Weatherwax Soap, a tribute

A quick note from Nadia: There are few things in life that excite me more than coming across people who dive head first into obscure and age-old crafts with abandon so recklessly passionate that there can be no mistaking it for a passing phase, a dabbling, a hobby. So, when I discovered that Helene Basson – an ever-intriguing childhood friend of mine – had started her own soap-making business in Hermanus, I could hardly contain my curiosity. As soon as her online shop went live I placed my first order, picking a Hibiscus Vanilla Sugar Scrub and Lavender Lip Balm (both HIGHLY recommended) from among the delectable array of bath-time products and a couple of days later, Helene herself dropped them off during a hand-delivery round in Cape Town. In the split-second we had to chat, we both agreed that this was a story that had to be told.
Written in her own words, Helene’s journey will inspire you to listen to that small voice in your head and follow your makers’ instinct – no matter how crazy it may seem.

Life has a funny way of helping you out when you need it, by putting twists and turns on a perfectly good road. For me, this has been a blessing; the twists and turns all led me to where I am today, with a heart full of love and a fist full of soap.

I find it increasingly difficult to remember the exact moment where it occurred to me to make soap.

“Why soap?” everyone asks. I have no simple answer to that question. It is the culmination of a few things I had in mind, namely working for myself, working with my hands, making useful things, being kind to the environment and extending this to my immediate community.

Choosing a name was almost the easiest part of the process… for those of you familiar with the works of the late (may he rest in peace) Sir Terry Pratchett, the name Weatherwax should resound quite loudly. Granny Esme Weatherwax, aka the hag o’ the hills, is perhaps my favourite character ever created. A witch by trade and a badass by nature, she stands for everything that is good in this world. Selflessly helping those who can’t help themselves and dispensing a swift kick up the bottom to those that can. It is a name worth aspiring to and keeps my feet firmly on the ground.

Making soap, or ‘Soaping’, is one of those old, old crafts and like many of these old crafts is rooted in necessity and, although much fancier and refined today, the process of soaping has essentially remained unchanged. Here is where my background in science really came in handy for the first, practical time.

Soaping is something you can learn to do, like I did, through the internet. There are a myriad of sites that have simple instructions for beginners on how to make soap. The chemistry behind soaping is simple: fats/oils mixed with an alkali results in fatty acid salts, aka soap. Glycerine is a byproduct of this chemical reaction, and unless specifically ‘harvested’ from the soap, remains in the bar adding to the moisturising properties of the soap. There is no such thing as making soap without lye, as scary as that might sound, but by the end of the saponification process, the lye is no longer present in its original form and your soap (provided you used a lye calculator to verify quantities of oils/lye) should have a pretty neutral pH and be safe for use within a week.

Enough science for now, though. The real fun part of making your own soap is choosing the various oils/fats, essential oils, dried botanicals and shapes of your finished product. The main oils I use are Coconut, Olive, Sunflower, Castor and Canola, although I make my own infusions of Calendula and Lavender oils that I use in the balms.

Honestly, the biggest challenge is reigning in your imagination, because there is absolutely no end to how creative you can be in the soapery. The soaps I now make are the end result of hours and hours spent reading and learning about the carious properties of the oils, the essential oils and the herbs themselves. Fortunately, inspiration is never far away when you live in one of the most diverse floral kingdoms in the world, the Fynbos.

I was born in Kleinmond, a little coastal village in the Western Cape, not far from where we have decided to make our home now in Hermanus.

Although I have moved far and wide and seen some things, I am reminded by a quote from Sir Terry, and it goes like this: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

These popular holiday fishing towns are surrounded on one side by the beautiful mountains bedecked in Fynbos and by the icy cold Atlantic Ocean on the other. My first instinct was to incorporate my local environment into my soaping. Rooibos and Buchu are two plants that are grown locally for commercial and medicinal reasons, but they are also considered part of the Fynbos family, so they were automatically selected to be included in my products.
Once I had a starting point and an idea of what makes for a great bathing or showering experience, the rest came relatively easily. The beauty of making your own is that you get to decide what goes in it and by default what you put back into the environment.

The priority for Weatherwax Soap was to make environmentally friendly, all natural products, which translates into every time you use Waterway Soap products, you are flushing non-toxic, non-synthetic, and biodegradable waste down your drain. If I can make environmentally responsible soap, and you can use it, then we are making a great team. As to my personal favourite product, it would have to be a photo-finish between the Cocoa Butter Bath Melts, the Calendula Herbal Balm and the Black Magic soap (for the men in your life).

At the end of the day, we rely on each other for support that comes in any way shape and form. I have been blessed with love and friendship without which I would have packed it all in a long time ago. It made me realise that there is no weakness in asking for help or giving it.

In that spirit, Weatherwax Soap donated a packet of pet shampoo bars to the local animal shelter HAWS, in time for their critter control drive. As you know, the angels that work at animal shelters face daily struggles, from rescuing abused animals to just paying the bills. Recently, a couple of young men (amongst them the local hero Sipho) made the headlines in Hermanus for their heart-melting, never-say-die attitude towards getting practically every single dog in Zwelihle vaccinated and cared for. The collaboration between these little troopers and HAWS warms the cockles of my heart and highlights that every single one of us can make a difference, no matter how small or big, in the lives of those that cannot fight for themselves. Weatherwax Soap salutes you.

It is now several months down my soaping road and what do I have to show for it? Apart from a light heart and a spring in my step, Weatherwax Soap now boasts with 19 different products (including various bath-time goodies and a rather popular pet shampoo bar) and more on the way as inspiration strikes almost on a daily basis. I am drawn to the healing side of herbs, so tailoring my soaps and balms to my customers needs is something I want to explore further in the new year.

After days of painting, hammering and sawing, Weatherwax Soap have opened its doors to the public at 19 van Blommenstein Road in Onrus, Hermanus, so follow your nose and find us on your way to the beach! We are all about supporting local craftsmen, so in the shop you can find a selection of affordable beach wear, jewellery and wood carvings, all local and handmade to add to your christmas basket.

If there is a take-home message in all of my rambling, it is this: don’t be afraid to make your own things. It is incredibly rewarding to look upon your own handmade creations, no matter what shape or form it takes, even if it is a complete disaster the first time, learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and do it all again! There is something special about getting your hands dirty, reconnecting with nature and sharing your ideas and crafts with friends and family. Get inspired, get involved and get happy.

Blessed be!
Weatherwax Soap

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By | 2018-05-28T19:21:35+00:00 November 7th, 2016|Inspiration|