21. prosince 2016

Soapmakers of the World: Amy Warden's soap challenge (USA)

I love this soap because it’s the one my older daughter designed for the Sculpted Layers challenge.

Part of photos are from personal Amy Warden’s archive.

Part of photos belongs to Soap Challenge Club Members and will be used only for the purpose of this interview. If you would like me to delete your photo from this interview please let me know.

My dear friends, this is a special Soapmakers of the World post.
Last Christmas I gave you, Soap Challenge Club, my heart and the very next year I am still in. My personal one year long challenge to take part in every Soap Challenge Club is finished. I missed only one in February as I have no ideas of what to do as my brain‘s creative part was straggling with illness for 6 weeks. So as my personal year challenge is coming to it's end and Christmas is knocking on the door, I thought it is a good idea to have that very special woman as a special guest for Soapmakers of the World. 

Creative, kind, optimistic, always delicate, bright businesswoman and a person that makes our soapmaking life very interesting. She made us all gather together, study about soap and new techniques, challenge not only our soapmaking abilities but also our “photo taking” skills. Person that makes us believe we are normal in our madness about making soap. Please be welcomed to know Amy Warden from GreatCakes Soapworks a little bit closer!

My favorite photo of Kent and myself at Cedar Lake in Olathe, Kansas.

We have two teenage daughters who keep our lives full and interesting


 Please tell us something about you, where you were born, what did you study?
I was born and raised in Salina, Kansas.  I was a Kansas girl all my life until I went to North Park College in Chicago.  I majored in Communications because I loved debate and forensics in high school, and then decided to get minors in Youth Ministry and Biblical Studies because I wanted to do student ministry when I graduated.  And so I did!  I was the Minister to Students at a church in a small town in Kansas for three years, and I have volunteered in the youth ministry of every church our family has attended since that time.  I am currently the Grace Group Director for the student ministry at our church, coordinating about 50 volunteers who lead student groups on Sunday nights.

Riding the tram into Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri

Visiting my grandma a few months ago in her assisted living apartment.

Hanging out at my parent’s house during Spring Break.  Those orange frames used to be my sunglasses when I was younger!

And what about your family?
Well, I married Kent Warden when I was 24 and we celebrated our 18th anniversary in August.  He is an amazing and supportive husband who is super smart and talented.  Kent is also an entrepreneur – his business is IT services for individuals and small businesses.  He is my behind-the-scenes tech guy, and the reason the Soap Challenge Club was able to get its start.  I explained to him how I needed it to work, and he made it happen!  His degree is in mechanical engineering, which basically means he knows how a lot of things work and he’s an excellent problem solver. 
We have two teenage daughters who keep our lives full and interesting!  The older one is a sophomore in high school and the only extrovert in our family.  She thrives on spending time with her friends and just received her driver’s permit about six months ago.  The younger one is in 8th grade, and has enjoyed being in band and drama all three years of middle school, usually taking behind-the-scenes roles in the school productions.  This year she surprised us by auditioning for a part in the school musical!  Both girls are very smart as well as artistic.  

The girls and I got all dressed up for Valentines Day.  Kent made a fancy dinner for us!

Game night in our pajamas.

All dressed up for church on a Sunday morning.

Martin Luther King Jr Day – I took my younger daughter to Applebee’s for lunch.

As I don’t know what is a student ministry or director, can you please tell some more about what you are doing?
Most of the larger Protestant churches in America have multiple people on staff to serve their congregation, specific to age groups or ministries.  The student minister creates opportunities for middle school and high school students to learn more about the Bible, their relationship with God, and what it means to be a Christian.  The church we are currently attending is Grace Church of Overland Park, a non-denominational church that has grown a LOT since we first started attending.  We have about 300 middle school and high school students who attend our Sunday night programming.  They start out the night hanging out, eating pizza, doing crafts, playing video games, etc.  Then we gather together in the auditorium for games, video messages, live worship band with singing, and then a sermon from one of the youth pastors or interns.  After that, the students break into small discussion groups according to grade and gender, so we have 14 different groups – male and female in each grade 6 through 12 with 2-5 volunteer adult leaders per group.  These are the volunteers I coordinate, train, and oversee.

