In this interview are insights to Ami Johnson's Lilybleu Soap Works that many admire, which are striking and colorful. Ami's kindness and integrity surfaces clearly. Get to know wonderful Ami with her frank and open answers. Ami Johnson of Lilyblue Soapworks.
When did you know soap making was for you?
In my previous career I was a General Manager, first for the Beauty division of Victoria's Secret, and after that for Ulta Beauty. In 2009 I chose to leave my wonderful career to raise a family. I don't think I realized how much confidence I got from my previous position and while I definitely wasn't unhappy raising my child I knew I needed something for myself. I initially started watching YouTube videos to teach myself how to knit and one day I stumbled upon a Soaping 101 video and was immediately intrigued. Here was something I could do, possibly earn a bit of money doing it, that would also be healthier for my family, as well as others.
When did you discover you loved soap making?
The absolute first time I ever made soap! I really love the science aspect of turning different fatty acids into a completely different thing and the endless variations there are to do that. I also discovered I had an artistic side. I've always been very good and seeing beauty in the work around me, but I'd never been able to draw, or paint, or really do anything that I considered to be art, but I started making designs by my third batch and I felt like I'd been doing it all my life. I believe my previous career was my first calling and motherhood my second, but just as I felt I had to do those things I also feel that way about soap.
What are your favorite parts of soap making?
Hands down my favorite part is when everything is mixed and ready to go. I'm not a fan of the prep work and definitely not a fan of the cleanup, but that 15-20 minutes when it's just me creating is almost always the best part of my day.
What makes you happy to get out of bed regarding soap making?
I, along with fellow soapers Jennifer Kathleen of Treehugger Soap Co., and Tyreese Joseph of ADO Soaps, run The Happy Soapers Facebook group. I'm so passionate about educating new soapers, learning from veteran soapers and creating the type of climate where everyone feels safe enough to ask any question. We encourage open and respectful debate, but we do not tolerate any unkind or derogatory remarks to or from our members. The three of us were so frustrated by the demeaning of new soapers, the unwillingness to hear any opinion that differed from their own and mostly the way some people chose to express those things. It was really bringing us down, so about six months ago we started the Facebook group and in August we'll launch our YouTube channel and weekly blog. Helping other soapers in a positive and informative way is absolutely what gets me out of bed in the morning.
What are you favorite oils, butters, micas and/or processes?
I'll admit that I've never tried hot process and I loathe re-batching, but I absolutely love cold process. I use a lot of Olive Oil in my recipes because I'm completely palm free and I find it the most versatile of oils. It's soft, yet it creates a rock hard bar of soap. I also use Shea Butter in nearly every recipe as I do Avocado Oil. I also think lard makes an amazing bar of soap although I also offer a vegan option. Some speciality oils that I'm really in love with are Meadowfoam Oil, Laurel Berry Oil, Argon Oil, and Emu Oil, although I typically save those for leave on products.
I'm a huge proponent of water discounting and soaping at cool temperatures. I find it gives me so much more control over the process. I almost always soap with a 1:1 ratio, room temperature oils, and cold lye solution. It's the very rare fragrance that causes me to up my water ratio.
I have an all natural vegan line that uses only essential oils and natural colourants, but my best sellers come from my main line where I use fragrance oil and micas from Nurture Soap Supply, some of my favorites being their Vibrance Mica line and Day of the Dead, Breath of God, 25:43, Juicy Apricot, and Soft Cœur Fragrance Oils, among others. I also love the selection of micas from Mad Micas and I still use a lot of their fragrance oils... Earl Grey a Tea, Deviant, Spanish Fly, and Snow Witch, which I don't think I could live without. I buy a lot of my base oils from Bramble Berry as well additives like silk, colloidal oatmeal and some clays. I have several fragrances from them that are also part of my regular lineup such as Oatmeal, Milk and Honey, Electric Lemonade, Heavenly Honeysuckle, Energy, Karma, and many of their Essential Oils. Apart from supporting a couple small suppliers for speciality oils I get nearly everything from those three places or locally.
What were your hopes for creating your soap business?
My soap business is doing well despite the fact that we're currently without a website. That should change soon though. I'm keeping busy enough that I always have things to do, but I'm not yet overwhelmed, well, except from October to December. My goal is to grow my business to the point where I'm able to employ people, continue offering accessible and well-researched education in a positive environment and make enough money to travel more. I really miss visiting Europe and diving in Cozumel, MX.
What other interests do you have when not in your soap or bath products laboratory?
I'm a huge history nerd. I'm pretty well versed on European history, especially that of England, France, and Scotland from about William the Conqueror up through George VI with a particular emphasis on 14th and 15th Centuries.
We love to travel and we've been all over the US, parts of Canada and Mexico and much of Western Europe. These days we're staying a bit closer to home, but it's always nice to get away.
I'm an avid reader and I typically listen to audiobooks while making soap.
Do you have concerns and/or hopes for the soap industry?
Animal welfare is something I feel strongly about. I'm not vegan, but I do everything in my power to make sure every item that goes into my products is ethically sourced. I buy my lard locally from humanely treated free-range animals and I really admire the lengths companies like Nurture Soap go to for cruelty free and environmentally responsible products. I'll always pay more to know I'm not hurting animals or humans by using the products I use.
What do you want people to know about your soaps/business?
We are a family run business that relies on word of mouth for the majority of my business. We try to be as ethically and environmentally responsible as possible and I hope the quality of the ingredients we use comes across in our products.
What makes you laugh about making soap?
Sometimes it's the worst mistakes that turn out to be your hidden gems!