Well, wasn't 2020 fun? After having a couple of weeks to get through the Christmas madness, and over the New Years Shenanigans, I feel as though I am finally coming up for air after what has been an astonishing year! I have had some time to reflect on the year, what it meant for me, what lessons I have learned and what I will take with me into 2021.
First of all, I want to acknowledge the very many people who have been seriously affected by Covid. In speaking to you all over the course of the year, it has been apparent that Covid has been both "The Great Unifier" and "The Great Divider". From all pitching in to do our part and getting things under control, to the upwelling of different factions of beliefs. The debate about wearing a mask, or not wearing a mask has become one that pits people against each other, even within families. It has been both heartwarming to see the teddy bear trails, and the neighbourhood care groups, and devastating to see the bullying towards those who have processed the pandemic differently.
I have been fascinated observing my own response to Covid - which came at a juncture in my business existence, and forced me to make tough decisions, which had unexpected results. Let me explain... Back in March, I had to decide whether I was going to renew my lease for the Boutique on July 1 of 2020. I had worked so hard since opening in October 2016 to make the Boutique a viable business. The prospects in March, at the beginning of our battle with Covid in New Zealand, the uncertainty surrounding everything, made the decision to permanently close the Boutique the only one I felt I could make at the time - That was a horrendous place to be in my head. I came to grips with what giving up my business would mean, and finally was able to accept that doing so was the best option, and I was at peace with that. I was able to let go my hopes for the Boutique. I was not happy, I was terribly sad, but at peace with it.
And strangely - that's when everything changed. I was not the only one worried about the uncertainty; my landlord was as well. She was so willing to adjust her expectations, and allow for flexibility, so we came to an arrangement that has allowed me to stay where I am, and continue to serve in my community. From there, I began to see each day, not as a battle, but as "bonus time" and an opportunity. It has meant I have had to make daily decisions without any "normal" retail trends, it has meant being creative (remember our virtual online shopping?) it meant being flexible and using delivery, or contactless pick up. It meant setting up the store to allow for social distancing, and introducing more stringent cleaning regimes. It has meant getting up and going in, even when there wasn't going to be anyone there. It meant confronting, and processing the "how's" of doing business is a rapidly changing environment. It was, and continues to be, scary. But here is one thing I didn't anticipate. YOU!
Somewhere in everyones personal journey through this pandemic, something inside people has shifted. My amazing, beautiful, kind customers/friends - YOU have really made a difference - and not just to me - sweeping our little country has been a gracious and forceful movement to support smaller, local businesses, putting your earnings into our businesses. Making a concerted effort to get out in the little places and shop. And WOW! I have had so many new customers who discovered the Boutique while they were out walking in lockdown. Families at Christmas time saying they had determined to buy ALL their Christmas presents from their local community. Our birthday party this year, and our annual jewellery party were the busiest since I opened, and your kindness to me has been insane. I have literally, and figuratively, felt your arms around me through this entire year.
And so I stay - in my little Boutique, in my little seaside community, in the company of good neighbours, and amazing customers. I am actually amazed at how we got through it last year. Strength and Flexibility of mind, kindness, community, creativity. All things I will be bringing with me into 2021.
See you on January 12th.
All my love,
Well. So. Um. What do I even say? I think we all would just look at each other and raise our eyebrows, as if to say... What the heck? What happened...? And how did it happen so fast? So many questions, so much uncertainty. I feel like life at the Boutique, my day dictated by my opening time, what soap I needed to make, what products I needed to order... and yes, what bills I had to pay, and when rubbish and recycling had to be taken out... my entire, ENTIRE life was turned right upside down on March 23rd, when our government announced we were moving into Alert Level 3 - allowing 48 hours to get my affairs for the Boutique in order, ensure our power was off, our valuable stock out of the store, and any loose ends sorted to ensure it was safe and alarmed appropriately. Wow. This in the midst of trying desperately to manufacture all the hand sanitiser I could. I will tell you now - I used EVERY bottle, every pump, spray, container - every last millilitre of ingredients I had - and when I turned the alarm on, packed up my lap top and put our Home Sweet Home sign in the window... and drove home, I was exhausted, and the implications of what was happening had not set in. I'm not sure they have set in yet - even now, two weeks on.
Suddenly, my daily routine is so completely different, that I find myself walking into a room, forgetting what I was there for, staring blankly for a bit, and then leaving... or just find myself a bit teary, and aimless. But for the most part, I have spent my days doing things I often wished I had time for but couldn't do because I was at the Boutique! The weather has been glorious, and I have relished sitting in my garden with a cup of coffee in the middle of the morning. I have cleaned.... my oven.... light fixtures, the skirting boards, the eaves out on my front deck... that kind of cleaning. And that feels pretty good. I have a house full of boys, and so I have baked - WAY too much! We have celebrated my husband's birthday, so there has been cake, sourdough bread, muffins, banana cake.... the list goes on.