Me and my honey at a local park.

Kent and I went to the Bahamas for a kid-free vacation!

My older daughter and I putting together a puzzle on Christmas morning.  One of my favorite things to do during the holidays.

What are your hobbies?
I rarely have time for hobbies anymore!  I used to love to read a good book, used to play in our church’s volleyball league with Kent, used to knit and crochet.  My mom taught me how to use a sewing machine and read patterns when I was in junior high.  She used to make and sell doll clothes when I was in high school to help pay for my debate and forensics tournaments every weekend!  I have my sewing machine out and available for times when I need it, such as last week when I was making “pencil” cases for my nephews Christmas presents.  They all had black Sharpies on their list, and I wanted to have a way for them to keep them all straight, so I made them “marker” cases with their initials on them.  It was a fun project!  

Marker cases I made for my nephews

Kent and me on the Old Red Bridge in Kansas City.

Taking a hike on the West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona while on vacation.

One of many photos of me and my best friend Summer getting pedicures.  It’s what we do whenever we get together – usually once a year.

Tubing on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri with my younger daughter.

The soap was beautiful!  I’ve been hooked ever since!

How did you get acquainted with soapmaking?
My great-grandmother made soap because they lived on the farm and that’s just what they did with the rendered fat after butchering the meat.  I had no connection to her and really had no idea about the process though.  I just wanted to make something special for my friends for Christmas in 2002.  I looked all over the internet for ideas – you know, before there was Pinterest or YouTube.  I landed on Kathy Miller’s website and decided to make soap.  That first batch completely crumbled when I dumped it out of the mold!  I went back to Kathy’s site and read the troubleshooting page.  I decided that it never actually reached trace (very likely since I used the full water amount and stirred with a spoon for what seemed like hours!).  I threw the soap back in my stainless steel pot and put it in the oven.  After it heated up and I kept stirring it, the soap came together and I put it back in the mold.  It was beautiful!  I’ve been hooked ever since!

This is a soap my younger daughter designed just for fun right before she turned 12.  I thought she did an excellent job!

I made this snowflake soap for a tutorial for the Making Soap and Cosmetics Magazine this year.  I enjoyed planning the design and then figuring out the execution – it took two tries to get the snowflakes to look how I wanted them to look.

And what was that thing about making soap that hooked you, how do you think?
For me (and I’m sure for others), it was about being able to put together simple ingredients–and have them turn into bars of soap!  It’s just magical!  I think if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be as thrilling, but the fact that most people have no idea how it’s made or even have the thought of trying it makes it a unique craft.  And then there are the endless possibilities of oil combinations for your recipe, additives, colors, scents, designs…once you make your first soap, your mind just starts imagining the possibilities and off you go!

One of my favorite soaps that I ever made for a challenge – it’s called Rise and Shine.  This was for the Embed challenge in February 2014, and was probably one of the more labor intensive soaps.  I loved the gradient elements of the sun and the sun rise, as well as the bright colors of the embeds.

Great Cakes Soapworks for most of us is a company that hosts every month Soap Challenge Club. But you also sell soap. When the company started and was the decision to start a biz hard? What were the problems you have to solve?
Honestly, I feel like I started my business too soon, and the only reason I started the business to begin with was to support my soapmaking addiction which was more of a hobby than anything else.  I showed up at my local farmer’s market for the first time with a borrowed card table from my next door neighbor covered with a vinyl table cloth and about 5 different soaps laid out.  It was pitiful!!  The farmer in the booth next to me suggested that I have one of each of the soaps opened up so people could smell them.  To this day, I have no idea why people bought that soap!!  I called it “Amy’s Handmade Soap”. 
A year later I decided to get serious.  I came up with the Great Cakes Soapworks name and slogan – which was completely inspired by God.  I woke up one morning and it just came to me:  Great Cakes Soapworks.  A great cake of soap can cleanse your body, but only a great God can cleanse your soul.
About a year after that, I created my first website at greatcakessoapworks.com.  I was so naïve, I thought if I built the website, people would just find it and I would be overrun with orders.  Very quickly I learned that was NOT the case, so I started researching search engine optimization.  I spent endless hours tweaking my site so that people could find it.  I also started my blog, and got to know some other bloggers, which was a huge boost to my website traffic.  Then I had to learn how to use social media!  It’s a constant learning curve, but one I’ve truly enjoyed.

