I met Jo Haslauer in an experimental group to write books. I was stunned when I found out who she was, as I didn't connect her name with the research I'd done on natural colorants. Jo's soap images and information had popped up more than once and I recognized her soaps immediately.
Jo was incredibly supportive and encouraging during the some-what arduous process of writing. Jo completed her invaluable book and we formed a friendship.
I love her in so many ways... I want to share her vivacious energy, helpful information and her motivations with you.
When did you know soap making was for you?
I have always had some sort of craft on the go. I learnt to knit squares as most kids do from my mum and moved to cross stitch when it was all the rage. Later on a trip to England I learnt Tatting from my aunt and I was introduced to vegetable gardening by my grandmother at the same time. I also learnt to embroider as well and learnt heirloom sewing too (I have to admit although, I like the end result I really don’t like the process of that). Later I learnt how to do stump work embroidery as well. Around this time I also learnt to sculpt with polymer clay and produced a few dolls and food items etc also.
Having an interest in craft I discovered online that you could find the most amazingly talented people just with the click of your mouse. One day following a long trail on the net I found a melt and pour soaper and I was absolutely mesmerized with what she was producing. I had to find out more. I found suppliers in Australia and bought colors, fragrance oils and molds (as you do) and for quite a few years I ran a melt and pour soap business. However I wanted more, I wanted to actually make the soap.
By this time I was involved in online forums and had made several friends that encouraged me to learn to make cold process soap. One of them I met in real life (also an Aussie) and we instantly hit it off. She is an amazing person and soaper - Patti Flynn - I absolutely adore her. Her soaps were are so inspiring that I knew I had to give it a try. Luckily for me an American soaper said she would help me learn. She taught me over the private message section of the forum. I gathered all my ingredients and she told me in the messages the steps as I performed them. I would add the lye to the water and then run back to the screen for the next step. I added the lye water to the oils and then had to run back to the messages for the next step to see how far to stir until I got to trace. Looking back I must have been a lunatic to learn it that way and I am thanking my lucky stars it was clearly a slow to trace recipe hahahah. Just imagine learning it now like that! There was no Youtube or Skype in those days, just yahoo groups and forums.
Once I had made the one soap batch I was hooked - I knew had to have more and more! Fortunately I had all the mica and fragrance oils already from my melt and pour business and I experimented with different colors
and scents. I was a goner, hook line and sinker. I haven’t touched tatting for years. I occasionally knit, embroider and do stump work. I absolutely refuse to smock ever again, however I do dabble with polymer clay and this year I planted my own dyers garden in the hope of learning how to use some of the more exotic home grown colorants in my soap.
How did you create your signature style soaps? What prompted you to make natural colorant soaps?
I was very happy making my bright coloured fragrance oil soaps and using the brightest micas at the time known as Pop Micas. However, for an inexplicable reason the supplier of the Pop Micas suddenly announced that the micas were no longer available. I was devastated. I bought up as much of the Pop Micas as I possibly could (pounds of it). I had changed my soap business over from melt and pour to cold process with mica and fragrance oils and I had never even considered that the colorants would suddenly not be available and what would I then do!
Many other soapers were in the same position and we struggled to find substitutes particularly for the orange and purple. I was seriously annoyed that on a whim my business could be completely thrown into turmoil and I could not fulfill my customers requests. Something had to change.
I was very lucky I had a friend who was a very “green eco minded” soaper. We had already met over coffee and swapped soaps. She made a very off the cuff comment (whilst I was lamenting the loss of the micas) that she would never have to worry about being beholden to anyone but nature. She only used natural colorants and you could buy those anywhere, at anytime. It was my light bulb moment. Why was I even looking for synthetic substitutes when the same thing could happen all over again to me? I left that coffee session with her suggestion ringing in my ears. In fact she gave me a challenge and I am always up for those. Her exact words to me were “open your pantry and make me four soaps from colorants that are in there”. I can’t tell you the words I thought (not polite to be honest), but four soaps! Was she mad, I could maybe make one at a stretch two
I already had a no-palm recipe. I have never used it even from in the first internet lesson with my friend in the U.S. I have a background of being green having gone through university in the 80s and being a marine biologist I was aware of the impact of some of the ingredients that soapers used. Natural colorants seemed such a no-brainer for me that I couldn’t believe I had never considered it before. Of course now the challenge was set, I had to go to the extreme of also saying no fragrance oils either. I truly was a lunatic. You know the old saying “in for a penny, in for a pound” well that is me. I can’t do just one step I have to go all the way.
I loved the results of the soaps from her challenge. Yes, I did make four soap batches. I loved to see her face when I appeared at our next coffee session with my four soaps - all bright colors and all achieved with the help of my own pantry. I loved it so much that I came home, gave away my micas and fragrance oils, and put the sealed pop micas stash that I had gathered like a crazy woman, front and centre in my cupboard to remind me that the world was my oyster with natural colorants, and I didn’t ever have to use synthetics again.
