Old Town Suds

Old Town Suds at The National Archives!

As I write this, it's my 4 year brain surgery anniversary. We decided to celebrate with a trip to see my soaps at The National Archives! This was my first trip to this particular museum. I've been to all the other Smithsonians but Archives has eluded me during my nearly 10 years in the DC area.

Old Town Suds' soap is being displayed as part of the Spirited Republic exhibition - a special exhibit all about prohibition. It's the perfect way for soap made with beer and wine to make its debut at Archives.

Since it is a special day, I was trying to find something fun and exciting to celebrate being alive - I decided we had to see my soap in DC. Around lunch time we ventured into the city on this super spectacular Spring day. It was sunny and we couldn't have asked for a better day to drive in.

We went straight to the gift shop after parking. It took a bit of looking to find our soaps because they only had FOUR bars in stock. Talk about selling quickly. Technically....photos aren't allowed in Archives but somehow, our iPhones had a flaw and took some photos all on their own! Apple really needs to work on this glitch.

After the excitement, we decided to tour the Prohibition exhibit. We were wondering if there would be anything on moonshine since Joel is from the county in Virginia that is known for its grain alcohol. There was a lot on various political movements, you see copied of the amendments that outlaw, and then reinstate, liquor. It was interesting and very much worth the trip. As we were getting ready to leave the exhibit we see this:

IMG_0002THAT'S OUR MERLOT WINE SOAP! IN THE EXHIBIT! I couldn't believe it! There we are! I think I screamed.

There you have it. That's how we spent Big Brain Anniversary 2015.

Behind the Scenes - Soap Kitchen Tour

soap kitchen This is it! This is the main area of our soap kitchen. It was designed with the help of our contractor who did an excellent job building everything for me. (if you need a recommendation in Northern VA, I'll send you his info!)

I still need a few more shelves to help control all of the oils I use. You see those brown bottles on the shelves and the far right counter? Those are our fragrances and essential oils. Once you start collecting them....it is very hard to stop!

We've almost had this new kitchen a year now. I'm learning what works and what needs a bit more improving. You can never have enough lights and I'm in desperate need of a paper towel dispenser. Details, right? I'd also like some of those shock absorbing mats they use in professional kitchens. A few hours of standing on tile and you feel it in your back!

Next time I'll show you our soon-to-be-built shelves in the drying room. My husband is supposed to be making them for me as my birthday present. My birthday was in September...Maybe I'll get them by December? I hope. I really don't want to learn how to build shelves.

3 Myths About Handmade Soap

3 Myths about Handmade SoapThere are many myths floating about when it comes to handmade soap. I’ve already debunked the myths about how one can make soap without lye and that lye soap is harsh and here are 3 additional myths that need to be set straight.

Myth #1: Antibacterial soap is better than regular soap.

Soap is a surfactant – it helps water to disperse on the skin and then propels dirt, oil and grime away from the skin. Antibacterial soaps are marketed as germ-killing, and therefore are touted as being better than regular soap. The reality (which is backed by scientific studies) is that regular soap is equally effective as antibacterial soap at removing bacteria and preventing illnesses.

Furthermore, long-term exposure to triclosan and triclocarbon, which are the active ingredients in most of these antibacterial soaps is considered to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria and even lead to hormonal imbalances. This has lead to the recent (December, 2013) rule proposal by the FDA for the makers of these antibacterial soaps to prove that their soaps are safe for daily, long term use and that they are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. If the proposal is accepted and companies cannot prove these points, then the products would need to be reformulated or be relabeled in order to remain on the market.

Myth #2: Handmade soap doesn’t create as many bubbles as mass-produced bars, so it can’t clean my skin as well.

We’ve already established in the myths above that mass produced bars are actually detergents, with synthetic chemicals that can, among other things, boost lather. There is a big misconception that lather = clean, and there is no scientific proof to support this idea.

It is true that some handmade soap does not bubble as much as other handmade soap, and that is a result of the ingredients used. For instance, soap made with mostly olive oil will not be extremely bubbly – it’s more of a gentle, creamy lather.  Compare that to a soap made with castor oil, which creates an abundance of large bubbles, and the resulting lathers will be quite different. The ‘bubbliness’ of handmade soap will depend on the ingredients used, but either way, bubbly or not, soap will clean your skin.

Myth #3: Handmade soaps are expensive and overpriced.

