By Darlene Casten
Lye, fat, essential oils and dried flowers might seem like a strange recipe for family bonding, but for one Filipino family these items are just the right ingredients.
Marlene Hong and her son Miles have been mixing olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, scents and colours to make unique bars of all-natural soaps. Marlene’s husband Lorenzo supports their work by ordering supplies and creating soap molds.
For the Hong’s, making soap is a way to cope with their grief. Their oldest son Lawrence was murdered four years ago and Marlene says she knows her son would want her to be happy.
“I want to learn to smile and how to laugh and be creative – that is a step of moving forward,” she says.
The process of making soap from scratch makes her feel grounded, she says.
“It’s like getting back to basics,” says Marlene.
It was the kindness of strangers and friends that got her started. A resident at the senior’s home where she work provided her with some essential oils and a pair of ladies who came into the home looking for lodging for their parents learned about her interest in soap card and mailed her a $50 gift certificate that she used to buy more supplies.
In November she took a soap-making class and a month later started making her own batches at home.
Marlene learned how to design the soap using swirling techniques and layering.
However, when one batch took a strange turn she enlisted the help of Miles to formulate the soap.
“Miles does the portioning for the recipe,” she explains. “We have to understand the reaction to the essential oils.”
“There are some nuances, when to add the oil and when to use the blender,” Miles adds.
Now they work together to come up with concepts and create the bars.
“Miles really likes the basic, rustic look,” Marlene says. “I’m into the swirl.”
What they produce looks like it comes from a soap specialty store.
When Marlene’s coworkers saw her soaps they encouraged her to post it on Facebook.
“Some friends saw it on the internet,” she says. “One friend said my baby is allergic to soap and asked if I could make some.”
When more requests for their soap started coming in, Marlene designed a logo, set up an email account and packaging. She chose the name Ellie’s Handcrafted Soap, after their dog, Ellie.
They sell their bars of soap for between $5 and $10 and accept orders through their email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find them on Instagram at elliehandcraftsoap.
The baby soap, which has no colour and minimal scent is a top seller, as is their lavender bar.
Marlene says she wants to concentrate on floral scents and designs for spring. They’ve been creating special bars for Mothers Day and are using a heart-shaped mold.
Most recently they created an oatmeal-honey soap that is scented with cinnamon, and a three-toned hibiscus bar with dried hibiscus flowers.
“It’s kind of just experimenting,” Miles says.
Marlene says she wants the business to do well, but says it is benefitting them beyond finances.
“It’s nice to do these things – every cut – it looks different,” she says. “We are excited.
It gives us a little smile on our face.”