What makes you happy to get out of bed regarding soap making?
The challenge that I never really know the color that I will make today. I have a general idea that I am going to make a pink soap for example, but will it be a pastel pink or a bright hot scorching fuchsia pink?. Just when I am sure it will be a pastel and I have nailed the way to get it pastel, it will be the fuchsia I absolutely guarantee it. There is always a challenge with natural colorants to see if you can repeat that color. That never quite being 100% sure makes me leap out of bed and soap. I can’t wait and if I have a new (to me) idea well that is the best fun ever. Pushing the boundaries of natural colorants is my absolute favourite way to spend a soap making day. We have such a long way to go with natural colorants still, there is so much more to learn and do.
What were your hopes for creating your soap business?
My hopes for my soap is that my use of natural colorants inspires other soapers to try. To look at natural colorants in a different way than we are used to and to give them a go. Not all natural colorants make muddy colors, nor are all natural colorants beige or brown or even green. Actually, I find I have to blend several colors to get a really good brown and a really good green. They are quite hard to achieve for me. If someone is inspired by my soap to try natural colorants then I am ecstatic. I think every soaper should try them at some stage of their soaping journey. Just open your pantry and look what you already have and try it. Natural colorants are beautiful and they all blend so beautifully together when they are lined up. Not one of them clashes with the other - they blend and together they are really magical to see.
What are your favorite natural colorants and why?
Woad, Alfalfa and Astaxanthin are my favourites at the moment. Woad has been the love of my natural colorant journey and I am sure always will be. I love saying the word Woad and the history connected to it, but I love the Robin’s egg blue soap that you get using Woad. I have tried to achieve it with Indigo, and I have come close, but Woad just has that little bit of green to add to the mix and boy, when you see it in real life, its spectacular. I definitely have a love affair with Woad.
Alfalfa gives the most exquisite grass green. Its bright and cheery and very like Matcha Green Tea powder. Its that sort of green color and shines alongside Woad and Astaxathin.
Astaxanthin is a reddish/brown color. Its quite a mystery colorant to me as it can produce a beautiful candy apple red in a swirl but as a whole base color its a brown red. So odd I am mesmerized by it.
Do you have concerns and/or hopes for the soap industry?
My hope for the soap industry is that we can all grow together and share what we learn, but respect the ones that have gone before us and not forget that at the moment very little has not already been done before. Instead of criticizing new and innovative soapers and their ideas we should be looking to them for inspiration and growing on their knowledge and running with it. Take what they doing and add our own spin on it. Copying is rife, credit the original soaper and add your own spin, soap is so creative and each soap is a work of art, there will be similarities but never that same piece again. Rather than recreate find your own style, we each have one and embrace it, enjoy your soap journey its meant to be fun and once you find your own style and are having fun it becomes obvious in your soap and we can all enjoy it for the magical achievement that it is.
What do you want people to know about your work?
People should know that I love soaping with natural colorants. Love it. I am like a child in a candy store. I love searching for that elusive red and pushing the boundaries of natural colorants. It is such fun to see what a yellow powder will do, or a red liquid or a bark that will produces blue oil - it really is a playground and I love every minute I am in it playing. How lucky am I that I found something I really really love and can share?
What are your favorite parts to making soap?
My all time favourite part is finding or hearing of new colorant that I have to try. Receiving it in the mail, buying it in a local shop and finding out what it will do in oil, at trace or in the lye water. That is the most fun ever.
I also love to look at soap photos. I find it relaxing. I know I won’t try to make the soaps (I can only do my own style) so I can just enjoy them for what they - each a one of a kind art form that will never be repeated again. There are some amazingly talented soapers in the world, from Russia, the UK and Europe, The US across to Asia and down to Australasia. When you aren’t looking at soaps to see how the soaper created it, but are looking at the soap photo as an art form you realize just how beautiful soap can be and how talented people are. Its astounding really.
What makes you laugh about making soap?
The community of soapers really do have some hilarious people in it. I have been blessed with meeting many online that have great sense of humours and nothing is better than sharing a joke or a story with them. Its a wonderful community.
However, I do have to say your chicken and egg soaps when I first saw them on a chicken blog made me smile and say wow and go OMG all at the same time. You were a breathe of fresh air and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was enamored of those darn chickens and wished I had thought to make them myself! Then along came the mice and the cheese and I was hooked. Each time you make a soap I smile, I wish I had thought of it first, but I smile because I know no matter how hard I had tried, I could not have made them in my wildest dreams. They are amazing and yes they do make me laugh at times especially those darn chickens!
What do you want readers to know about you or your soap making business?
Just know that I love playing with natural colorants - its such fun and I wish the same in your soap journey for all of you.