If you’ve come across a raven haired beauty in the isles of CVS sniffing various products, you may have spotted Ardis Thompson, the Maker and Founder behind High Street Soap. Handcrafted and made in small batches, her soaps feature essential oils and locally sourced ingredients like honey and goats milk. Gentle on skin and delectably fragrant, every use is like a little escape into an aromatic paradise.
Ardis has always been obsessed with the power of fragrance. Before soap making exploded as a popular crafty pastime, she was playing with notes and thinking of different scents she could make. “I was up at night, dreaming of combinations,” she says. A certified soap maker (yes, a Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild really exists), she also has a background in science giving her a knack for research and the patience to let ingredients age and meld. When she talks about essential oils it’s like she’s talking about people. There are those that work well with others, there are some who need time to develop. The ones who overpower formulas she jokingly refers to as “bullies.” They take over whatever they mix with.
With her workshop in Central Valley, NY, Ardis decided to start selling her creations in part to share her love of fragrance but also to offer the busy a chance to relax and experience luxury on the daily. The mother of two also works full-time. She knows how hard self-care can be. For her, smells have a transportive quality and her soaps can make you feel like you’re in a field of flowers or relaxing on a beach. “It’s more than just suds going down the drain,” she says. “It’s an experience.”
When did you start making soap and did you always operate in the Hudson Valley?
I made my first batch of soap in the fall of 1999. I was living in Closter, NJ at the time. I moved to the Hudson Valley in the summer of 2003. Soap making started out as a hobby that quickly grew into a creative smell good obsession.
What inspired you to start?
I’ve always loved pretty smelling things…from soaps to perfumes to foods. I was excited by all the different scents I could blend together to make my own unique fragrance combinations for soap. If I wanted to mix together lavender with spearmint, I could make it. If I felt like blending together vanilla with honey, I could make that too! Adding these combinations to a natural and handmade bar of soap was the icing on the cake.
What year did you decide to create a business from it?
High Street Soap was officially born a business in 2011.
Without revealing any trade secrets, what’s your process like? Paint a picture of your day for me.
Coffee is always the first thing! Then I start preparing what batches are needed for the day. I’ll gather together the natural colors for the soaps and any botanicals or local ingredients that the batches call for. After that, I mix together the essential oils that make up the fragrance. Some scent blends are made fresh, other fragrances are mixed beforehand so they can mature.
I weigh all natural oils like olive oil and coconut oil as the main ingredients to be used in the soaps. Mixed in small batches, I use the traditional cold-process technique to create the soap. After the smell good scents are added, the soap is poured into wooden molds that were made by a friend (who accepts payments in soap!) and the fresh soap will sit in the molds overnight until they’re hard enough to take out.
When the soaps are ready to unmold they’re cut by hand into individual bars and placed on curing racks to air dry for up to 5 weeks. Air drying ensures you get a gentle and long lasting bar of soap once the cure time is done. My two sons (ages 10 and 6) love to help put the soaps on the shelves to cure. We laugh and have a good time putting them away.
Once the soap has finished curing the bars are boxed, labeled, packed and mailed by hand to new homes so they can transform your mood with the power of fragrance!
You use a lot of locally sourced material? Is there a reason for this?
Being in the Hudson Valley we have amazing access to wonderful ingredients that are all locally made and grown. There’s a wealth of locally sustainable goodies that can be used in soap in this area. If you can eat it – you can make soap with it. I love to use local products like milk, honey, and herbs. But what’s even better than using local ingredients is being able to collaborate with local business and help support them too.
You have an incredible selection in your online store? How do you come up with so many scent combos? What’s your inspiration when you start working?
I love creating fragrances that are a modern spin on traditional aromatherapy. I create soaps for busy women who need a break from the everyday, and my inspiration is coming up with fragrances that will help them get through their hectic day.
If you had a bad day, you can elevate your mood with a blend of lavender and fruits like in Cheer Up, Blue. If you need to recharge and energize, use Rosemary Mint with activated charcoal and go kick some butt like the boss you are. Time is precious, and I want to help people maximize their me-time in the shower with a specialty soap that both gently cleans and boosts your mood.
High Street Soap is a great name? Is there a story behind it?
When I first started making soap I was living on High Street in Closter, NJ. As an homage to where my first batch of soap was created I called my company High Street Soap.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of being a small business owner in the HV?
One of the challenges of being a small business owner, and this is probably everywhere, is getting exposure so you can share your mission and your products with people. So I really want to thank you for offering to feature me and High Street Soap on The Mighty Mite!
Some of the rewards of being a small business owner in the HV is having access to incredibly grown local foods and products. The supportive network of other small business owners in the area is wonderful, as well as the down to earth customers I’d be nowhere without!
To learn more about Ardis and to find a list a listing of where you can purchase High Street Soap, visit the official website.
This story originally appeared in The Mighty Mite.
Hudson Valley based writer.