Compared to a synthetic, mass-produced detergent bar found in the store, yes, handmade soap will often cost more (and should!) But when you stop to think about what goes into the production and the end result, the price is well worth it. For instance:

  • High quality oils and butters are selected to create a gentle, soothing bar of soap
  • The glycerin that comes from saponification is kept in the soap (not removed as it is with commercially produced bars) to make it even more moisturizing
  •  Premium essential oils and fragrance oils add scent
  •  Natural herbs and botanicals add color, soothing properties and even exfoliation
  •  The labor for an artisan to handcraft their soap, versus a machine cranking out thousands of uniform detergent-based bars

Also, most whom use handmade soap do not have to use lotion after bathing with natural soap, whereas those who use commercially made soap often have to slather lotion on at least once, if not more often during the day. So consider the cost of lotion when you’re comparing that bar on a grocery store shelf to a natural bar of soap from a handmade artisan and you’ll see that it’s a much better investment to go with the handmade soap.

Traveling and Dealing with TSA

My travel schedule has skyrocketed the last few months. I've been to Florida, Indiana, and shortly Nevada, Minnesota, Arizona, North Carolina and New York. I try to just pack a carry on whenever possible. My suitcase fits all dimensions of my preferred airlines requirements. But what doesn't always are my carry on products.

This is where being all-natural in your beauty products can stink.

A scrub loaded with chemicals is fine to carry on as long as it is 4oz or under. My baggie full of baking soda, a nice white powered, not so much. I try to avoid being detained by TSA and spend as little time there as possible.  I already opt out due to the images taken and radiation exposure and any extra time spent there makes my blood curdle. But being gone for a week without my facial scrub stinks. Plus, I don't want to buy a whole box of baking soda when I get to each destination. That is just a waste.

The next few days I am going to experiment with how I can make my facial scrub TSA-safe, meaning it's not a baggie or plastic container full of white powered. Join me on the journey as I figure out what this is going to look like and my experiments. I am sure this is going to be a mix of Stubborn Steffanie, a little chemistry and a pinch of good luck. I already have an idea in mind and I am really hoping it works! Only time will tell.

Behind the Scenes of Old Town Suds - 2.5 Years in the Making


Owning my own business isn't something that I grew up wanting to do. In fact, it was quiet the opposite. Watching my parents (both entrepreneurs) was more than eye opening. I saw the rise and fall of businesses first hand. I saw the high growth potential of a local business and the pride that comes with it - all to be over taken by a corporate conglomerate. Granted, my father was able to retire before he hit 50, but I've also witnessed what happens when your life IS your work and to suddenly have it taken away.

That's not at all how I pictured it.

But, this big ol brain of mine had different ideas. Facing what could be your last meal changes you. I still don't know if it is for the better - just shy of three years later, I can't decide. This is what I do know after falling into owning my own small business the past 2.5 years.

Being the CEO rocks AND sucks at the same time

Making decisions, being in charge, finally having the final say is fantastic. Not having anyone to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off of and just have a friendship with stinks. There have been nights where I've asked the dog for an opinion. Learning to fully trust your gut is hard - especially when your gut is rather scared of a big leap.

Forget the Business Plan

When I set out to create Old Town Suds the plan was to dominate the green cleaning world. Now, I've slowly been transitioning away from my originally products. It isn't because I don't believe in them, it's because that isn't where the company is growing.

At first, it was difficult to accept this. How could I let go of the products that I became known for? Items that I use every day and that people love? BUT our fans love certain products more. I had to accept that. What is going to cause us to double our revenue again in 2014 isn't by sticking with our cleaning line. I've learned how to sunset projects and investing gains in new product development.

My business plan? It's a few words. It's based on numbers. It's based on where I can see Old Town Suds excelling.

Finding the Right People

Lately I've been talking about my Small Business Group. I <3 them, seriously. I couldn't do what I do without them. This past year, more so than in year 1, I've learned how much from them and myself. It's amazing how much you already know, sometimes you just need to talk it out.

If I could go back and do this all over again, the first thing I would do is get a group of smart entrepreneurs together to talk to. I would also try to find a few that fit my ideal customer, it makes getting some entry feedback easier.

Remember to Relax

Not working is super hard for me at times. I'm even writing this post somewhere between DCA and Indianapolis, IN. I'm flying home for the weekend, but I hate to waste the 1.45 hours I have before I need to sleep. That being said, this is all I am doing for the weekend. I'll be enjoying time with my family back home. It's important to have fun, play, remember your friends, and just let your brain relax. Even when you aren't thinking directly about your business, your subconscious is. I bet you'll find your best ideas come when you aren't even trying. (don't forget to keep something handy to write them down!)

What are your questions about starting your own business ? Are there things you wish you had known when you started?

Laser Launch blog party (part deux) is a collection of behind the scenes stories of other online business owners. Check out the other links here.

#sbww14 pt 2

If you missed part 1, catch up here.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that every small business owner is in search of great wine. - SH

Joel, my mom and pretty much the other half of every person I've brought to the small business meetings thinks we get together to enjoy some fine wine. I'm not going to say that is wrong, it is just concealing the full truth. Our meeting do being with opening a bottle or two or three and an obscene amount of cheese; but it's the conversation that follows that matters.

