THUNDER BAY -- For some, motherhood is the key to entrepreneurship. Sharron McChristie’s foray into soap-making started in 2010, when her infant son had eczema and the condition was aggravated by commercially available soap.
After extensive experimenting, the first soap that turned out really well was an oatmeal, honey and almond soap. McChristie hadn’t started with a business plan; she just wanted something good for her family, but soon friends were asking for the soap, and it built up from there. Almost 10 years later, that first soap is a best-seller. “It’s still the exact same recipe,” she says.
A lot of elbow grease and time goes into her products; she makes soap by mixing natural liquid oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil and castor oil with sodium hydroxide (lye) and mixing it with a stick blender until it thickens. She then pours the soap into handmade molds then waits a day before slicing it into bars. After that, the soap cures for four to six weeks until all the moisture has evaporated. She carries more than 25 kinds of soap, with the coffee, cocoa and dead sea salt (“a nice scrubby bar”) and the charcoal, tea tree and lavender soap being some of her most popular.
After getting positive feedback at craft shows, she decided to try the Thunder Bay Country Market. “I always wanted to get into the market,” she says. “But there was such a long waiting list to get in, so we put our name in and waited until a spot opened up.” She finally became a vendor in 2016, and has a booth upstairs across from the Metropolitan Moose.
Over the years, McChristie has expanded into body butters, bath salts, bath bombs and liquid hand soap. The business will soon become her full-time job, although she notes that in previous years, she essentially worked two full-time jobs. “Even when I was working full-time, this was also a full-time job. So it’s kind of taken over.”
One side of her store displays baskets of pretty bath bombs, of which she has more than 25 varieties. “They’ve been phenomenal,“ McChristie says. She recently acquired a pneumatic press to ease the burden on her over-worked hands. “I don’t dye the bath bombs so they are not going to stain your bathtub. And a few have natural botanicals such as rose petals and lavender flowers.”
She sometimes uses plants she has grown herself, such as chamomile. She also has a friend who has a field full of calendula, so she goes to pick the flowers to use in her products.
Her soaps and bath bombs go far beyond just being natural - each carefully crafted item is beautiful to look at; artistic and suggestive of something delicious to eat. The soaps are imprinted with a signature oak-leaf stamp and often have swirls in them and a sprinkling of botanicals on top, such as petals and herbs. They are so pretty that they are popular as wedding and party favours - she can make half-sized soap bars as well.
Her newest addition to the lineup is solid shampoo. Vastly more environmentally friendly than liquid shampoo in plastic bottles, her first batches sold out very quickly. She is currently developing and testing conditioner bars - although you could dilute apple cider vinegar to use as conditioner, people prefer the convenience of bars.
Her products smell amazing, but McChristie adds fragrant essential oils with a careful hand. “I always try to keep the scents light; I like to smell it when I’m washing my hands, but afterwards I don’t want to smell it on me,” she explains.