Like in Fight Club?
When I first mentioned my new soapmaking career to any of my friends, that was usually their first response.
“It’s kind of like if you mixed Fight Club with Breaking Bad, and then turned that dark storyline into Pushing Daisies,” is what I would tell them.
See, at the end of March 2013, I quit my job at The Oprah Winfrey Network to start my own soap company with my husband, much to the confusion of everyone around me. Before that, I worked at ABC, and before that, I worked at ABC Family... I’ve been an Entertainment Product Manager for about six years and a web Product Manager of various other types of websites for about eight years before that.
Either way, I’ve worked in a cube. Which is one of the reasons my nickname has been “Normal” for the past 10 years. But the people who will most appreciate the irony in this name are my friends, who are artists.
In terms of extracurricular activities, my life has never been “normal.” I surround myself with amazing, driven, powerfully awesome creative people. I have spent my recreational life project managing a dozen or so creative projects (both for Burning Man and also just for the hell of it).
I spent most of 2012 trying to find a compelling and exciting job in The Bay Area (OWN had become unchallenging and my then-boyfriend, now-husband lived in Oakland), but every opportunity that was handed to me was a big, fat “meh,” and the ones I really wanted were snatched away from me for consistently really
weird, minor reasons (for example, I interviewed at CNN around the time the Obamacare mandate was mis-reported, which sent them into a hiring freeze). I even had a recruiting company ditch a client because the recruiter felt like if the client didn’t like me, they were never going to be happy.
After all that, though, I still had no job prospects.
And then I thought of what Martha Beck always writes about in Oprah (hey, I had a lot of time to read our own articles), and I realized that I had been slamming my head against a wall hoping I’d make a door, but that maybe I should just find a door.
The Universe was telling me something: I had to find a different way to find a job. I had to find a door even if it made making a door where there wasn’t one.
So I opened my ears to listen to what the Universe was telling me. It sounds like hippy crap, but when you’re desperate and you’ve tried everything else, hippy crap seems worth a try.
The answer? Goats.
Really, goats are the answer to everything: They’re great companions, they’re cute as bouncing buttons, and they give milk. Russ and I had been talking about how much we wanted to have goats, so we had been buying any goat product that struck our fancy — this meant lots of delicious chevre and, when we happened upon it at a small farm store off Highway 46, two bars of goat milk soap.
We had such a nice vacation out there in Paso Robles; it was the mini-honeymoon from when we had gotten paper married and even in retrospect, it’s one of the most magical times of my life (we’d later have a big fat Normal wedding, but this was for health insurance).
I bought the soap from that little farm store and set it in my bathroom. Every morning, I smelled the soap to remind me of that trip, of the goats, of the little farm store... Every morning, it gave me the power to start my day going to a job I no longer loved, living in an unenchanted concrete warehouse, and driving in fucking LA traffic (FUCKING LA TRAFFIC!!).
Just smelling that soap and going back to that store in my mind was enough to remind me that life is not just this. This is a tunnel on the way to the dream. The soap represented the dream.
And then one day, I accidentally set the soap down with the ingredients facing me: Seven ingredients. That’s all. How complicated could seven ingredients be? How expensive could seven ingredients be? And then I could make whatever smells I wanted: the smell of desert on a hot morning with a 5 mph wind, the smell of camping with friends, the smell of walking through the Mt. Pinos wilderness, the smell of black coffee in a metal camping cup... I could make all of these, and then pick what dream I wanted to smell every day.
Outlaw Soaps started because handmade soap made me happy when I was disheartened and feeling hopeless. I knew some of my friends were also disheartened, so I ran the idea of this unconventionally scented soap by them and they loved it.
And then Russ and I learned to make soap. And I listed all the skills I learned from work and from hanging out with a bunch of artists, and I realized I could definitely run a business. And that business would be about the magic of the outdoors.
Now, I go for hikes almost every day. I love the outdoors. I love our handmade soaps. I love our family. I love our customers. It's a wonderful thing.
I’ve found that not only do I enjoy my work, the type of people who enjoy my work are the type of people I really love. Marketing is easy because I’m just me (the logo is even based on my tattoo). I never lie about our handmade soaps or have to convince people they should want them, because I genuinely love our soaps and if people are attracted to that kind of soap, they’ll like our soaps.
And, for a new company, we’re pretty successful. It’s almost entirely because once people hear what we’re doing, they want to help. I have been overwhelmed by the support and love of friends and even strangers who are just so happy that someone understands how important it is to remember camping.
When we first went out to Joshua Tree after a long time away, I stepped out of the car and I wanted to cry. We nailed it: The desert sage lotion we’ve been working on smells just like sunrise in Joshua Tree. And that’s wonderful.