Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What’s in their Yard?

Oooo! Ahhhhh! A new “organic” bath and body line from England is about to be launched in the US. (Apparently, we don’t have enough of our own.) The primary marketing of this new line will be home parties hosted by – well – YOU - with the help of a consultant. The consultant must be the “translator”. (English to English can be problematic.)
Though I try to resist, I am feeling like the poor, merely “natural”, kid cousin of the much more sophisticated, elusive “organic” teenage cousin. They are so mysterious, elite and cool and all you want to do is be accepted by them and maybe hang out with them. You try to learn their lingo and understand them. But they are so steeped in self importance that all you can do is nod your head and accept their claims of superiority. (In other words – act like you knew what they were talking about so you didn’t look dumb.) And of course you accept these claims. How could you not? Their clothing, (packaging), presents them with understated, spa-like sophistication that says “WE know. YOU don’t. Trust us.” (In this case, it says it with a really cultivated British accent.)

To ward off the self diminishing of our own creation – I did what every red blooded American would do. I looked to find flaws in this new arrival. Not just dirt. Real flaws. That meant research. Lots and lots of research. The language barrier didn’t help. Did you know that in England, water is listed as “aqua” in the ingredients? I needed to double check to make sure we were talking about the same kind of H2O. (We were.)

My first stop was to their web site. I had to decide between the British site, the Japanese site or the USA site. Choosing the safest bet, I went with the US site only to find that it had been taken down pending the US launch. Risking the whole language thing, I opened the British site. I had anticipated the pound currency issue too so I had a currency calculator opened in another browser window.

I puttered around the site for a bit. I came to a listing for a 99% Organic Orange & Geranium Soap bar for L3.50. (Currency calculator says… $5.81) The directions said “Use with warm water to create a luxurious lather and uplifting fragrance.” (Do they usually need to be told this in England?) The usual soap-ish ingredients were listed. Translation was rough but I muddled through. Palm oil was listed as sodium palmate – coconut oil was sodium cocoate – citric acid was sodium citrate – etc… No secret ingredients. No big revelations. Just their version of soap stuff.

Then I noticed the final ingredient line. It helpfully told me that the soap’s organic ingredients were denoted with an asterisk. Good. Now I could finally see what made them so way cooler than the rest of us kids. I scrolled back up the list of ingredients…then back down… then up again… I adjusted the text size on my browser window to LARGEST… looked again. Of the 9 ingredients listed, a mere 2 of them were organic. In volume order from highest to lowest, only numbers 4 and 5, the orange and geranium essential oils, were organic. Nothing else.

Please bear with me while I share some calculations that the currency converter didn’t cover. This particular bar of soap weighed 100 grams or 3.381oz. (Yeah – dinky.) The International Fragrance Association, (yes – there really is such a thing), deems what is the maximum use level for skin exposure for most all essential oils. The maximum use level for geranium essential oil is 13.80%. Orange is 100%.
So – the math said that the maximum amount of geranium oil that should be in this bar of soap is .28oz. Now, having blended these two scents myself, I can pretty much guess that the other 3.101oz of this bar are NOT liquid orange essential oil. It would be really drippy (not really soap at all). Besides – there are 3 other non-organic ingredients listed prior to the orange oil.

So just for giggles, let’s assume that there is double as much orange oil as geranium oil – or .56oz. (I am having some serious déjà vu’ of my 11 yr olds decimal homework.) Combined, there is less than 1oz of organic ingredients in this 3.381oz bar of soap? Less than 30%. Silly me. I thought 99% organic would mean that 3.347oz of this 3.381oz bar of were made of organic materials. Guess I missed something in translation.

The FDA says:
“Processed products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients
These products cannot use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel. However,
they may identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel.”

Okay, I have to admit that the word “organic” is not on their “principal display panel” for this soap. But when I first began composing this entry, there was a green box on the soap product page that stated that it was 99% organic. Now the US page is open. The soap now weighs 3.53oz (still dinky) and costs $6.50. The ingredients and denotations are the same but the 99% organic box is gone. I guess that which is considered “organic” in England is not considered so in the US. Good for us! But buyers beware – the word “organic” is one of two in this particular company’s name – and the other word isn’t “kinda”.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Daily Plunk

To date, Plunk Soap has 128 item listings on our Etsy shop. That’s about 108 individual items if you subtract out the Survival kits and gift sets. To be honest – it was WAY more than we planned to offer. But life has a funny way of creating opportunities. I wanted to take this entry to share with you how some of our products came to be and how we, Jen and I, use Plunk products on a daily basis.

Making soap was our original plan. Multiple internet “shopping” trips showed us the infinite possibilities and we were psyched to get started. We both like to create just about anything. Jen is an avid scrap booker and one of those people who just “knows” how to cook. I have watched her whip up a cake from scratch – with numerous kids running in and out of her house– while taking both cell and land line calls and texts - as we were holding a planning meeting – all in time for her daughter’s after school birthday celebration. Not just adding the eggs, oil and milk to the mix nor cracking open a plastic can of frosting but actually compiling ALL of the real ingredients, baking cooling, frosting (with homemade frosting) and decorating.

