A little after 8 a.m. on a sunny Saturday morning, Melinda Miller and her 10-year-old daughter Maisey Miller haul boxes of colorful soap to a foldable table outside the Yelm Community Center.
Miller, 45, a Yelm Farmers Market vendor of nearly three years, sells soaps, candles, bath bombs and other beauty products to the community under her passion project, Mel’s Handmade Soaps.
Void of additives and chemicals that can dry your skin, Miller said she’s trying to create a product for the community that is an all-natural, fresh take on soap.
“I think once people start using hand-made soap, it’s hard to go back to bars that are full of chemicals and detergents,” Miller said.
Attendees of the Yelm Farmers Market make frequent stops by her small booth, where Maisey helps customers pick out soap and Melinda finalizes their transactions. Bountiful shapes and colorful soaps are stacked on the table.
The idea for her business, Miller said, started four years ago when her children started developing rashes as a result of using high-chemical soaps.
“They were getting rashes and doctors said ‘Just don’t use soap on them.’ So I started making my own,” she said.
With a few kitchen utensils, an empty milk jug used for a mold and some ingredients purchased through Bramble Berry, a Bellingham-based handcraft beauty supplier, it wasn’t long before Miller developed her first scent, “Sensitive Sally,” which she said she still sells today.
During her first year of making soap, Miller said she mostly gave her products out as gifts to her children’s teachers and family friends. It wasn’t until people started coming to her, cash in hand, that she thought about starting her fragrant “side hustle.”
“Since I loved it so much, I had a mountain of soap. And so I got a table at the farmers market and that’s kind of where it happened,” she said.
It wasn’t long before Miller started experimenting with soap scents and different mixtures. She learned the craft of making soap pretty early on, thanks to Bramble Berry’s YouTube channel.
But not every scent is a winner, she said.
“There’s been a lot of failures. I have a giant bucket — that we call the ‘zombie bucket’ — of things that didn’t go as planned. And there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just really ugly. So my friends and family come over and dig soap out of the zombie bucket,” Miller said.
What the Roy-based soap afficianado loves most about the process is the experimentation and creative aspect of making new and existing scents. Some scents you can find at almost any hand-made soap stores, but others, such as “Warrior’s Goddess” and “Mel’s Soap Nox,” shoppers at the farmers market just won’t be able to find anywhere else.
“Even I have a tough time making the exact same soap again because I just go with what is inspiring me in the minute,” she said.
The process for making soap can also be strenuously slow. Although it takes Miller about an hour and a half to make one batch of soap, the product needs roughly four weeks to cure in the mold.
Miller admits, though, that it’s sometimes difficult to be that patient, especially when you have a new product.
From Grapefruit Unicorn bars to Buttermilk Oat and Milk, there’s a scent for almost everybody at Mel’s Handmade Soap. Maisey said her favorite scent that they sell is frankincense and myrrh soap bars.
“It’s a lot prettier and more unique (than) if we were to buy it at the store,” she said.
Oddly enough, Mel’s best-selling soap is not intended for human usage. The “Puppy Love” solid dog shampoo bars that they sell are a hit with market goers and are often picked up alongside one of their dozens of other scents.
“I think they just like to use natural products on their pets, too,” she said.
While Mel’s Handmade Soap does offer their products online through Etsy, Miller said she gains more support from her clientele through the farmers market and other in-person events.
“That’s what I enjoy most is the in-person interaction and meeting the people in the community,” she said.
Mel’s Handmade Soap can be found weekly at the Yelm Farmers Market, online on Facebook.
The Yelm Farmers Market is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 26 at the Yelm Community Center.