The conversation is energizing. It's motivating. It encourages each of us to push our comfort zones.  It helps each one of us look at our business with a different lens. Through our conversations several of us have questioned why we do what we do, decided to go full-time with our business and have started working on plans to take our plans to the next level.

SBWW14 covered many of these favorite topics. But instead of just hearing our own voices, we had guest speakers, coaches and new faces that were added to the group. We talked about the hardships of working for yourself. The difficulties that we will face or are facing. How do you stay relevant? How do you recognize plateaus and when you need fresh ideas? Then we moved onto marketing.

Oh, marketing. The deadly M word. I work in the marketing field in my day job, but marketing your own business is a touchy subject. You are attached. You are full of emotions. You see things completely differently than your customers. So how do you move behind these hurtles? Each of us came up with a different strategy with action times that we are going to act on in the very near future.

I'm not sure what I would do without my business group. I love hearing about how the other ladies in the group are doing. I love seeing how their businesses grow, stumble and exceed all expectations. We cheer each other on and are a fantastic support system.

SBWW14 was a fantastic event for me. I can't wait to see what happens in the next year and where our next retreat takes us.

Meeting Martha!

Yes, THAT Martha. As in Martha *&^$*#% Stewart. Can you ask for a better way to enjoy your Thursday? I think not. So, how did this adventure begin? I signed up to attend Alt Design Conference with two of my friends, Michelle & Beth. Wednesday night, we had dinner at this really awesome tapas restaurant that was sponsored by Atly. After learning about their new online teaching platform, we'll be teaching some Suds classes on there! (be on the lookout for those in the very near future) I met some super awesome folks at the dinner.

Thursday though, that was the day we went to THE Martha Stewart Living's Headquarters in NYC. From starting with crafts (I made a salt scrub with Bramble Berry's new Mandarin Essential Oil that will be joining the Suds lineup), to the wonderful breakfast and seeing this awesome space - we were on cloud 9.9127739994_09cdb04844_h

We heard from a variety of different bloggers on a wide-range of topics. All sorts of things that will help us improve our blogging & networking & all of that jazz. Many of the folks that spoke are probably names that you'd recognize too.

But - the pièce de résistance was Martha coming out to speak! Not only was it freaking awesome to see her in person, she gave us copies of her new book (it's a children's craft book) and the new edition of her magazine.


After all was said & done speaker wise, we were led further into the Martha Stewart Living  loft style offices for a fantastic reception. It was perfect. It was everything you would expect from something hosted at Martha's. From the decor to the candy bar to wait staff, it was just perfect.

To top it off, there is an AMAZING roof deck that overlooks Chelsea Pier. On a mid-70 degree day with a slight breeze and the sun just starting to set, it was gorgeous. The 3 of us didn't want to leave. We couldn't imagine a better ending to a packed day.


Old Town Suds in the Newspaper!

Friday was an awesome day for Old Town Suds! I had just parked the car after returning from ALT Design Conference in NYC (more about that in another post) to see tweets that we were in the Washington Post's Express! OTS_Express

Bramble Berry Athletic Club

Some of you may have seen my posts over on our Facebook page and I also wanted to share formally over here on the blog too. I was selected to be part of the 2013 Bramble Berry Athletic Club (BBAC)! I am super excited! I applied right after we got back from NYC. Being part of the Golden Ticket has given me the empowerment to share about my heath in the Old Town Suds bubble. I have been working on making myself stronger and a healthier person through various activities the past few months, so that is why I applied to the BBAC.

342 days after I had my brain surgery, I ran a half-marathon, that would be 13.1 miles for the non-runners out there, with my best friend. It was a big goal and I was SO HAPPY I accomplished it. I went with several doctors to the event. They also just happened to be my best friend's parents :) Also in tow came all of my paperwork, the will, and the advanced directives just to be safe. I knew what I was doing was making my neurologist not extremely happy.

Several hours later, and at the course time limit, we finished the race. Here is a video of us crossing the finish line:

Finishing the Princess Half Marathon from Steffanie Housman on Vimeo.

Now, I want to make myself even better by restarting my training. I want to concentrating on having the best 5K (3.1 miles) ever! I want to fully run them and not have to do a run/walk combo which is how I did the half. I know I can do it! I have until May 18th and I am running the Back to your Health 5K for Spinal Health.

Then, who knows? Maybe I will make my dreams come true of running the London Marathon? I've already contacted a foundation in London who raises money for neurological research in exchange for entries into the race. It's similar to Team in Training here in the US. 26.2 miles is a LONG race though. Mind over matter though, right?