This was one of my earliest soaps from 2004 before Great Cakes Soapworks was even formed.  It’s in my personal stash for sentimental reasons only!

Do you have any advice for those soapmakers who just want to start with they own companies?
If you want to get serious about a soap business, it's important to take the time to know who your customers are (not just anyone who has skin!) and to develop your brand. You will need to know your costs, and how to keep them as low as possible without sacrificing quality in order to know how much you must charge to make a profit and meet your goals. If you are unsure where to start, I highly recommend the resources that Kenna from Modern Soapmaking offers. She's an expert in this area and also offers consulting.

This photo was taken at the Central Soaper’s Workshop in 2015 with Anne-Marie Faiola from Brambleberry and Kenna Cote from Modern Soapmaking.  Kenna and I have been friends for quite some time, but it was my first time meeting Anne-Marie, and it was wonderful to meet one of our most supportive sponsors for the Challenge Club!

Another photo from CSW 2015, this time with Andee and Tina Howard, the mother-daughter team from Majestic Mountain Sage, another fabulous sponsor for the Challenge Club!  They are both very knowledgeable soapmakers!

What soap do you like to make most of all? Do they differ from what you do for your clients? What do you value in soap?
I value the soapmaking process as an art form as well as its functionality.  The soap I like to make most is the soap I’ve never made before.  This is why I don’t offer wholesale.  The thought of mass producing the same soaps over and over again sounds monotonous and boring.  Ironically, the majority of my returning clients prefer the plainest, essential oil scented soaps, so there are several types that I must make over and over again.  However, I also have clients who like to see what’s new and fun, so the soaps I make for the Challenge Club are appealing to them. 
An excellent soap for me is creamy and moisturizing, has abundant lather, and lasts a long time in the shower.  My favorites are the ones made with fresh goat’s milk or some other alternative liquid that enhances the performance of the soap like beer or kombucha.  

This Country Clothesline scented soap was made for fun for my customers in June 2015 (video here: https://youtu.be/j4k2CaYVcF0).  I was just so pleased with the color scheme and the swirls.

I had made a Wizard of Oz soap for the location challenge using embeds, but after learning the sculpted layers technique, I knew I had to try it again with this method!  It was very labor intensive, but the result was something I could be proud of!

Sometimes I’m really fishing for ideas. 

How did you get the idea with making soap challenges? Who were those people who were taking part in them?
I had been following Darren from Problogger for a while when he talked about having a photography challenge on his photography blog.  That’s where I originally came up with the idea.  The challenges started out as weekly techniques on the Great Cakes Soapworks blog in March 2012 with my followers at the time.  I did a quick post with a video of me doing a technique on Sunday, and then the link-up post was on the following Saturday.   This was the first one: http://www.greatcakessoapworks.com/handmade-soap-blog/index.php/soap-challenge-week-1/ and this is the first link-up post: http://www.greatcakessoapworks.com/handmade-soap-blog/index.php/soap-challenge-week-1-link-up/  There are only a few of the members who were part of those weekly challenges who continue to participate to this day, but I look at that list and many of them I still count as friends!   As you might imagine, doing a weekly challenge was a lot of work!  We did 11 weeks in a row that year.  The next year, I scaled it back to just 4 weeks.  I knew it was a concept that was beneficial, but I needed to figure out a way to continue with it and get some sort of benefit from my efforts.   It was around that time I had been attending some personal development workshops that taught me about how to create win-win relationships.  I took this information and created a new system changing the challenges to a monthly schedule, a registration fee that helps cover my time and expenses, and a chance for members to interact as well as win prizes.

