Archive for Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Duo’s soap-making venture leads to Tonganoxie storefront

July 2, 2003

Three years ago, Lana Howe and Kathy Owens never expected to land their business in Tonganoxie.

But Howe, who lives in Olathe, and Owens, who lives in Piper, recently opened Vintage Soap & Bath at 626 E. Fourth St., next door to the Mom and Pop Ice Cream Shop.

Their retail store, and their work station in the back of the building is a far cry from what they've been accustomed to -- their home kitchens.

And, they readily admit, it's much more convenient. They drive to Tonganoxie five days a week, with their younger children in tow. While the mothers are busy making soap, body lotions and gift baskets, the children can entertain themselves by watching videos, walking up the street to the library or taking off for the swimming pool.

Before the women arrive at the shop each day, Lana's work day has already started. At 6:30 every morning she milks two of her dozen goats, bringing inside about a gallon of fresh goat milk.

Originally, before they began selling soap, the women planned to make and sell cheese.

"But it was very expensive to have a dairy facility," Howe said. "So I started making soap."

Goat milk is a good base for soap, Howe said.

"Goat milk has a lot of good protein and vitamins and it makes your skin feel soft," Howe added.

Owens, who had taught Howe how to milk the goats, joined her in the business venture. The two have been friends for 14 years.

The women had similarities to begin with. Both had grown up on farms, Owens in Ohio, and Howe in Iowa. Both had three young sons. Both had interests in common.

They sold their first bar of soap at a small craft fair in Piper. The product was so popular that customers who purchased their soap soon began following them to other fairs.

Their product is unique, the women say, because of the process. They begin by freezing the goat milk. Once frozen, they add to it the lye, which makes the soap harden, and oils to give it fragrance.

After the soap hardens, they break it up and put the pieces into a food processor, a process they will repeat about six times. By then, they will have added more of the scented oils, coloring and other materials. For instance, their gardener's soap comes with a green tint, an evergreen scent and cornmeal, which acts as a gentle abrasive to help remove dirt.

For those who are allergic to scents, the women will make fragrance-free soaps.

One of their most popular items are silk rose petals dipped in glycerin.

Making the soap the way Howe and Owens do it is a lengthy process. A one-pound batch makes six bars of soap. The women can make 20 batches in three hours. But it takes six weeks for the soap to finally be ready to put on the shelf.

The final stage includes carving the bars of soap to add texture.

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