This feature was originally published at the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, right here.
Recently, we caught up with Alabu Skin Care founder Maryclaire Mayes. Alabu, a soapmaking and natural products company based in Mechanicville, NY, has been an HSMG member since 2001. Says Maryclaire, “I wanted to be part of a professional group that supported handcrafted soapmakers”.
Making soap fits so well into Maryclaire’s lifestyle that it’s hard to believe it took a homegrown chemistry lesson to spark her initial interest.
You can thank a ten year old’s wish for a horse (fulfilled with two goats instead) for the initial supply of goat milk and goat buttermilk that make up every bar of Alabu soap. Now, a friend’s five-goat crew supplies the necessary fresh milk for each and every batch of Alabu soap.
“My first batch size was 9 bars, ” relates Maryclaire, “and I soon doubled that and then I went to 36 bars and then 85. I couldn’t lift a larger batch and I thought that was it. Then my husband and my son figured out how to scale the batch size to 320 bars and they typically do 4 batches at a time.” From those early days of 9-bar batches, Alabu now produces nearly 20,000 pounds of soap a year and can be found at hundreds of retail locations across the US.
On the scent end of spectrum, the business has taken the opposite tack. After ballooning to over 50 different scents based on requests, Alabu has decided fewer scents make for better business. “We have 20 now and are still paring down”. Another surprise is just how little production space has been required as the business grows.
And that signature oval bar? It not only felt nice, but was functional, too. Oval bars lent themselves nicely to being made into logs, which, as Maryclaire explains, “helped keep the goat milk from over-heating and simplified cutting”.
A recurring theme at Alabu is productivity and continuous improvement and indeed, says Maryclaire of her husband Dean, “I think he was an efficiency expert in another life.” Dean has developed many time-saving gadgets for the company, including devices to extract soap from molds, cut full logs of soaps, press manufacturing “seconds” into bars, tip and hoist pots, and make molds mobile. You can see a few of these innovative tools in action here.
Thank you, Alabu, for sharing a behind the scenes look at your company with our readers. Here’s to your continued success!