It’s pretty easy to guess what a soap named Pine Forest will smell like. Ditto with Apple Pie, Pumpkin Spice, Red Rose. Sea Breeze is more challenging, but your mind takes you there.
But what does a soap named Naked Man smell like?
Long ago, artisan soap maker Meredith Bretz confronted that question, and when she reached the answer, she found herself with two products that resonate with customers — Naked Man and Naked Lady soaps.
“There are flowers called Naked Ladies, and the scent is a light floral with powdery notes,” the Dayton soap artist, who co-owns Biker B’s Bathworks with her husband Gene, explains. “We started making it for about a year before some people were saying we needed to make a Naked Man soap.
“We were selling in an indoor market at the time, so we had a contest. ‘What should a soap named Naked Man smell like?’ we asked our customers. They could submit their suggestions and then, at the end of the month, we picked the prominent scent that was suggested.”
It turns out that a Naked Man — after the bath, not before, Bretz emphasizes — is redolent of lime with a bit of cinnamon and touch of patchouli.
“Both of the Naked soaps are very popular,” Bretz says.
Just for Fun
Bretz and her husband began making soap in 1997, just because they thought it would be fun. With no intention of forming a business of it, they made a batch and shared it with friends and family. Soon there were requests for more, and after that, custom requests. For a long time, they didn’t even have a business name, because they didn’t consider themselves a business. When a vendor at a craft fair asked for their business license, they were in a state of surprise.
“We didn’t realize we needed one,” Bretz remembers.
“The next thing we know, we’re at the office applying for the license and they ask us what our name was. We had no idea what our business name was.
“So Gene said, ‘How about Biker B’s?’ We both ride Harley-Davidsons and our last name begins with B. It sounded right.”
And so, a business was born. Living in Seattle at the time, the couple — who were both still working full time at the Seattle VA Hospital — created chemical mastery with little more than oil and lye, a stove and a sink. They started selling in Farmers Markets in Kent, then added Issaquah, Sammamish, and North Bend. From there, they added regional craft fairs and selling online.
They have moved a number of times since 1997, and are now retired in Dayton, but, Bretz says, “Though we are now retired from working away from home, we are definitely not retired.”
Experimenting with Scent
In addition to soap, Biker B’s creates reed diffusers, soy wax candles, bath salts, tub truffles, roll-on fragrances and other aromatic treats for the bath. Because the couple has never lost their desire to have fun at what they do, they are constantly experimenting, especially with scents.
“Boredom can set in, making the same things all the time, so we try to work along with the seasons.
“We have certain scents that are all year long, then we try to make season-related soaps, such as pumpkin in the fall, fruit scents in the summer and fall, to add to the ones we have all year long.”
The research and development for new scent blends, she says, is especially fun, and those ideas can come by taking a drive in the mountains, window down, and smelling the trees.
Custom Scent, and Names
“We try to custom blend our own scents, and the idea comes from something we smell, which we try to recreate. or, it can be that we see an interesting name somewhere and wonder what a soap of that name would smell like.”
Speaking of interesting names, they focus on those, going back and forth until they find the perfect nomenclature for their custom blends: Happy Hippie, Zen, Woodstock, Rasputin, Pacific Rain, Walk in the Woods, Palouse Falls, Nature’s Bath.
“The names of the soaps can be a conversation starter.”
Like, say, Naked Man.
Quality with quirky — it’s a chemistry that works as well as the saponification of oil with lye. Bretz and her husband have fun creating a unique, artisan item, and customers enjoy an affordable luxury item that isn’t stamped out from a machine. That human touch — it matters.
“That’s one of the biggest benefits of purchasing handcrafted soap: you know who made it and what is in it.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail email@example.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.