Left Hand Soap Company, Tuscaloosa
The makers: Soapy Jones and Erik Hanson
Soapy Jones had no idea 17 years ago that her homemade Christmas gifts would one day turn into a booming business.
“When I got out of college, I was broke, so the next year, I made soap for Christmas presents,” she said. “A couple of months later, people were asking for more soap. I said, ‘I’ll make whatever you want as long as you buy it from me.’”
From that point, the business, Jones said, grew “one bar of soap at a time.” In those early years, she made soap, and developed and tested new fragrances in her kitchen, along with Becky Hicks, a college friend who shared her interest. The partners named their Tuscaloosa business Left Hand Soap Company and adopted the motto, “You got skin, we got soap.”
“Becky and I are both left-handed,” explained Jones. “And in many cultures, the left hand is considered the dirty hand and the one you have to get clean.”
Today, Jones runs the business with her husband, Erik Hanson, who stepped in as co-owner and partner 12 years ago. Along with an array of fragrant soap bars, Jones and Hanson make scrubs, creams, butters, lip balms, insect repellents, liquid soaps and beard and hair care products.
Jones said the soap was made at home until 2013, when the couple opened their own workshop at Parkview Center in Tuscaloosa. A year later, they added a store because so many people were stopping at the shop to ask for soap.
“When we moved into the workshop, we didn’t have a sign for about a year,” Jones said. “But people figured out where we were and started knocking on the door, so we thought we might as well put up a sign and open a store.”
A lifelong interest
Jones learned the art of soap-making as a little girl by watching her grandmother.
“My grandparents raised pigs. My grandmother would make soap out of the pig fat and would let me watch as long as I was quiet,” said Jones, adding her grandmother didn’t have time for lots of questions from an inquisitive child because she was so busy raising six kids and taking care of her home.
In high school, Jones became fascinated with understanding how the essential oils from plants can be used in so many different ways.
With her interest in essential oils and plants, it was only natural that Jones decided to try her hand at making soap when she was short on cash that holiday season in 1999.
Jones and Hanson make all their soaps from natural ingredients – many of which are purchased from Alabama farmers or small community stores.
“The way we see it, your skin is the body’s largest organ. It’s there to protect your body and provide toxin relief,” Jones said. “Soaps that use synthetics and detergents are harsh and more difficult for the skin to absorb. We use ingredients that are gentle and are more effective in promoting good health.”
Something for everybody
All the soaps have a base of honey, coconut and castor oils, Jones said. Additional ingredients are added depending on whether the soap is designed for dry, oily or sensitive skin.
The process can take from two days to six weeks, depending on the type of soap.
Jones begins by heating lye and combining it with other ingredients. She pours the mixture into a mold and allows it to set for 24 hours until the heat dissipates. Jones removes the soap from the mold and moves it to the curing room, where the chemical reaction continues until the product is ready for sale.
The couple sell 35 different kinds of soaps, in addition to their other products. They create custom fragrances upon request and sell soaps designed to prevent skin conditions such as eczema and acne.
Jones said her most popular fragrances are rosemary mint, lavender sage, lavender lemon, citrus blends and Becky’s Reserve – a lavender and coriander seed soap named for her original business partner. Detox soaps, designed for purifying the skin, are also big sellers.
“I enjoy creating something that is more than the sum of its parts, and soap is a chemical entity that becomes more than what you put into it,” she said.
Jones added that marketing the soap is the most challenging part of the business.
“The rule of thumb: If I can get the soap into your hands, you’ll see how good it is,” she said. “It’s very easy to make bad soap. It’s more difficult to make good soap. That comes with experience, and that’s what I have.”
Left Hand Soap’s Tuscaloosa store is open Tuesday-Saturday from noon to 7 p.m., and its products can be purchased on Amazon and at stores in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Auburn, Dothan and Montgomery. For a complete list of locations, visit the Left Hand Soap website.
The product: 35 different bar soaps, plus scrubs, creams, butters, lip balms, insect repellents, liquid soaps and beard and hair care products.
Take home: A bar of Becky’s Reserve soap, $2.50 to $25, depending on size.
Left Hand Soap Company, 620 14th St., Suite 1, Parkview Center, Tuscaloosa