I’m Anna Cools, a second generation soap-maker getting back to my roots with my company, Roots Soap Co. I make traditional cold processed soaps and herbal salve with a focus on natural, simple, pure ingredients. I live in Portland, Oregon, with my graphic designer and illustrator husband and our three little co-creations.
I started my business in late 2010 as a way to stay home with my children in their tender years and help support our family. I also wanted to channel my creative energy and make something tangible that I could share with the world. Etsy has been the perfect place for this, and through the nearly three years that I’ve been a part of this community, I have gone from just dabbling in a small business to really making this into my full-time job.
I grew up in a big family on a small farm where my mother taught my older sister and I how to cook from scratch, sew, care for my seven younger brothers, grow and preserve vegetables and medicinal herbs, and to make soap. She gave me a sense of stewardship for the earth, appreciation for natural and organic materials, and a love of nature and beauty. I think that really comes through in my ingredients and finished products. Family tradition runs deep in my process. My sister makes soap as well, and has been an immense support and inspiration for me. My husband designs and prints all my branding materials and packaging, and lends immense amounts of help and support when I need it. When I work, I usually have my baby snuggled on my back keeping me company, while my four-year-old does what little jobs he can to save up pocket change for the toys he is currently obsessed with. Meanwhile, my two-year-old stacks soap scraps like blocks into intricate structures for her princesses and animals. It’s a family business through and through!
Roots Soap Co. is far more than a business to me. It’s a living thing that I love and nurture, fertilize, prune, and reap the fruits of. I source my ingredients locally whenever possible, including the organic herbs and flowers, rainwater, and Oregon beef suet that I render into tallow myself. I make sure that the rest of my ingredients are responsibly harvested and minimally processed, from the pure essential oils to the clays I use for coloring, and the oils used in the base. I also use recycled papers and packing materials whenever I can for my packaging and shipping needs.
Connection with my customers who use or gift my products is something I really enjoy. Having a business that is mostly online can make that difficult at times, but I think that there is an understanding in the Etsy community that we are buying from a person, not from a corporation or some other anonymous entity. Answering questions over email or working out the specifics of a wedding favor order (or getting an ego boost from reading my feedback) is always a joy. I strive to make that connection with my customers by adding personal touches in my packaging, like a handwritten note.
Offering custom orders has been very beneficial for my business. My personalized party favor soaps are popular for weddings and bridal showers, and I really enjoy putting those orders together. I stamp the soaps with the couples’ initials in a simple font and offer an optional vellum paper sleeve with a customized initial sticker. I love seeing how the different stamped initials look on the soaps, and I like to hear how the favors surprised and delighted my customers and their guests.
One of my favorite orders was for a garden-themed wedding here in Portland held in a local arboretum when the early summer blossoms were at their peak. The bride wanted soaps that featured a variety of fresh flower scents and local ingredients. It was so nice to meet with her at a local coffee shop and hear about all of her plans to create the perfect wedding experience. Of course I’m not able to meet all of my customers face-to-face, but working out details over email or phone is always a great experience.
Having a creative business has changed my life in a big way. I’ve worked for a long time on getting over a certain amount of shyness and insecurity, and having Roots Soap Co. has given me a sense of pride and belonging, as well as something tangible that I can call my own. It has also helped me define and understand better who I am as a creative, a woman, and a mother in this high-speed world where there is so much emphasis on professional careers and workplace performance.
All photographs by Peter Hayden.