well, my part is mostly picking out the colors and the scent, and if there’s a special decorative part.

 CS – You gotta decide what oils you want. You get your lye. And then . . . Should I tell them the secret part? Haha. Then once you have your oils and your lye, you mix up your lye. You weigh out everything. And then you melt your oils. And you mix them together. And you got soap!

 How many different kinds of soap do you make?

 BF – We’re trying to streamline it so it’s just a few of the best, but right now we have over twenty different kinds.

 CS – Is it twenty?

 BF – Yeah.

 CS – I was going to say like a dozen. We’ve made that many, but we’re trying to get it down to maybe ten.

 What are some of the most popular ones so far?

 BF – Tea Breeze, Energy – which is a citrus smell. Tea Breeze, it’s got tea tree oil and the essential oil of black tea in it. So it has an earthy fragrance. But then the tea tree oil is basically good for anything wrong with the skin. So it just makes this wonderful healing bar. And everybody likes it. We also put oatmeal in it. He likes to grind up the oatmeal very fine. I like it a little bit chunkier. And then Energy is like a citrus blend. People think it’s fresh, and some people think it smells like Smarties. Those two are probably the main ones. In fact, I’ve got one lady that will buy a whole entire batch of Tea Breeze at one time.

 CS – Lavender seems to do alright.

 BF – Yeah, we’ve made a few batches of lavender. Have y’all smelled our new ones?

 No.

 BF – Come on, let’s get them.

 So what are your personal favorites?

 CS – I like Tea Tree ones. I like the Blueberry.

 BF – These are just the new ones. So far, people really like Almond. I think Almond’s going to be on our “make forever” list. And Almond is really fun because we put crushed up walnut shells in it. So it’s really an exfoliator.

 CS – You didn’t get clover.

 BF – That’s not one of our new ones!

 CS – Oh yeah, I really like that Palm Citrus too.

 BF – Yeah, people really like the Palm Citrus.

 CS – It might be a tie between the Palm and the Tea Breeze.

 BF – The one that’s not really successful is the Tuti-Fruti. I don’t know why. It’s Strawberry and Energy, but nobody likes it.

 CS – More for us. The good thing is we have extra soap. Don’t have to buy soap.

 If people want to buy your soap, where can they go?

 BF – We just got our Etsy. So it’s pastrymoon.etsy.com.

 CS – Right now, we have some at Crescent City.

 BF – And Acorn Creek. And then the Etsy. And then our next festival is going to be the Chicken Festival in Dubach. And then it’s the Celtic Festival, my favorite festival of all time! Y’all should come.

 Where’s that?

 BF – It’s going to be at Forsythe Park this year. It should be really great. They’re going to have live music, and of course the Highland Games. I think that this kind of deal where you sell stuff at festivals and everything was really along the original plan that I wanted to do, which was to have an artisan trading company, where we could utilize all the things we make. I make hats, bags, purses, jewelry kind of. And Chris dabbles in making other things too. And we really wanted to have an encompassing venue for selling things.

 How did y’all decide to make soap?

 BF – Well, really it was kind of desperation, because we were having a baby, and Chris graduated in biology.

 CS – Which has nothing to do with soap.

 BF – No. And I’m an artist. But we decided to do it because we needed to support our child. It’s not a regular job. It’s not like working for somebody. But at least we’ve been able to not die.

 Do you get a different sense of satisfaction out of crafting useful items than you do out of making paintings and drawings?

 BF – Oh yeah. I think I focus on the fact that for me painting and drawing is an emotional expression. So when I paint something, it’s just a much deeper more intimate act of creation than is making something deliberately to please someone else’s tastes, which a craft is. Nobody makes fifty purses because they like fifty purses. They make fifty purses hoping someone else will like them.

 What reasons are there for people to purchase your soap, or any artisan soap, as opposed to a mass produced soap?

 BF – For one, if you buy a mass produced soap in the store, sure you’re contributing to a local business, but you also used a freight line eighteen wheeler truck to ship that soap across the country. And it’s been made at a factory where you don’t know what they’re really putting in there. You can read the label, but you don’t really know what that stuff is.

 CS – What more reason do you need than you’re spending money in the community which is going to be spent in the community. And like she said, the ingredients in soap . . . Some people don’t realize they don’t like animal fat in their soap. And they’re like ‘why is my soap getting all flaky and dry?’ I don’t know. Maybe ’cause you buy mass produced, cheap two for a dollar soap. Which is a good deal, that really is a good deal. Man oh man, I wish we could make soap that affordable.

 BF – There was this Amish cookbook my mom used to cook from all the time. And as a kid I loved to go through there and see all the pictures. Because they were very artfully done. And there was this picture of this Amish family making their soap. And it just looked so clean! It was these huge blocks of beautiful white soap. And they used that soap for everything. They grind it up to wash their clothes. They scrub the floors with it, the walls. And they wash themselves with it.

 CS – Our soaps are typically larger, too, than the three ounce bars you get at a store.

 BF – That’s true. And they make your skin really soft.

 CS – Yes. It’s good quality. I don’t know how to put it in numbers, but it’s much better quality than the mass produced soap you can find at the store.

 BF – Plus most bars aren’t even really soap, they’re moisturizing bars.

 CS – Yep.

 BF – Like Dove, it’s not really soap.

 What’s the difference?

 BF – It has no lye in it.

 CS – It’s just the oil. Haha.

 BF – Most people don’t know that body wash is not really soap. It’s body wash. Haha.

 CS – Yeah, it’s strange because soap’s something that we use everybody. Everybody uses soap at some time or another, hopefully. But people don’t realize that it’s soap or it’s not soap. ‘Oh I didn’t realize that this squishy hand lotion that I’m putting on isn’t soap.’ Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe they don’t need to know what soap is because they think it’s getting the job done.

