When Kevin Samples first learned to make soap, he never expected his lumpy first attempt would turn into the Normal Soap Company. His first attempt was a far cry from the Georgia Peach State Soap, Shower Steamers and Botanical Hand Salves which Normal Soap Company offers today.
“It was this brown blob of soap, but I knew what was in it and you know — it worked,” Samples said.
While the oatmeal-infused bar was unattractive, it served its purpose, and more importantly to Samples, was free of preservatives and artificial dyes he thought were unnecessary in household products.
Soap-making developed into a hobby for Samples, and an occasional date night activity he shared with his girlfriend, Jessica Cudnik.
“It was ugly guy soap, but it’s still wonderfully functional,” Cudnik said of their early batches. “So I started to make it prettier.”
Cudnik’s “pretty” soaps were popular among her friends, and she soon received requests to buy it. One day, the couple threw out the idea of turning it into a business and in 2014, Normal Soap Company was born.
At first, Samples and Cudnik, who were both pursuing masters’ degrees at the University of Georgia, ran the business alongside their full-time jobs.
As the business grew, they realized it was becoming a job in its own, so Cudnik left her job to run Normal Soap Company full-time.
After a few years, Samples and Cudnik decided the next logical step for their business was to pass on their knowledge. Both of them come from academic backgrounds, which they wanted to incorporate into their soapmaking.
“We're definitely in that frame of mind of helping people and teaching people through the university,” Samples said. “We wanted to teach people how to make soap themselves, and give them those tools and that confidence to be able to access it.”
Normal Soap Company offers two levels of classes, as well as an option for a private class. In Soapmaking 101, students learn soap history and the technique to make a one-pound bar of soap. In the 102 class, students learn to use clays and herbs to customize their soaps.
“If you made a pound a month — that would probably be a bit much — you would totally be set for not ever having to buy regular bar soap again,” Samples said.
While participants should be equipped with all the necessary knowledge to make their own soaps, Cudnik has returning guests who appreciate the guided structure of the class. Her most recent Soapmaking 102 class included a second-time student with a special connection.
“A year prior, she met a person in that class and so they get together regularly to make soap,” Cudnik said. “I find that's the best thing about it.”
Samples said the class is a great fit for anyone who likes do-it-yourself projects, but especially for those who are concerned about reducing their environmental impact. Students who learn to make their own soap can bypass all of the packaging of commercial soap, as well as choose local ingredients to reduce the footprint caused by shipping.
Samples said the technique and reagents used to create soap can seem daunting to newcomers, but they shouldn’t be worried.
“Don't be afraid to come into the class and learn the process,” Samples said. “It's not a difficult process to make your own soap.”