Throughout each day, we are exposed to a variety of potential toxins in our home, office and outdoor environments. Making the choice to commit to natural materials and product ingredients within the home is a powerful tool in ensuring minimal chemical exposure. Starting with your morning shower, you have the option to choose fragrant, all-natural and plastic-free soaps while supporting a small business at the same time.
April Showers Soaps is a soap line that started by accident. In 1999, owner April Spehar became interested in soap-making as a hobby and gift-giving opportunity. Then the creativity took over, motivating her to experiment with a variety of scent combinations. When it became clear her family of four couldn’t possibly use all of the soap she was producing, she decided to try her hand at selling it.
It’s difficult to simply fast forward 22 years, but in the time between then and now, the business has fed Spehar’s passion and helped support her family as she and her husband, Chaum, raised two children. The 35 or so different soaps are now sold in several retail locations in and around the surrounding community of small university town Corvallis, Oregon, where they live and run their business.
The consistent growth of April Showers Soaps is a result of Spehar’s connection with her customer base early on. While natural ingredients and a concern for the environment are hot topics now, neither were highly en vogue a few decades ago. Regardless, it was important to Spehar to develop products that are good for the health of humans and the planet. With this goal in mind, all April Showers Soaps are scented with pure essential oils instead of fragrance oils. A variety of natural and plant materials such as clays, charcoal, grains, seeds, spices, pumice, coffee, cocoa and herbs add texture, color and skin benefits to the soap.
To round out the ingredient list, “The only animal products we use are beeswax and honey. We use sustainably harvested, fair trade, organic palm fruit shortening,” Spehar told Inhabitat. The company also incorporates olive oil, coconut oil and apricot kernel oil. Because experimentation is central to the business, finding the right scent, feel and texture means exploring many options. “Patchouli soap has added hemp oil, our Shaving soap and Shampu bar have added castor oil, and our Vanilla soap has added cocoa butter,” the company’s Etsy site states.
Preparing the soaps for sale
Even after 22 years, April Showers Soaps are handmade the old-fashioned way using a cold-process recipe. The soap mixture is stirred and poured into a mold, where it sits for several days. The resulting block is then hand-cut into individual bars and is allowed to cure for three to six weeks before being packaged for sale.
The company partners with local suppliers within the state of Oregon, although ingredients come from around the globe. This streamlines material transport and aligns with the company’s goal to minimize driving for supply pickups and product shipments.
Special consideration is also given to sustainable packaging. Labels are made from recyclable and compostable paper. Online and in-person sales are packaged using paper bags or tissue paper before going into a cardboard box or bubble mailer. April Showers Soaps reuses clean packing materials whenever possible.
The full natural skincare lineup
In addition to bar soap, April Showers Soaps offers a salve, soap balls, body butter, bath salts and a custom-made metal soap dish. It’s always fun to anticipate what will come next from the company. Spehar told Inhabitat, “We have a new soap, Bandit Blend, which is inspired by the medieval tale of the four thieves with clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils, comfrey root, and French pink & yellow clay.”
With a lifelong desire to own her own business, Spehar has enjoyed building up her customer base and interacting with customers at community craft fairs throughout the state and in nearby states. The COVID-19 pandemic has added challenges for the business, with nearly every show canceled for vendors. While Spehar reports that sales on her Etsy store have increased, it hasn’t been enough growth to counterbalance the loss from selling directly to the customer.
Spehar said, “I miss chatting with customers in person and getting immediate feedback on new soaps.” Even without immediate feedback, it’s clear that customers love these soaps. The store has over 500 reviews and a 5-star average on Etsy.
In a rarely-seen American small business success story, the Spehar household is actually supported by two small businesses. While Chaum helps with photography and other aspects of April Showers Soaps, he spends most of his time making jewelry for a second business the duo runs together, Northwest Goods. As a second generation metal worker, Chaum curates ornaments, jewelry, key chains, the custom soap dish and more — all equally focused on quality materials and craftsmanship.
Review of April Showers Soaps
I discovered April Showers Soaps around 10 years ago, and it instantly became my go-to brand. Like many Inhabitat readers, I enjoy supporting local and small businesses, especially when the products bring me joy. Over the years, I’ve sampled different combinations and spent many hours sniffing the options at April Showers Soaps. I typically go back to one of several mint options, simply because I’m drawn to it. These products are made using Willamette Valley Peppermint essential oil, another local (to me) company.
Recently, I’ve really enjoyed some of the oatmeal and spice combinations for both the feel and the scent. Maybe it’s psychological that the oatmeal is soothing to the skin, but I’ve enjoyed using it as a hand and body soap during harsh, dry winter weather. I also really like the bright citrus options such as lemon-lime and geranium-grapefruit. Lemongrass is another traditional option with a pleasant finish. Then, there are some options that will transport you to the forest, the café or the garden, like licorice, spiced mocha, cinnamon-clove (another favorite of mine) and eucalyptus tea tree.
I’m a scent-sensitive person, so standing in front of a display smelling soap after soap can be overwhelming for me. But individually, each soap offers a unique interaction with the ingredients. I’m forced to avoid the ever-popular lavender and rosemary combinations due to sensitivity, but I have no doubt they are as lovely as every other meticulously contoured soap that April and Chaum produce.
Images via April Shower Soaps and Dawn Hammon / Inhabitat
Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by April Showers Soaps. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.