 Even now I’m wondering what it is the lye does in the soap.

 CS – Well yeah, my little chemistry lesson. I wish I had a little chart. It’s basically fat, saturated fatty acids or unsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids. But at the end of that, there’s a carboxylic group which has some oxygens and stuff in there. And when you mix the lye, it kicks that off of there. And then puts the sodium from the sodium hydroxide. So when you do that, it makes it a lot more waxy, and that’s what makes it hard. You get rid of the oxygen and you put that big sodium molecule on there. The biproduct, interestingly enough, is water. It’s a simple exchange reaction.

 You mentioned earlier about one motivation to buy artisan soap is to support the community. I’m curious, Do you feel there’s a connection between a desire for community involvement and doing something creative like making soap or making art?

 CS – Me personally, I don’t think I’m speaking for Bonnie on this part, but in order to be involved in the community, everyone should be able to contribute in some way or another. Maybe someone’s really good at weaving. Or someone’s really good at sewing or making soap, or carpentry. All that stuff. So I think, yeah, a community really depends on the talent and the diversity of everyone’s individual talents that make up that community. Hopefully there’s no one else out there that really wants to make soap that’s been kind of turned down. They’re like ‘oh well, it’s already being done, so I guess I’ll wait.’ I’d hate to push someone out of the soapmaking market.

 BF – Well that goat lady makes soap, but we’re not pushing her out. We respect her boundaries.

 CS – See I worry that if we make goat milk soap that we’ll have to say this does contain animal goat milk.

 BF – We’re going to try to make some, but it’s for one specific person.

 CS – Yeah, just so people will know that.

 Do you have any advice for anyone else wanting to start a small business or start an arts and crafts type endeavor like this?

 BF – First of all, you have to treat it as if it were a real job. It’s no longer a hobby. So you have to treat it seriously. And be optimistic. And you also have to look for your opportunities. You can’t just expect it to happen just because you’re making a great product or a great piece of work. You have to make yourself a brand. You just do it. It’s like the DIY artist lifestyle. Haha. If you don’t hustle, it’s not going to happen. You also have to plan, be organized. And try to be cost efficient, because if you’re going to make a product that costs too much to produce that you can’t even start up your business ’cause you don’t have the startup money, then maybe you should think of something else to make. Because you have to be able to make a product in order to sell it.

 CS – Write everything down. Keep good books. And don’t do something you hate.

 BF – Yeah.

 CS – I didn’t say do something you love. Just do something you don’t hate. ‘Cause sometimes you might have to do something that isn’t your most favorite thing in the world, but if you’re good at it and it’s not terrible, that can be just as good as if you love it. Maybe it’ll grow on you.

 Could you tell me about the things you’ve done to promote yourselves?

 BF – A lot of it is just opportunity. Like we did the Holiday Arts Tour last year, and it ended up we were in a couple different papers. So that helped.

 CS – Word of mouth a lot. As far as advertising, we don’t really have the capital to get a lot of advertisements out there.

 BF – And then festivals. And like I was saying about our Tea Breeze soap, people have become addicted to it. Just having good product keeps people coming back and spreading the word.

 CS – Yeah I think the quality of the soap has been our best marketing or advertising.

 BF – Oh yeah, and facebook. We’ve got a facebook.

 Of course, we’ve been doing this whole interview with your son Gabe. Could you tell me how being a parent has changed your lives?

 BF – How’s it changed my life? Well Chris is going to give you a totally different answer. Haha. I was actually thinking about this earlier. I had to fill out a form, and it was asking about stuff from the beginning of 2010. And I became pregrant in 2010. So I was trying to remember the beginning of the year. And I remembered going to Paris. Didn’t remember anything else about my life. Haha. It’s changed where, I used to be a lot more nervous person. I didn’t know how I was going to occupy myself or occupy my time, or how I was going to plan for the future or anything. And that’s changed entirely, complete 180 about my life. Because babies have to have structure, and I give him as much structure as I can. And so that in turn makes me have a lot less anxiety about life in general. And it also just makes me like I will provide for him. Whether it’s making soap or making art or painting paintings, whatever I know how to do I’m going to do it.

 CS – Yeah he’s a good motivator.

 BF – That’s how it’s really changed. And that’s changed my art personally. Because I used to just make art because it was pretty or something. And now it has to provide. Art has to provide.

 What about you, Chris?

 CS – Well, like I said, he’s a good motivator. Before, I was just always looking out for number one. And then a little baby comes along. Well first, Bonnie. You get a plus one, and then you get a plus one. And then you’re not just you anymore. You’re “us” now. And so everything that would drive you to want to do something for yourself is changed. Not changed, well yeah it’s changed. I guess it’s a cliche, but a major point in people’s lives when they can either deal with the change and accept it or they can go crazy from it and not be able to deal with it. It certainly shows you how to handle stress. Or shows you if you’re good at handling stress. Haha. It’s like a teacher. Just reflection, everything you can’t remember when you were a baby you get to see. Everything you can’t remember as a baby, you get to make up these memories, like oh I must have been like this. And he teaches us everything that we forget, I guess. I certainly forgot how to be a kid, so I’m glad he’s showing me what it’s like to be a kid again.

Well that’s all the questions I have. Do you have anything you’d like to add?

 CS – I do like the sense of community that making soap has brought. Because I’ve met people, especially during the festivals and everything. That’s really great. And I don’t think there’s enough of that. Just people getting out and doing things. It makes me wonder if people even know what community even means anymore. Or if I know what it means anymore! Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I don’t know what it means.