Peek Inside A Natural Skin Care Studio That Feels Like Home
It's a rainy, gloomy Friday in Brooklyn, but a quick trip into an industrial lobby, through a courtyard, and up the oldest working elevator in NYC leads to the bright home base of Soapwalla skin care, the antithesis of a stereotypical production line. The space is calm, joyful, and deliciously scented.
"I feel very lucky that this is where we get to hang out," says founder Rachel Winard, who started the company after being diagnosed with lupus at a young age. Winard was desperate to find products that didn't aggravate her extremely sensitive skin, so she began experimenting with mixing and matching food-grade ingredients in her own kitchen.
Now, Lupus symptoms managed, she's still working in a kitchen full of natural, skin-soothing ingredients—albeit a slightly larger one. Run out of a converted artist studio in Gowanus, Soapwalla (or "soap master" in Hindi) seeks to add next-level transparency to the skin care market. We caught up with the ex-law-firm associate and Juilliard-trained violinist to snag her top tips for running a successful business, staying sane under pressure, and crafting natural beauty products that really work. Here are the highlights:
On making natural products that work.
Surrounded by shelves of mixers, bowls, and oils, Winard explains that she's part chef, part alchemist. "The way we formulate and produce our products, we treat it much more like food than a traditional skin care lab would." She rigorously sources natural ingredients from farms she trusts and lets them shape the products she's making.
"When you work with products with your hands and you don't use a bunch of machinery, you really get the feel for what it needs," she explains. "We have formulas that we follow, but since we use whole, natural ingredients, they change from batch to batch from season to season. We have to be able to tweak things ourselves to make sure the end product is pretty much uniform." She chooses not to dye the coloration differences between the rows and rows of bergamot cinnamon and shea butter tangerine soaps and avoids common industry offenders like sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, and phthalates at all costs. She believes that putting nature first really is the key to an effective product.
When people get to do what they love, everything runs smoother.
On maintaining a productive workplace.
Stacie, one of three other employees in the Brooklyn HQ, has used her training as a librarian to implement organized systems throughout the space. "It's really helpful. That's partially why it's calm in here—it's highly organized," Winard says, explaining that raw materials are put away as soon as they come into the door and move throughout the room in a circle on their journey back out. "We're efficient, but since we have a pretty small space, everything has to have multiple uses. Everything has its place."
Her other key to success? Employees who love the work. She explains that all of Soapwalla's team members were longtime fans of the brand before they signed on to the company. She's tried to help them thrive by encouraging them to forge their own path. "One of my roles as a boss is finding people's strengths and letting them roll with them. I find that also creates a much happier work environment. When people get to do what they love, everything runs smoother."
On finding moments of calm in a stressful environment.
While the studio is tranquil on the surface, things can get pretty hectic when overnight orders need to be sent out in a flash or an ingredient delivery falls through. For those moments, Winard has created space to settle back into the body. A boxing session at the bag in the kitchen and a quick yoga flow usually does the trick to quiet the mind, boost mood, and enhance creativity.
Beyond that, small relics of personality (like the toy dinosaur collection and lush plants sprinkled about) and reminders of brand ethos (like beautiful, nature-inspired product portraits) serve to ground the space. After all, Winard says, a place where people spend so much time should feel like a home, not an office.
Two books that are essential to Winard's work are The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses by Deni Brown, which she references weekly for insight into every plant and herb out there, and The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. "This book has been with me since 1992, when I first read it as a professional violinist," she raves. "I've recommended this book to more friends than I can count, and I redo the work every 10 years. It's invaluable and the best way I've found to really tune into my creative side in an honest and authentic way."
If you're looking to create some natural beauty remedies of your own, or just dip your toes into the space, she recommends getting your hands on Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar ("The instructions are clear, the recipes are fun, and the writing leaves you itching to get in your kitchen to start whipping up magical elixirs"), Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore, and The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood.
Check out more dreamy spaces at mbg's Holistic Home Tours hub.