As you may surmise – cooking and baking are not my thing. Bertolli is my new best friend. And if you add seasonal veggies to them – sandwiches are a perfect dinner food. On the other hand – I get excited about designing labels for a new line of products and will stay up until the wee hours to complete them. Photographing, photo editing and posting that new line to our site will give me a high that lasts for days.
But I digress…back to our product development story. So the soaps were in. But just think about when and how you use soap. Morning showers inspired our confidence inducing BELIEF bar along with memory enhancing OH! and cheerful FLOWER BOX. Evening tub soaks brought about RELAX, LA LA LAND, anxiety reducing ASIA and MOUNTAN MAN for the guys. Daily utilitarian hand washing spawned SECOND WIN, odor eliminating FISH SOAP and with the outbreak of H1N1 – GERM STUFF was born. Romantic FOREVER and GIRLIE DRINK kinda speak for themselves. HUGGIE and BOO BUNNY were for the kids. Actually, LA LA LAND has proven to be a bit of miracle soap with my kids at bath time. The lavender, chamomile and vanilla make them downright drowsy.
We loved our scents so much that we wanted them around us more frequently. It seems that every room in Jen’s house has a candle. (Yes – the bathrooms too. I forgot to check her laundry room though. I’ll get back to you on that.) I have traditionally run right out on the first brisk day of the year and bought some autumnally scented candle. So candles were our next step. Even good quality paraffin wax seemed to be a contradiction to our use of natural scents and colors so all natural soy wax and chemical free cotton wicks were our choice. (I think it might be appropriate for Jen to put SECOND WIND in her laundry room.)
Lotions and body sprays allowed us to travel with around with our favorites. Our spray lotions have become a real keyboard saver for me. I previously refrained from relieving my dry feeling hands until after I had completed my laptop work. The spray lotion is so light that it is perfect for working on a key board, crocheting (my other passion) and unloading the glasses from the dish washer. (You know what I mean.)
The more we researched essential oils and their aromatic properties, the more ideas we had. A friend really wanted a bug repellant that she could safely use on her then 6 month old daughter. We hit the books and the internet. In all of our specialty sprays, we strive to make them as effective as we can – and we want them to smell good too. (Certain types of animal urine may very well repel bugs or heal burns but their scents weren’t quite what we were going for.) We even put our BUG OFF in a spray lotion form to make it stick and make it easier for her to use one handed.

Another friend repeatedly gets poison ivy while trying to create a backyard garden. By her own admission, she knows where it is but can’t seem to avoid it. (I blame her dogs.) In July we celebrated the birth of IVY AID.

Yet more friends were building a deck on the back of their house by themselves. We have had a very mellow, rainy summer here in CT so the sunburns they got were not anticipated. They sent one of their kids over to get a bottle of our EVENTIDE After Sun spray. We are happy to relay that it does everything we made it to do.

I sent my college aged daughter to school with nearly our entire line of PMS easing WITCH’S BREW. (You really have to live it to understand it.) One day while sitting at an especially slow show, my mood, and apparently my dialog, reflected my discontent. Jen threatened to spritz me with our WITCH’S BREW body spray every time I said something derogatory. A neighbor asked if she could drink it. (She can’t.)
Wonder if our friends and families are getting tired of being our guinea pigs yet?

Friday, July 3, 2009


This is the story of Plunkduck. Plunkducks were originally Jen’s idea. (Jen is the co-founder of Plunk Soap.) She saw the idea in one of the many soap making books on the market. I must admit I didn’t think a rubber duck atop a bar of soap fit our all natural persona. But Jen diligently created her Plunkducks, packaged them and took them to some shows. Low and behold – they sold. Kids were naturally drawn to them and parents gladly okay’d the non-candy, non-toy purchases. People were buying them for shower gifts, to grace birthday gift packages or just as novelties for children and grandchildren.
While these purchases did not exceed those of our natural, aromatically therapeutic soap bars or sales of soy candles or spray lotions, they did represent a significant percentage of our receipts. Because of that, I needed to re-think my stance on Plunkducks.

How to do that… First, Plunkducks would need to become as natural as the rest of our product line. That was the easy part. And as all of our essential oils, bottles and tops are phthalate free, these darn ducks needed to be too. Turns out – they were much easier to find than I had anticipated so we placed an order. When they arrived, I had to admit that I even LIKED a lot of them. Who wouldn’t like a duck disguised as a cat or a dog or even a super hero? But still, I wasn’t quite there.

