Last week I had the opportunity to lead a soapmaking workshop with a small group of youth from the Sackville Community Garden. Using organic sunflower oil and dried calendula (a type of marigold with excellent skin soothing properties) from their garden we made a small batch of a lovely mild soap.
This was a first for me – I have never given a soapmaking workshop before. I have learned that my workshop space is not particularly well suited to having a group of people! I did enjoy the process and got a rare chance to experiment with a new recipe AND make soap in a rectangular mold for the first time (oh how it is so simple compared to round molds)! It remains to be seen how interested the youth were – their willingness to participate in the process – well, they were a bit stoic about the whole thing but maybe they’ll come to appreciate it later on.
Sunflower oil contains a high percentage of high-oleic acid oils which makes the soap much slower to harden than I am used to – after 48 hours they were still easily ‘smooshable’ when removing them from the molds.
This soap also contains a small amount of annatto seed infused in the lye, giving the soap a lovely light yellow colour and tiny reddish flecks. I can’t wait to try it out and compare it to the super-secret-and-highly-coveted Anointment soap formula.
With three children under the age of six, renovations underway on their 150-year-old Victorian farmhouse on the outskirts of town, and a home-based business that is starting to gain notoriety across North America, as well as manning a booth every week at the Saturday morning farmers’ market, the stay-at-home mom keeps a pretty hectic schedule.
And MacKinnon is enjoying every minute of it.
“It’s a fine balance between growing a business and raising a family . . . but it’s something I love to do,” she says.
MacKinnon, who recently moved back to her hometown after more than a decade in the Halifax area, runs Anointment Natural Skin Care Inc. out of her spacious home in Upper Sackville – making handcrafted soaps, baby oils, balms, toners and bath salts from pure ingredients. She says she’s proud to be back in Sackville with her family, doing something she is passionate about.
“We make our soaps and body care products in small batches, by hand, the old-fashioned way,” she explains. “It’s a slow deliberate process that’s not mechanized in any way.”
The road to where she’s at now, however, has been a winding one.
Her training is as a civil (environment) engineer, which was how she met her husband back in 1998. But her work in the field, in which she saw firsthand what goes on at city dumps and landfills, was what ultimately set her on a different path.
When she became pregnant with her first child in 2005, she knew she wanted to make some changes in her life.
“I had become really aware of how much we throw out,” she says. “And I felt strongly that I didn’t want to use disposable diapers on my kids or use chemicals that would harm them.”
When her daughter Anna was born, MacKinnon started up her own online business selling cloth diapers and natural baby supplies from her home in Dartmouth.
Three years later, the business had grown to the point she was giving monthly workshops in the community on cloth diapers and baby carriers and she was getting ready to open her own retail store.
It was then, when she was operating her shop Nurtured in downtown Halifax, that she was given the chance to acquire Anointment. MacKinnon had been selling the products in her store and the woman who had founded the business was getting ready to step down from it.
With a newfound passion for natural living and a love of the Anointment products, it was an opportunity MacKinnon says she just couldn’t pass up, even though she had her hands more than full.
Her life began to get even busier.
She was trained in soap making so she was now spending her evenings and weekends producing skin care products for her own shop and a handful of wholesale clients.
It didn’t take long, however, before she started to realize the demands of running two growing businesses were taking its toll on her and her family.
That’s when they decided to make another big change.
Selling her store just this past March and their home in April, MacKinnon and her husband, with their three kids in tow, left Halifax and returned back to her hometown, deciding to put all her efforts solely into Anointment.
“Because Anointment is primarily a wholesale company, I can basically do it from anywhere,” she says.
Her new country home, which features a second kitchen which is being used solely for making the Anointment products, has been ideal for both her growing family and her growing business.
And the new setting has paid off for MacKinnon. The success of Anointment is continuing to flourish.
Her products – which are made from only the purest ingredients with no synthetic fragrances, colours, petroleum products or preservatives – are being sold in 25 retail stores across Canada and she has deals with a number of cloth diaper manufacturers who purchase her baby products.
MacKinnon says she’s thrilled to have received this recognition for a product she so strongly believes in.
“It was really fantastic to get that vote of confidence that people love it . . . to get that kind of feedback from people is a really phenomenal achievement,” she says.
Baby Balm, which doesn’t contain zinc oxide as most other mainstream baby ointments do, is more cloth diaper friendly because it doesn’t plug up the fabric and it’s easier on an infant’s skin.
“It’s made with certified organic oils and herbs that provide skin soothing and healing properties,” she says.
Baby Balm, which takes about three days to make by hand, was one of many entries from across North America competing to earn the PTPA seal.
“I really enjoy making it. So if that’s going to be our flagship, then that’s great.”
So what’s the next step for MacKinnon? She says it will now be more important than ever to find new ways to market her products, “getting them out to more stores and growing the brand across North America.”
And although you would expect in a world where people are becoming much more environmentally-aware, she needn’t be too concerned about how her business will fare. But that’s exactly the toughest hurdle she faces.
“There is a growing demand but there’s also a competitive market . . . so setting yourself apart is the biggest challenge,” says MacKinnon.
In Sackville, Anointment products are sold at the Crofter or the Saturday morning farmer’s market on Bridge Street
She says her adult skin care products are big sellers locally, including the herbal clay cleanser, rose toner and Om Shanti soap.”
I thought I would start a new series introducing you to Anointment products, giving you some details into how it is made and what makes each product special. I have a soft spot for the products I create, it is as though they all have their own personality. My friend Marsha, aka Aliper and the best “alternative” baker this town has ever seen told me today that “you make great soap, THE BEST SOAP. I will never use any other kind of soap.” My neighbour, who lived in the South of France for a number of years (where Marseille soap is BIG business) and who knows soaps also told me recently that she loves Anointment soaps. So, without further ado, here is an introduction to Calendula Soap.
Calendula is a type of pot marigold that is loved for its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. To make it, certified organic calendula flowers are infused in olive oil for a minimum of three hours. This means the flowers are simmered in olive oil, allowing a slow extraction of the oils and beneficial qualities of the flower. The flowers are then strained out and the petals hand-picked from the blossom heads and saved to be added back into the soap. The calendula-infused olive oil is then combined with the remaining oils to create the soap. No essential oils, colours or scents are added, keeping the soap mild and gentle for babies and sensitive adults. It also makes a great facial bar and calendula is sometimes used as an acne treatment, too! This soap is always fun to make, but it is no easy task pulling all those petals out of olive-oily flowerheads!
Anointment soaps are created by cold process, meaning that as little heat as possible is used to create the soap, preserving the beneficial qualities of all of the ingredients used. The fats are heated only as warm as is necessary to melt them and still allow the chemical reaction of saponification to take place. This temperature varies from recipe to recipe and from soapmaker to soapmaker, but we find it works best around 35 C. Sometimes even the atmospheric conditions (high humidity, for example) can change how long it takes for the chemical reaction to take place…soap waits for no one!
The soap solution will slowly change colour, from translucent golden to opaque creamy white as saponification progresses. The consistency will thicken and become more gelatinous as glycerine is formed during the chemical reaction. At this point, the mixture becomes like cake batter and the shea butter and calendula petals are added back in.
The soap is poured into molds, where it continues to generate heat over the next number of hours as the chemical reaction continues. In 24 hours, the soap is hardened enough that it can be gently removed from the molds, cut into bars, stamped with our logo and soap flavour, inspected for quality, and placed into storage for curing. During the curing process, the chemical reaction will continue to take place, ensuring the lye has completely reacted and has been “used up”, creating a mild, luxurious soap that is gentle on your skin. The curing process requires 3-6 weeks.