Forest Bark soap by Teressa Mahoney from the Spin Swirl challenge was completely fascinating to me.  She really got creative and the result was like nothing I could have imagined with this technique.  It was probably one of the reasons I first thought to do a Wood Grain challenge a year and a half later!

Is it difficult to organize Soap Challenge Club competition? What are all those things you have to prepare?
Now that I have the system in place, it is easier, but still takes at least 40-60 hours each month.  I started to list everything that I do for the challenges, but it was rather lengthy and uninteresting!!  Many tedious details that I won’t bore you with! 
In addition to the actual website, I have purchased and pay for ongoing support for the two systems that are integral to the Challenge Club process.  One is the subscription service we recently moved to so that members can manage their accounts and maintain the same password each month.  The other is our link-up system that allows members to post their work. 

Top pinned soaps from the Challenges on Pinterest :
Mini Dessert soaps by Odette Handley from the Mini Dessert soap challenge in May 2015

What is your biggest lesson you have learned while preparing the challenges? Do YOU have fun doing them?
Technology is our greatest asset to having successful challenges, but it is also my greatest difficulty!!  Getting the technology to work the way it should has been very frustrating at times, but what it allows us to do is rather tremendous to think about.  We have soapmakers from all over the globe who come together each month to accomplish the same goal.  I used to think the best part of doing the challenges was being able to make a different creative soap project every month.  That’s still a major part of what drives the challenges, but now I think the best part is being able to facilitate others’ creativity.  Seeing the amazing progress that members have made over months and even years really encourages me!  Even though it is a competition, I still see bonds forming among members and members helping each other out and learning from one another.  I love that!!

Claudia Carpenter’s Winter Wonderland soap for the Winter Wonderland challenge.  It was the first time she revealed her sculpted layers technique and I was blown away!!  I’m so glad she agreed to teach it to us four months later, because then I was completely  amazed again by Debi Olsen’s entry in that challenge:

Where do you get your inspirations for new soap techniques? How do you decide what technique or theme will be interesting?
Sometimes I have a long list of ideas and I’m ready to go.  Sometimes I’m really fishing for ideas.  I get inspiration from what I see on YouTube and Facebook as well as suggestions from members.   Many times I’ve had several members ask to do a technique, so I know we have to do it!  I guess if it seems interesting to me, it will likely be interesting to other soapmakers.  I had to let go of the idea that all of the techniques had to be practical for production.  The majority of challenge club members are participating either as hobbyists or just for a creative outlet that may or may not feed into their business production.

Watermelon soap by Ann Kruschke for the Rimmed Soap challenge was like a piece of folk art.  I was so impressed not only by the realistic looking rind, but also by the shading of the pink watermelon inside – whether this was intentional or not – it really enhanced the final look!

Rimmed soap… I think it took me 7 tries.


What were the most difficult techniques you have to learn to show them in Soap Challenge Club?
Rimmed soap comes to mind!!  I didn’t even have to teach it, because Tatsiana Serko showed us how to make it, but I felt like I needed to master it as well for the sake of the Club.  I think it took me 7 tries.  Piping with Russian tips was another difficult challenge.  The teardrop was another one that took several tries.  I felt like it was very difficult to achieve consistent results!

Can you tell us about statistics on how the Club is changing?
I wish I knew exactly how many different countries have been represented over the years.  I’m sure it’s close to 30.  We’ve had over 300 members four out of the past five months; however, the ratio of people who actually enter has dropped considerably since we started.  For the first challenge we had 77 out of 121 members (64%) enter their soap.  In our last challenge, out of 349 members only 79 have entered (23%).  I see the participation drop in July and October every year as everyone is getting busy with markets in July and holiday soap production in October.  The most entries we ever had was 110.  It was the Circling Taiwan Swirl this past January.  That was the combined total from the newbie and experienced categories!  I think the average number of entries is around 60-70 every month.  It changes depending on the number of people who are registered and the difficulty of the technique.