I still feel unsettled, and I worry about what comes next. Even when we move out of Alert Level 4, I am not naive enough to think we will just go back to normal - that's gone. We will have to create a NEW normal at Bath Boutique. I can't think too much about it - I still feel like the floor has dropped away and I struggle to keep a grip on my mind. I try to keep track of the beautiful things that this terrible disease has allowed in its path. The WHOLE WORLD is seeing a drop in air pollution - the stars are brighter. The birds sound louder because the background noise has been quieted. We are looking out for our neighbours. We are connecting differently with people. For the most part - we are acting more compassionately. We are planning and cooking and being with our special people. We HAVE to be still. There is NO GUILT because there is nothing we can do about it. I LOVE this quote by Pema Chödrön. We are ALL vulnerable right now, maybe we are on the verge of something
Above all, I have understood my deep attachment to the Boutique. To you. So much more that just my customers. I trust you are all well in your bubbles. I hope that you are experiencing positive things, restful things. Beautiful things. In the face of monumental changes to the landscape of our lives as we knew them - may you experience grace, peace, and may you be well. Much love to you all. Thank you for being such a lovely part of my life. Every day, for the last three and half years. I miss you. See you soon. Lxx
OK - I have given in and have made "Shampoo Bars". It is worth a blog post because it can be very confusing for the consumer - shampoo bars, soap that is used for shampoo, natural vs chemical, no plastic - the variants for consideration, both for the eco conscious and those who are wanting to only use natural ingredients on their skin, are many and varied. This blog post is not going to address those issues, but I will touch on them briefly as I dive into what makes bars different to each other, and how they work on your hair; because they are VERY VERY different products.
The 'In a Nutshell' Answer...
Is it a soap you use to wash your hair? Is it a shampoo bar? What the heck is it? So briefly, if the bar you wash your hair with is made with sodium hydroxide, or a melt and pour soap base, using saponified oils - you are using a bar of soap that may or may not use oils that may benefit your scalp and hair - it is a more 'natural' product, particularly if it uses essential oils for fragrance as opposed to synthetic fragrance oil. The only chemical component is sodium hydroxide, which, if you go back to my previous post on ph levels, you will read it should be neutralised by the time you use your natural soap. You can use this soap for your hair, but it is equally effective to use on the rest of your body. I LOVE natural soap, obviously, and my boys and husband have used my soap to wash their hair for over 15 years with great results. I on the other hand do NOT use soap to wash my own hair. More on that later...
A Shampoo Bar is literally the SAME INGREDIENTS as a bottle of shampoo, without the water and the plastic bottle. It contains some good things - depending on the recipe for sure, some benign things, and some things that are more eyebrow raising if you are committed to a lifestyle of "all natural". Things like "Sodium cocoyl isethionate" SOUND scary - but it is really just a coconut oil based cleaner or surfactant - the reason it is not called soap is one of the KEY differences between a shampoo bar and hair soap - the surfactant has a neutral ph - while the soap has a ph of 7+. This difference in PH causes different things to happen to the scales on each strand of your hair.
Many soap makers will sell "shampoo bars" which is actually soap - make sure you ask when you buy them so you know how to use them correctly, soap is not a bad thing, it's a wonderful thing, but when using them on your hair you need to know how to use each bar the right way to get the results you want.
On the left is natural soap - and you can see the ph is between 8-9. On the right is the shampoo bar, with a ph of between 6-7. A ph of greater than 7 will lift the scales on each strand of hair, without bringing the alkalinity level down to neutral again, the hair will feel "tacky" and has a tendency to mat, or feel like it has become stuck together. This can be remedied by rinsing the hair with an acid based conditioning agent. This will allow the scales to lie flat on the strand of hair, feeling smoother and less likely to tangle. Regular hair conditioner will NOT fix the problem of lifted hair scales. It is often recommended to rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar mixed with water if using a soap to wash your hair. The Shampoo Bar has a neutral ph so does not lift the scales on the strands of hair. For myself personally, I have not been able to use soap to wash my hair, as even with using a vinegar rinse, my hair tends to matt at it's thicket places and feels uncomfortable for me. I can't seem to get the balance between using the vinegar to calm the scales, and then oil to condition my hair. My husband and boys, however, prefer using just soap I make, no conditioner, and they have happily done so for 15 years! They all have short hair. I did experiment when my middle son had dread locks, and I think using a soap bar on the hair with careful attention to the oils used would make a great "shampoo" for dreadlocks. But for me, it just doesn't cut it. I am looking forward to seeing how my hair responds to the shampoo bars. And if I can cut out a plastic bottle or two in the process, that's great!