In between shows, I set off on a mini vacation with my 10 & 9 year olds to Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. Plunkducks were completely off my mind. Swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, shopping occupied our days… not a Plunkduck in sight. Ample use of BUG OFF spray, EVENTIDE after sun spray, GERM STUFF lotion and a BUG OFF soy candle did not bring to my mind the Plunkduck dilemma. Until one fateful afternoon…
My sister had taken her oldest son and my two kids boating on Lake George to do some tubing. My younger nephew and I remained on shore, watching from an Adirondack chair strewn dock. It was perfect. My kids were happily occupied AND we had a dinner plan. I could spend this bit of time chatting with my nephew/godson and maybe even read some of the novel I had carried down in my tote along with a diet Dr. Pepper. My nephew decided to paddle around in a kayak so I reached into my tote for my book… and there it was. My son had secreted a “catduck”, sans the soap bar, into my tote. I am sure his intent was to have it for vacation bath time or even to float it in the lake but here it sat – begging for my attention. Thus began my vacation bonding attempt with a Plunkduck.

We did some sightseeing.

We considered swimming but considered the vast 3 ½ foot depth and vetoed it.

Kayaking was fun for me to watch but not so much for Plunkduck. (They didn’t have small enough life jackets and I didn’t have any duct tape.)

We ended our time together hanging out on the dock watching storm clouds rolling in from the west.

The time came for me to pack up and head over to the marina to help my sister secure the boat and gather my kids before the daily, late June thunderstorm hit. As I stowed my book, camera and Plunkduck back in my tote, I had to admit that I felt a little differently about our Plunkduck product. They definitely have personality and therefore – a place at Plunk Soap. And yes… they will soon be available on our website.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Soap Box

Let's face it, it is near impossible to avoid all chemicals and synthetics in today's world. Sometimes we even choose them. (hair color? cold remedies? fuel?) How many of us have converted our automobiles to run on corn oil? I have yet to find an all natural high lighting product that can do what my hair stylist does. And what are those little white Styrofoam-like pellets in the potting soil? If one of my children is ill, I want every advancement in medical science at my doctor's finger tips. I don't care if a life saving medicine is made from a synthetic compound or bird droppings as long as it is effective and safe. To a certain extent, as average Joes and Janes, we need to trust that certain laboratory discoveries work in our favor. What we can do - should we choose to - is educate ourselves and pick a level of naturalness that suites us and our families.

So, now we have decided to avoid those chemicals that we can and search out healthier alternatives. (Okay - I decided for you but stick with me for a bit.) Trying to keep natural or, gasp, organic - can be truly stressful. Did you know that there are three different degrees of organic certification for products and/or ingredients that want to claim they are organic? Even still, during our supplier research phase while developing Plunk, we found many wholesalers claiming organic products that balked when asked to provide their certification. Their varying degrees of indignation were comical at times. They seemed to have a hard time grasping that THEIR product was to be used in OUR product so THEIR claims would become OURS and we had to cover OUR collective hindquarters. At least organic claims are somewhat regulated if not very well policed. Then again, given the apparent elevated costs of producing anything organic, the price of conscientiously policing the organic world would be great. I assume the these police would need to wear hand sewn, organic, hemp uniforms, travel in cost prohibitive hybrid vehicles and use only recycled paper products, (which generally costs twice as much as the new stuff).

The guidelines for claiming a product is natural are so loose they are nearly meaningless. According to the FDA, a product needs only be 70% natural to carry that label. So... if a 10 ounce tub of face cream is made with 3 ounces of formaldehyde laden plastic pellets... it is natural. Not necessarily good for you, but natural nonetheless. Good to know. Knowing this, we opted to use our own guidelines to produce our natural products. Our definition of natural became this: a product devoid of synthetic chemicals and preservatives.

While we are not yet wearing socks with our Birkenstocks, we have become suburban vigilantes. One of our covert activities is Googling ingredients that have names that sound suspicious to our not-so-technically-inclined-brains. This has forced us to actually read explanations about how some of our ingredients are derived from nature. Sometimes we found that an ingredient was so far removed from nature that it was kinda like claiming a fifth cousin twice removed by marriage.

Our next hurdle was deciding how best to market our product that would convey to potential customers, how natural we made every attempt to be. Ah ha! Market it on a selling site known for it's handmade products. Imagine our dismay when our products were grouped with similar products claiming to be all natural, that contained scents called "Ocean Breeze" and "Rain Puddles". Well... maybe there is a way to squeeze parts of the sea or a puddle to extract the pure essence of their particular scent that our research has not uncovered. Wonder if that is a steam distillation process or something involving evaporation? At any rate, the puddles in my neighborhood smell like a combination of motor oil and the poorly contained garbage of those who live UP the hill. Maybe if we used that scent AND made it neon pink.... I even went so far as to start a thread topic on this selling site that asked, as hand crafters, what standard are we using to police ourselves in the use of the term natural. The responses were very revealing. Those who were quite obviously using the FDA's guideline for natural by using synthetic scents and colors, were openly defensive. Those who made a product much purer than mine, offered definitions, camaraderie and assistance.

We will continue to make a product as natural as we can. While we don't know the quantity of fossil fuels burned to make our natural product, we will buy as locally as available, car pool to our shows and use fluorescent light bulbs.