Biker B’s Bathworks

Art by

Biker B’s Bathworks

“The names of the soaps we create can be a conversation starter,” says Meredith Bretz, co-owner, with her husband Gene, of Biker B’s.

“We prefer to come up with interesting names for the soaps where we have created our own aromatic blends.”

The couple made their first batch of soap in 1997, because they thought it would be fun. Friends and family were the first recipients, but in short order there were custom orders, and shortly after that, they found that they had created a viable business with an artisan product that appealed to people looking for a natural product, made with ingredients that were recognizable and pronounceable.

As the years went by they expanded their offerings to include reed diffusers, soy wax candles, bath salts, tub truffles, and roll on fragrances. One of the most fun aspects of an already fun endeavor is creating the scent blends, and after that, the names for them.

“Ideas for new scent blends can come from something we smell, which we try to recreate,” Bretz explains. “Or, it can be that we see an interesting name somewhere and wonder what a soap of that name would smell like.”

Such as Woodstock, Pacific Rain, Walk in the Woods, or Nature’s Bath.

Biker B's Bathworks

artisan soap scent bars biker b bathworks

Scent with Love — Artisan Soap by Biker B’s Bathworks

artisan soap scent bars biker b bathworks

An array of artisan soap scent and color by Biker B’s Bathworks, owned by Meredith and Gene Bretz of Dayton, WA.

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.

bath salts truffles scent biker b bathworks artisan soap

Bath salts and truffles add a sense of luxury to one of the best parts of the day.

“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.

Shaving kits for men include a mug, badger haired shaving brush, and a soap with a masculine scent

“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.

soy candles scent color biker b bathworks gifts

Candles are an excellent way to add scent, and light, to one’s life.

“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.”

Wenaha GalleryBiker B’s Bathworks is the featured Art Event at Wenaha Gallery from February 23 through March 22, 2021.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.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.

 

artisan natural soap azure botanicals dayton wa

New Year’s Resolution: Enjoy Artisan Soap from Azure Mountain

artisan natural soap azure botanicals dayton wa

A selection of artisan soaps, handcrafted in small batches at Azure Mountain Botanicals in Dayton, WA

The New Year’s Resolution has been around for a long time. Purportedly, ancient Babylonians started the process 6,000 years ago with promises to their gods to return borrowed items and pay off their debts.

bubble bath salts truffle azure botanicals dayton wa

Bubble Bath Truffles, the perfect soak after a New Year’s Resolution workout, made by Azure Mountain Botanicals in Dayton, WA

Julius Caesar finessed the New Year’s Resolution when he renovated the calendar and created a January 1. And now we’re full fledged into it — for the first two weeks at any rate — with promises to eat better and exercise more. And while there’s no guarantee we’ll finish our year’s gym membership with the gusto with which we begin, Art and Brenda Hall of Azure Mountain Botanicals can ensure that we emerge clean and happy when the workout is over.

“Our main focus is cold process soap making,” Brenda, co-owner of the Dayton-based, artisan personal products store, says, “but we also make balms, butters, soaking salts, and bath bombs.” Soaking salts have been known through time to relieve pain, inflammation, and sore muscles, Brenda adds, and a little indulgence after hard work is never amiss.

Artisan Soap, New All Year Round

“We focus on small, local, and handmade,” Brenda says, explaining that smaller batches of soap, butters, balms, and salts ensures greater control over the quality. “We also locally source ingredients as much as possible. For instance, our Dumas soap is made with Dumas Station wine, and has grape pomace that is collected, dried, and ground.

artisan handcrafted natural bath truffle azure botanicals dayton wa

A handcrafted, artisan bath truffle — the perfect solution after a New Year’s Resolution workout, by Azure Mountain Botanicals of Dayton, WA

“Apple Ale is made with Chief Springs Apple Ale that includes cider from Warren Orchards.  Peachy Keen and Strawberry Cream Ale is made from Laht Neppur Ales.”

Making soap from beer, wine and spirits requires simmering the liquid until no alcohol remains, closely monitoring the mixture because high sugars intensify potential reactions. Other liquids the Halls have incorporated into their creations include tea, tisanes, honey and goat milk along with essential oils that add fragrance as well as skin nourishing properties.

