The Joy of Soap


Already calculating how much you can charge on your credit cards for holiday gifts? We’ve done the math, and there is no gift that delivers as big a bang for your buck than one of these gorgeously wrapped, delicious smelling soaps, all made by Brooklynites.

gard.jpgSaipua makes soaps the way Wes Anderson makes films. Handmade upstate by Susan Ryhanen with the help of her Red Hook-based daughter Sarah and her partner Eric Famisan, each $6-$12 bar contains essential oils and natural plant-based ingredients in surprising combinations, like the Gardener’s Soap, made with rosemary, mint and cornmeal to scrub out the dirt (plus some soothing Shea butter).

travel.jpgSarah, a former curator at Exit Art, then chooses the perfect paper and stamp to package the soap. (The Clary Sage travel soap with patchouli and dill, beautifully wrapped with vintage maps, is exactly the kind of soap Jason Schwartzman would have pulled out of that precious luggage the brothers carried in The Darjeeling Limited.)

Their Red Hook store reflects this vintage aesthetic, with a rotating selection of goods like Lucite dresser mirrors and antique medicine bottles to hold the flowers they sell. (Sarah is also a floral designer, and very popular among Brooklyn brides.)

There are also limited edition bars of Frankincense and Myrrh, Red Currant and Salt Water soap (with chunks of salt and seaweed) available only in the Red Hook store, which is open Thurs-Sat., noon-7 and Sun. noon-6. You can also order online at

cedar.jpgClara Williams, a former sculptor turned soapmaker, works in an ultra-industrial part of Bushwick, but you wouldn’t know it from her organic skinnyskinny soaps. She makes 16 brilliant varieties (all $10), using essential oils and certified organic plant ingredients like the 20% cocoa butter in the sweet smelling Chocolate soap, the moisturizing oatmeal in the spicy, eye opening Lemon and Blood Orange bar; and the bentonite clay and sea kelp in the gentlemanly Basil and Mint Shaving Soap, which gives a friction-free slip for shaving. There is even a bar for dogs called Fetching, made with natural bug repellents like rosemary and citronella (genius!) that work equally well on humans.

bottles.jpgWilliams would, and will offer more products, but packaging is key. Each soap is wrapped in the page of a used book, and the book-shaped boxes that hold her gift sets, which go on sale in a few days, are made from wild grasses, not trees. (The shaving brush in her soon-to-be available shaving kits? Vegan, naturally). Her mineral salts, blended with olive oil, Shea butter and aloe, come in beautiful recycled glass bottles, and her brother has just created a soap holder from salvaged wood. Now she just needs the right, sustainable bottle for her upcoming line of bath oils.

You can find her soaps and salts online for now at, though they’re due in Brooklyn stores like Urban Rustic and Pumpkin’s Organic Market soon. They’ll also be included in the box of goodies Brooklyn Based has put together for the holidays… more on that gift next week!

salt.jpgYet another creative type who fell into soapmaking, David Johnston was burned out by graphic design when he began using the kitchen of his Park Slope apartment as the lab for The Bubble Roome soaps seven years ago. This June, he finally outsourced their production to Oregon so he can concentrate on new designs like chalkware-shaped soaps, modeled after the chalk statues once given out as prizes at carnivals.

gel.jpgStill, his current offerings are the most extensive of the three. In addition to 8 different “Goodness Bars” ($6), from the exfoliating, exotic Ylang Ylang and Cinnamon soap, spiked with coconut, to the soothing, baby-friendly Chamomile and Calendula blend, Johnston has also developed super moisturizing, paraben-free products like Hemp Oil Lotion with oatmeal extract; a 3 Butter Cream made with shea, cocoa and mango butters, sulfate-free Bath and Body Gels with Rosehip and Jojoba oils, Walnut Sugar Scrubs made with crushed walnuts and brown sugar, and Mineral Salts. All are packaged in recyclable bottles, using recycled labels, and as Johnston puts it, as little fake stuff as possible.

The Bubble Roome soaps are sold all over Brooklyn, from Environment 337 to 3R Living to Moon River Chattel. You can also order via

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)