Top pinned soaps from the Challenges on Pinterest:
Lemon Mint Drop soap by Holly Shelton from the Teardrop challenge in May 201

How do you think what is the reason the ration of entries dropped?
I think part of it has to do with the difficulty of the technique, but I also think there are more people who join to learn rather than compete and may feel intimidated by the competition. All are welcome!

Top pinned soaps from the Challenges on Pinterest:
Firewood soap by Helene Glemet from the Wood Grain challenge in October 2016

Top pinned soaps from the Challenges on Pinterest:
Pink Cashmere soap by Yvonne Foust from the Piping challenge in September 2016

I know that one of the Club members made logo for it, can you tell us some more..
 Not long after Claudia Carpenter joined the Challenge Club in 2014, she asked me if she could create a logo as well as the stamps and stamping tool for the winners just for fun. I was thrilled with the offer and immediately took her up on it. I had no idea at that time what a talented designer and software engineer she truly is! She came up with the idea to make the logo and stamps look like sunflowers to reflect the Kansas state flower, and I thought they were perfect!

Have you learnt a lot about soap and how it is made by learning new techniques?
Definitely!   Just by trying something new each month, I learn so much about design, recognizing trace, seeing the possibilities of a technique, as well as the way different recipes perform.  I’ve tested out different molds as well as different cutting techniques.  I’ve also learned so much from all the guest teachers!   
This is the Starry Night soap by Zahida Ahmed from the Embed challenge.  I was stunned.  It was the first time she participated in the challenges and from here on out, the bar was raised pretty high for our competitors.  The complexities of her designs challenged everyone to work harder and we saw a change in the level of competition.

Are there soapmakers you want to invite to SCC as teachers? Are there soapmakers that inspirate you as a soapmaker to make soaps?
I would love to have some new guest teachers next year!  I haven’t considered specifically who they might be just yet, but I know there are several who would be outstanding!  There are quite a few soapmakers whose work I completely admire such as Tatsiana Serko, Linda O’Sullivan, Emily Shieh, Clara Lindberg, Holly Shelton, Kia Paylor, Clyde Yoshida, Zahida Ahmed, Yvonne Foust, Vera Lede, Jelena Vasiljeva…and I’m sure I’ve left some out!

Top pinned soaps from the Challenges on Pinterest:
Rainbow Spin by Lisa Norris from the Spin Swirl challenge in April 2015

 Thank you, very much, Amy, for sharing your story with us! I hope you HAD FUN doing this interview!

Goofing off at the Farmer’s Market with my older daughter after getting set up to sell soap.

 You can find Great Cakes Soapworks on
Soap Challenge Club

8 komentářů:

  1. :0) Hello all of you. Its great to know you a little bit each year, share soap making and share our lives
    Merry Christmas :0)

  2. Nasta:
    What a wonderful interview! Thank you SO much!
    It was really great to learn so much about Amy and I love all the photos you included too.

    1. Thank you, Sly! It was a pleasure to work with Amy to get to know her a little closer even if we think we know her a lot:) Jus an illusion, I understood after finishing :) Merry X-mas to you!

  3. Nasta, What an absolutely wonderful interview! I really enjoyed reading about Amy, her sweet family, and seeing their photos. She's just an amazing person and such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing this. :) --Holly

    1. Thank you, Holly! I am gratefull every one and each of you were so open and wanted to share some private life with us!

  4. WOW, What a Awesome interview! Thank you for putting Amy in the spotlight, sure was great to read and learn more about her.

    1. Thank you, Rhonda! I was interested in knowing Amy closer too!