Inspiration from Artists and Clients

With a soapmaking canvas that is “limitless,” the couple seeks inspiration — and gives credit to — customers and clients whose observations and requests spur a design: “Deer Slayer was inspired by a local young hunter,” Brenda says. “Anne’s Mystery Mountain Mint, Hippy Up, Sarah’s Earl Grey, Honey Hemp, and Winter Cocoa are all people-inspired soaps.”

handcrafted soy candle azure botanicals dayton wa

Handcrafted, artisan soy candles by Brenda and Art Hall, owners of Azure Mountain Botanicals

Artisan bath products are not the only items that are locally inspired: the Hall’s shop, located in the historic Dantzscher building on Dayton’s Main Street, reflects the skill and work of regional artists, with the outside sign and inside shelving created from reclaimed wood by Dayton craftsman Yancy Yost, who also fashioned the bubble-emitting clawfoot bathtub set before the store’s entrance. The worktables, deliberately open to public view, were built by Leroy Cunningham of Waitsburg’s L Design Reclaimed, which specializes in repurposing vintage woods. The logo, as well as the color palette of the studio, are the brainchild of the couple’s daughter, artist Liz Whaley of Liz W Fine Art.

“We are quite proud of using local artists and resources at our studio,” Brenda says.

The Couple That Makes Soap Together

The couple has been making soap together for more than ten years, beginning in college when Art took an organic chemistry class from a professor who believed strongly in hands-on, practical experience.

artisan handcrafted wooly soap bars azure botanicals dayton wa

A selection of felted wooly soap bars, handcrafted artisan personal care items from Azure Mountain Botanicals

“They made things like biobricks, biofuel, and soap,” Brenda remembers. “Art brought his soap class project home and wanted to make it again — I thought it was too plain and insisted that we add something to it, like lavender essential oil and ground rosemary.” Friends who enthused over the results encouraged the couple to show the soap at an event at Dayton’s historic train depot, and the response to that encouraged the couple to further explore fragrances, essential oils, natural additives like clay and oatmeal, and color.

Despite holding down “day jobs” — Art is a property Manager for General Services Administration in Richland and Brenda is a registered nurse — the couple opened the doors to their store in 2015, and in that short time their artisan products have found homes as far away as New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, and California. They are constantly experimenting with new blends (“Soaps that misbehave often still turn out nice”) and the major challenge the couple encounters has nothing to do with running out of ideas, but more with keeping up with them.

Year-round New Year’s Resolution

“Sometimes, there are so many soaps and other products I want to make that it is difficult for clients to choose from the selection — or, they buy something and tell us it is too pretty to use!”

But that’s a good problem, Brenda reflects, one that blends well with their business and life goals:

“We both have a strong work ethic, believe in customer service, and do our best to provide the finest product possible.”

That’s not a bad New Year’s Resolution, one to keep day in, day out, all year round.

Wenaha Gallery

Brenda and Art Hall of Azure Mountain Botanicals are the featured Art Event  at Wenaha Gallery from Tuesday, January 2, 2018, through Saturday, January 27, 2018.  

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

And while it looks good enough to eat, the soap from Walla Walla Soap Works feeds the skin with premium, luxury oils such as Shea, mango and cocoa butters, and oils like avocado and hemp

Useful and Usable Sculpture — The Artisan Soap of Walla Walla Soap Works

The unique shape, colors, and scent combinations of Walla Walla Soap Works soap is testament to the artisan flair of its creators, Jesse and Scooter Johnston

The unique shape, colors, and scent combinations of Walla Walla Soap Works soap is testament to the artisan flair of its creators, Jesse and Scooter Johnston

Babylon.

Buried deep within the mists of time, this ancient civilization sends forth its tendrils to touch contemporary society, its effect felt in our religious, scientific, financial, and literary realms. Babylon brings to mind astrology, astronomy, the Code of Hammurabi, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and . . . soap.

Individual bars from Walla Walla Soap Works start out as part of a long log, which itself is cut from a larger shape.

Individual bars from Walla Walla Soap Works start out as part of a long log, which itself is cut from a larger shape.