Using a Shampoo Bar/Conditioner Bar
So now I have sent a few sets out to be trialled by some lovely customers, and friends - and I am using them at home myself. The first thing I noticed using the shampoo bar is that I used WAY more than I should have - I think because you can't see how much you are pouring into your hand, you tend to keep stroking the bar through your hair. I got LOADS of rich lather, and will stop applying the bar to my hair sooner. Same with the conditioner bar - I used too much and felt like I had to rinse and rinse to get it out. BUT - my hair is soft, shiny, manageable, and not frizzy. So far so good. I have fragranced my shampoo bars and conditioner bars with pure essential oil of pink grapefruit and peppermint. Why? Because I like those two scents!
The bars are each approx 60 grams each, and based on todays performance - they will last for a good long time! I will be making sure I keep track of how many hair washes, length of hair washed etc so I can provide a good understanding of how long they will last. I am providing the bars in a metal tin with a non slip drain pad in the bottom, but would suggest removing the tins from the shower and using them for storage or travelling only. I have made the shampoo round and the conditioner square to easily identify which is which. These will be available for purchase both in the Boutique and online as soon as I get some feedback from my testers, and get my labels printed. Refills will be available wrapped in foil.
Scary sounding Ingredients and what they are
ok - so in a bar of soap you can use to wash your hair - you have a very short list of ingredients that are easy to understand and it just feels "better" to use something you can pronounce - so you might have Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Sweet Almond Oil... essential oils... and the only thing that sounds a bit scary is Sodium Hydroxide so lets start there:
Sodium hydroxide: is a highly caustic base and alkali that decomposes proteins at ordinary ambient temperatures and may cause severe chemical burns. This definition is taken directly from wikipedia, and you can read the full description in all its technical glory here. So it's a bit of a nasty compound but necessary to create what we know is amazing and beautiful soap! And not at all scary by the time you get to use your bar of soap or hair soap!
The ingredients in a Shampoo bar can be a bit more of a challenge to understand... but it's important to understand what's what...
Behind the front counter at Bath Boutique is a whole other world... a messy one, a world I absolutely LOVE. It has been my passion since 2005 to make soap, I have learned a thing or two, and I have my preferences for oils I use, and techniques I use. One habit I developed early on in my soapmaking journey was testing for ph or the alkalinity of the soap I make. It was important to me to ensure that what I sent out to my customers was not just beautiful, but effective, and safe. So let me tell you a bit about the ph level in soap, what it is, what is isn't, and why it's important.
So when a batch of soap is freshly made, the sodium hydroxide is doing it's job to rearrange things and so the ph reading can be very high - and that's why we let soap "cure" - basically we are letting it do its job, and when it's completely finished having it's chemical reaction - we SHOULD be left with a soap that is alkali enough to remove dirt and unwanted oils without damaging the skin, allowing the sebum to coat the skin again, and the cycle of cleaning and protecting goes on. I usually explain the chemical reaction process of making soap like having the cleaners come to your house. If you have a cleaner, (I don't, but I imagine this is how it would be!) you leave for work, your house a bit of a mess, things out of place, not looking it's best, but when you get home, everything has been rearranged, put back in their place, all clean and tidy and ready to be enjoyed... and the cleaners are gone. It's the same with soap - we add the sodium hydroxide to the oils, they get in there and do their rearranging, making things perfect, and when they have gone, you have a lovely smelling, safe, useful and wonderful product to enjoy.
Click on the images to read about each ph level.
Just as an aside - if a "soap" has been balanced so the ph level is 7 - or neutral, it actually is no longer classified as soap. So soap by definition is alkali. I won't send out my soaps until the ph level is 8 or lower - many commercial soaps have ph levels of 9 or higher, which will not feel good in the long run for your skin. There are many things that can affect the ph level of the soap, the amount of sodium hydroxide used - each oil has a different requirement for breaking it down, so what is used for one oil, may be too much for another oil. The percentage of oil that actually gets broken down by the sodium hydroxide (this is called a lye discount and is represented by a %) so if a soap has a discount of 5% - it means that only enough sodium hydroxide has been used to break down 95% of the oil, leaving 5% in it's unbroken state. I could go on and on and on about soap, the technical process, the discounts, the oils, the length of time curing - hot process vs cold process.... but I think that's enough for today!
