Sue Swift Willens, 51, of Middleborough was a speech therapist at Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, and then at the Memorial Early Childhood Center in Middleborough. She loved the work, but she got laid off as credential requirements were raised to include a master’s degree she didn’t have. Last year, she created Tiny Forest Soap Co., hand-making her products at her home. We spoke to her for this story.
Q. Speech therapy to making soap?
A. Well, I had some art training, and always dabbled in pottery and quilting, so I’ve always done art. And I like making things that are functional, plus I’m fascinated by the science of things. I was taking a chemistry course to prepare for graduate school to pursue my master’s, and got sucked in. There’s a science behind everything, so I thought why not soap? And it’s a marketable thing; people enjoy fine soap.
Q. You grow your own ingredients?
A. Mostly, yes, things like calendula (marigold), lavender, chamomile; and I use essential oils for fragrance. I also forage for things like dandelions, jewelweed, elderflower. I do use some animal products, such as lard for rendering, from Bogside Acres in Plymouth. I love making products that are representative of our area; I make some soap with sand from Brant Rock Beach and also do a cranberry soap.
Q. Where do you make and sell your product?
A. I was making it in my kitchen, but now created a space downstairs. I sell mostly online but also at places in town like Spillane’s Nursery, which reopens in March, and New Concepts Hair Salon. But my favorite thing is the festival and fair circuit; the next one is April 5 at the Burt Wood School of Performing Arts in Middleborough, at its annual “Sip and Stroll” fair.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge of running your business?
A. Organization. My husband’s a huge help, and my good friend, Anne Gallagher, is the best; she’s so organized where I’m not. She helps me set up at fairs so I can talk to people endlessly about soap.
Q. What was the hardest part of starting?
A. Fear. You hope everyone will love it, but you don’t know. But it’s been good, and the people I’ve met are terrific. I call them my tribe. I love interacting with my customers.Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at email@example.com.