And while this latter, soap, is not majestic, like the legendary hanging gardens that King Nebuchadnezzar II created for his foreign wife, it’s still around, a 5,000 year-old chemical wonder of fats blended with alkaline salts that in today’s society, approaches an art form. At Walla Walla Soap Works, a family-run business that creates Artisan soaps from luxuriant ingredients that would have been the envy of ancient monarchs, soap is practical, but it is beautiful as  well.

Large wooden trays hold and display the useful, usable soap sculptures of Walla Walla Soap Works

Large wooden trays hold and display the useful, usable soap sculptures of Walla Walla Soap Works

“We get a lot of questions about the unique shape of our soaps,” says Jesse Johnston, co-owner of the business with his wife Scooter, both of whom have been creating this ancient yet modern marvel for 20 years. The couple’s signature Artisan Bar — rectangular with sworls and peaks across the top like frosting —  is like no shape one will find in a store, or even among other artisan soap makers.

“In our early days of soap making, the shape really didn’t matter as it was  purely for our family use,” Johnston explains. “But when we began selling it, we obviously cared  more about its  appearance and quickly became frustrated when our cut bars weren’t the perfect rectangles that soap is ‘supposed’ to be.

And while it looks good enough to eat, the soap from Walla Walla Soap Works feeds the skin with premium, luxury oils such as Shea, mango and cocoa butters, and oils like avocado and hemp

And while it looks good enough to eat, the soap from Walla Walla Soap Works feeds the skin with premium, luxury oils such as Shea, mango and cocoa butters, and oils like avocado and hemp

“When we decided to peak the top a bit to help it appear less uneven, this proved to be the best thing ever, as once you free yourself from the box you really feel the creativity take over.”

Creativity abounds in an endeavor that includes not only Jesse and Scooter’s energy, but that of their now-grown children as well. What began as a personal search for a product that didn’t trigger skin allergies of various family members, has grown into a venture, and adventure, of color, scent, form and formulation. The resulting products range from soaps with names (and corresponding coloration) like Cranberry Fig and Mango Mandarin, to embossed squares incorporating wine as the liquid, to Bar None, the unscented, non-colored bar that is a consistent top seller.

“It’s appreciated by so many others who have sensitive skin,” Johnston says.

With each family member contributing unique strengths and perspective, Walla Walla Soap Works produces soap all year round from the Johnston’s dedicated home studio, individual batches of 40-80 bars requiring a three to six week “cure” before the soap is ready for final sale. Regular vendors at the Walla Walla Farmers Market since 2007, Jesse and Scooter also sell retail through holiday craft shows and online, wholesale throughout the state, and coast to coast at natural grocery stores and gift shops.

Printed with vegetable-based inks, the packaging of Walla Walla Soap Works reflects the owners commitment to natural products and ingredients

Printed with vegetable-based inks, the packaging of Walla Walla Soap Works reflects the owners commitment to natural products and ingredients

“We’ve had customers take it as gifts to Japan, Canada, Australia, England, France, Germany, Mexico, Iceland, and Scotland,” Jesse says.

As artistically pleasing — and unusual — that the shape of the Johnston’s bar is, this very distinctiveness led to challenges when it came to packaging. How does one protect, and display, such an odd shape?

“The more traditionally used cigar-style paper wrap labels, plastics, and boxes just really didn’t make sense with these fun soaps,” Jesse says. The paper labels didn’t protect, the plastic didn’t allow the soap to breathe, and both plastic and paper boxes created more waste than the Johnstons were comfortable with.

“It seemed crazy to create a product so good for the skin but at a cost to the environment,” Jesse observes.

So, as they have done from the beginning, the family came up with a unique solution, signature paper “suit sacks” hand fed into a vintage printing press and stamped with vegetable-based inks. Stacked neatly and safely in wooden trays, the soap exudes a sense of cheerful chromatic harmony, its whorling tops decorated with dried lavender, poppy seeds, or oats, its interior marbled with color. It is, as Jesse describes it, “fun.”

“It is a product we love, and feel passionate about,” he says.

Such is the sentiment that all true artisans, and artists, express about their art, from Babylon to the present.

Wenaha GalleryJesse and Scooter Johnston of Walla Walla Soap Works are the featured Pacific Northwest Art Event artist from Monday, January 25 through Saturday, February 20.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.