In the "Stranger things have happened" folder in my filing cabinet is a collection of events, occasions, and opportunities that I keep to remind me of things that have happened in my life that I find intriguing. This week I added to that. I was invited by one of my lovely customers to be a "Mystery Guest" at a dinner party. The first thing that I noted was that someone thought I was interesting enough to be a Mystery Guest at all! And then was the dinner party itself, which was beautiful, thoughtful, orchestrated, and mannered. I LOVED it!
This is a group of ladies who meet for one of these dinners every six weeks or so, or more precisely, when a new edition of DISH MAGAZINE is published. It started with all the recipes having to be made from the newest release, but has become a wee bit less constrained over time, but for the most part, this still holds true. There are five women who rotate through being responsible for different courses, at this dinner, we were one man (lady) down as she was attending the birth of her grandchild... and fair enough too! The Host, who holds the dinner party in her home when it's her turn, is responsible for making the Main Course, and, am I not sure WHEN this became a thing, she is also responsible for inviting a Mystery Guest that none of the other ladies are likely to know... That's where I come in! But more on that later.
The Table was set with full attention to detail, correct glasses for each wine, which was paired exquisitely with each course. Silverware (yes SILVERware) for each course laid out on three sides of the plates, the only alteration was made when it was discovered that the Entree was a soup, and we hastily changed the salad fork and knife to a soup spoon. Candles - check, Floral centrepiece, check, crystal water jug, check.
I love kitchens. I am at my happiest there, cooking, serving, baking and making. That is also where I feel the safest, as I am not a confident person, and groups upset my precariously balanced equilibrium, I have used my kitchen to hide in. Keeping my hands busy at something I know I am good at makes me feel competent. There was no hiding in this kitchen, it was not my space, and these ladies have done this before, and they worked their magic while I watched from a stool at the bench top, I sipped on a lovely Riesling while they got caught up on each other's lives and events. They included me and gave me background to events so I didn't feel I was an outsider, and I felt I had been their friend for years - as I got to know about their recent trips, family birthdays, and births, and upcoming occasions. They put me at ease quickly, or maybe it was the Riesling, either way, it was a comfortable interaction. Kitchens are great places.
The only person who knew what the entire dinner menu was going to be, was the person who was responsible for the Wine. They then took the menu, and the suggestions from DISH Magazine in to their local wine store to make sure the correct wine was chosen. She nailed it - it was delicious.
Don't worry, I haven't forgotten dessert, but just like at the table, one needs a pause, a clearing, if you will, a savouring of the savoury and so we lingered, cleared up from the main and turned to more conversation. And yes, this is probably where I was meant to shine - we talked about the Boutique, my family, our plans, our hopes for the business, my philosophy, my products - not in a staged way that made me feel like I was giving a "talk". They were genuinely interested, and asked all sorts of questions! These are women who are invested in their communities, and also INVEST IN their communities. These ladies, with their various backgrounds and own personal stories know very well what it's like to work hard, they all have, and do, and it was a pleasure to discover that they really do CARE, about so many things. They really were representative of so many of the ladies who come into the Boutique - they WANT quality, the WANT to support local industry, they DO advocate for Boutique Retail in New Zealand. We talked as well of our thoughts on the government, veganism, seasonal produce shopping, grandchildren, children, movies that made us laugh, and made us cry. (Despicable Me 3 falls into the second category by the way...) We spoke of the economy, the America's Cup, swimming in Bermuda and skiing in Queenstown. Life. We talked about life. Oh, and by the way - you'll notice the images are all screen shots. That's because my cell phone didn't make an appearance - not once, the only thing on my lap during the time there was a linen napkin. We face timed! Literally, it was beautiful.
So the whole evening lasted about four and a half hours. After my initial feelings of awkwardness, I got over myself and was able to really enjoy meeting these incredible ladies. They have wonderful stories, and lives that they shared so beautifully with me, a stranger. I actually felt really sad as I left, thinking that I wanted to get to know them better, and find out how some of the events they were talking about unfold for them! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have a little glimpse into their lives. I am grateful to my lovely customer who thought of me, and wanted to give me the opportunity to share my story with her friends. What a great idea to have a dinner party where you 'do social' with manners, no funny snap chat faces, no interruption of conversation with a quick instagram post (not that I didn't want to!). It was such a treat to connect, really connect with people I had never met before. I might just try it more often.
Leanne and her husband Gregory are both partners in Bath Boutique. Here she will share parts of her journey with Bath Boutique, from some of the Makers' stories, experiences and thoughts about Boutique Retail in New Zealand.