Business

Skin problems led to handmade soap business in Cedar Rapids

Katie Adams prepares soap and lip balm for shipping as her dogs, June (not pictured) and Layla, keep her company at her home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. Adams started her business, Thumbprint Soap, in 2013 and has been selling it on Etsy and in local shops. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Katie Adams prepares soap and lip balm for shipping as her dogs, June (not pictured) and Layla, keep her company at her home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. Adams started her business, Thumbprint Soap, in 2013 and has been selling it on Etsy and in local shops. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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For Katie Adams, the decision to start a company that makes and sells handcrafted soap and bath and body products was personal.

“I have had a lot of skin problems, so I started by cutting out all things with fragrances,” Adams said. “Then I started dabbling in making my own cleaning products. I also bought cleaning products from other people on Etsy.

“I started coming across these handmade soaps that were really beautiful and I thought, ‘I don’t know how this is done, but I’m going to figure this out. I want to do this myself because I like to do creative things.’”

What began as a hobby ultimately turned into Thumbprint, a business that Adams launched after learning how to make cold processed soap in 2013. Her brand name came from the notion that no two bars of soap are exactly the same, just like snowflakes or fingerprints.

“My mother worked with a man who was a hobby farmer in Charles City,” Adam said. “He always had leftover fat when he was butchering chickens. He taught himself how to make soap after watching online and he offered to teach us.

“He took an afternoon to show us how it was done and he sent me home with a bottle of lye.”

Planning ahead

Starting from scratch, Adams mixes lye with water and blends it with fats and oils. She prefers vegan recipes because there are fewer ingredients such as lard or tallow that need to be scooped out when the soap is poured into molds.

Adams makes her soaps in a dedicated area of her basement. She uses a large stainless table and large pots purchased from a restaurant equipment supplier where her husband is employed.

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“Any time I am handling the lye, I wear rubber gloves that some up my arms,” Adams said. “I also wear a ventilator when I am mixing the soap ingredients. If you breathe the fumes, it will cause you to start coughing immediately.”

After the soap hardens in the mold, Adams removes it and cuts it into bars. The soap needs to cure for four to six weeks before it is ready to be packaged and sold.

“I really need to plan ahead in order to have the soap ready when I need it to fill orders,” Adams said. “I need to crank out everything in October that I will need for the holidays.

“I get lots of wholesale orders for the holidays. You can shorten the curing time by about a week if you use less water, but you have to hurry when you are making it. The less water that you use, it will thicken more quickly and you will not be able to do the swirls on the inside needed to make it look pretty.”

Adams initially used a silicone soap mold that looks like a bread loaf pan. The mold makes enough soap to cut into 11 bars.

“When I needed to scale up production, I had someone make me a wooden mold that is the equivalent of four silicone molds,” she said.

Adams first sold her products to friends and family as well as at small craft and vendor shows.

“I met some people who owned shops, and little by little found my customer base,” she said.

Adams has branched out from soaps to facial care products, body lotions, lip balms, sugar scrubs, beard grooming products, dryer balls and metaphysical items. Her fragrance oils are free of phthalates and her preservatives (for lotions and scrubs) are free from parabens.

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Adams sells her products online at ThumbprintSoap.com.

Thumbprint products also are available at various shops in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Mount Vernon, Cedar Falls, Davenport, the Quad Cities and Weston, Wis.

Adams is the sole person making and packaging Thumbprint products. Asked what she expects to do as sales grows, Adams said she plans grow her online and wholesale business to the point that she can reduce the amount of shows that she’s doing.

“Shows are very time consuming and labor intensive,” she said. “I have considered hiring someone to work the shows, but then I would not get to meet my customers.

“My long-term plan may involve hiring someone to handle things that I would not necessarily have to do like packaging and shipping.”

Adams donates a portion of Thumbprint sales to support shelter animals.

“Dogs are a source of joy in my life,” she said. “It’s important for me to give back to those who don’t have a family yet.”

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