Summer Fellowship with Youth Leaders for the Americas Initiative
by Hannah Faust
Meet Waleska! She is an entrepreneur and owner of a body & skincare brand called Conpacón from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She is visiting us this summer at the Microsoapery in partnership with the Youth Leaders of Americas Initiative, Exchange Our World, and World Denver.
Youth Leaders of the Americas Initiative is a program empowering entrepreneurs to strengthen their skills to advance their business ideas and effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities. Since the initiative’s launch in 2015, more than 1,000 YLAI Fellows from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada have expanded their leadership and entrepreneurial experience through fellowships at businesses and organizations across the United States. Specifically, YLAI addresses the opportunity gap for young people, especially women, equipping them to transform their societies.
World Denver reached out to us earlier this year to invite us to host a YLAI soap-maker this summer from Honduras who was keen to learn how to scale up her operations and make new products–––we jumped at the opportunity! Supporting women in business whether locally or globally is in the spirit of our mission at Spinster Sisters. It’s also important to us as a B Corp to leverage our business resources to better our world, creating a definition of positive impact that extends beyond just our local community. And, admittedly, we were really excited to hang out with another passionate soap and skincare maker for a month!
Waleska arrived in Denver in June and for the past few weeks she has been collaborating with our team at the Microsoapery in Golden on a co-branded product with Pacón, aka soap nuts, which produce natural soap. When asked why she started Conpacon Waleska said:
"I decided to start making soaps that are based on oils and plants so that they do not contaminate the beautiful rivers of my country, Honduras. They are safe for people too and do not contain artificial colors or preservatives. My goal is to be able to reach more people with my products to show them that we don't need detergents and soaps with dozens of chemical ingredients.”
If you’ve been in the Spinsterhood for awhile, you may remember we once sold bulk soap nuts marketed for laundry & dish soap use, so we had a little insight into the ingredient. Although we had archived the previous soap nut product we were inspired to learn more about its ingredient potential from Waleska.
Waleska makes many different types of skin & body care products, including hand and body soap and even face cleanser made with soap nuts. However, she was most interested in learning from us how we make our experiential bath products like our beloved Bath Butta’ Bombs and Shower Steamers. Waleska wanted to explore if soap nuts could be utilized in a similar format but for other uses like an eco-friendly toilet cleaner and foot-specific soaking products that could be marketed to salons and spas in Honduras.
Baths are not very common in Honduras but there was still opportunity to harness the sudsy and powerful natural cleaning effect of soap nuts for other uses. There is also a rising consciousness in Honduras to conserve access to clean water. Consumerism is shifting to natural, chemical-free products that are safe for waterways with many young entrepreneurs, like Waleska, leading the way.
On our end, Kelly Perkins, Founder + CEO, was excited to support a young soap-maker and also learn how soap nuts could elevate the Bath Butta’ Bombs that Spinster Sisters is known for. We’ve heard from many customers they’d love a classic bubble bath variation and understanding more about soap nuts was exciting.
With a shared ethos of consciously crafting products that are good for people and the planet, Waleska dug right in when she arrived. Right away our crew of women on the production team loved learning about soap nuts and sharing how we make our plant-based products. Our “Queen” Bath Bomb maker, Deb, took the lead in partnering with Waleska specifically on the development of two co-branded products made with soap nuts with the support of our General Manager, Ellen.
Before we debut the products we made together here is a snapshot of what soap nuts are:
- Soap nuts are the dried shells (or husks) from the soapberry nut, which come from the Sapindus mukorossi tree. You can find the trees all over tropical regions and can be found all over Honduras.
- The shells of the soap nut contain a natural soap, called Saponin, which create bubbly soap suds when mixed with water.
- Saponin is naturally antibacterial & antifungal and very gentle on the skin.
- Saponin is 100% biodegradable.
The versatility of soap nuts is vast and dynamic. We learned from Waleska how you can boil down the soap nuts into a concentrated saponin liquid and also utilize soap nut powder. Each version has an incredibly sudsy potential and yields beautiful, natural bubbles.
It took about 2 weeks of research & development for Waleska, Kelly, Ellen, and Deb to nail down the formulation of our co-branded products:
- Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner tablets sold in a 6-pack was formulated with baking soda and soap nuts plus orange peel to clean and deodorize.
- Foot Bath Soak in a 3-pack was also developed, made with soap nuts, tapping into the natural antifungal agents of the saponin and formulated with lavender and tea tree to support healthy feet.
Several versions of each product were made, tested, and reformulated to get the right amount of suds, natural cleaner, and scent/aromatherapy. As the product was coming to fruition, Deb showed Waleska how to make larger batches of Bath Bombs and Shower Steamers with our Bath Bomb press and how to work efficiently with scaled up recipes.
Kelly also collaborated with Waleska and walked her through pricing out the ingredients in the recipes and together they executed a cost of goods analysis to understand what retail price the products could be sold at. Kelly shared her story of being a female-founder starting Spinster Sisters in her home before moving to a larger facility just like Waleska is doing with Conpacón, making products in her apartment. They reviewed product molds, equipment, supplier relations, sustainable ingredient sourcing, and more. On partnering with Waleska, Kelly remarked:
“It has been a lot of fun having Waleska join our team for the last month. She is so smart, and motivated, and kind – and is completely engaged in learning about scaling, product pricing, formulation, marketing, and all things related to growing a business. She is a sponge, and immediately absorbs anything we share with her. She is clearly focused on learning and growing, and I see nothing but success for her in the future. We all very much look forward to working closely with Waleska as she grows her business, in the months and years to come.”
Our sales and marketing team worked closely with Waleska to develop the co-branded packaging and organize a direct-to-consumer launch plan for selling online, which even included a photoshoot. Waleska took part in other production tasks too, learning how we make our signature bar soap and fast-growing Free From products, and she got her hands on shipping support when a large order came in from one of our national distributors –––essentially seeing how all aspects of Spinster Sisters runs! When language became a barrier, our team and Waleska relied on the Google Translate app, music, dancing, and laughter to communicate.
Hosting a YLAI fellow was beyond enriching for our team. We truly gained another Sister. A chance to empower and further develop Waleska’s skillset and reciprocally have the entire Spinster Sisters team learn, grow, and experience a new cultural perspective is powerful–––and the opportunity for women to connect from around the world, support each other, and make something together is even more impactful.