Business

Mom, son sell soap by the seashore

If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Kim and David Tiller have a heavenly business on their hands.

This mother-son duo recently opened a shop, the Whidbey Island Soap Company, in one of the retail spaces located inside the Coupeville Wharf. Since mid-December, the Tillers have been busy lining their shelves with new, “healthy” bath products made the old-fashioned way — by hand.

Using what is called the “cold-process method,” the Tillers create good-smelling and environmentally-sound bath products that they claim are of higher quality than most other stuff on the market.

The Tillers’ soaps are not actually cooked down; according to David, hand-crafting soaps at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit locks in many of the natural ingredients, making for a more robust, multi-dimensional product.

Or, as he says, “something to pamper yourself with.”

The Tillers started making soap back in 1995, but it wasn’t until last year that they started selling their wares at the Tilth and Bayview farmers markets. Up to this point, David and Kim, like so many Northwesterners, were engaged in software development. And, like so many others, they found it tough going when the dot.com market went bust.

“Lay-offs make a big difference,” Kim said.

The decision to go from software to sudsware was largely a decision of lifestyle and location. According to Kim, “I wanted something I could do on the island.” She and David also wanted to do something that was good for people, a product “with no negative impact on the environment” and which people would buy over and over again.

“Soap was just kind of an epiphany,” Kim said. “It was like, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’”

The Tillers have since expanded their line to include lotions, bath salts, salves and something called “Turbinado Body Buff,” a kind of exfoliating lotion that moisturizes while it cleans. And they are continually trying out new recipes, hoping to add more and more products over time.

“It’s a blast,” David said. “It’s something we can experiment with. There a lot of, what is it, artistic ability in it.”

The two guiding themes of Whidbey Island Soap Company, David said, are “simple elegance” and “pure natural.” The goal is to offer products that are both elegant and useful, with all-natural versus chemical ingredients. Right now, David is in the process of creating a Castile soap, made from 100 percent olive oil.

“They’re therapeutic,” David said of the soaps he’s made so far. “They actually do something for your skin.”

“We’re trying to stay as natural as possible,” Kim said. “We stay away from chemicals whenever we can.”

Cucumber, eucalyptus, lavender, rosewood and white lilac are some of the soaps currently in the Tillers’ retail and mail-order line. They have a similar variety of bath salts and lotions available, and Kim hopes that soon they will be able to offer their own “bath bomb,” a fizzy product full of essential oils and fragrances that you drop right into a steaming-hot tub. Not yet, though.

“I did some experiments,” Kim said, laughing, “and had them actually bomb.”

Both Kim and David said that the distinguishing characteristic of their products is going the extra mile on good ingredients. They don’t skimp on adding pure, healthful oils in their soaps and lotions, even if it costs a bit more. For instance, the Tillers use kukui nut oil in some of their product, an essential oil deriving from the official tree of Hawaii which helps soothe a variety of common skin ailments.

“It’s a really special oil,” Kim said.

Although intent on expanding and elaborating their business from its current state, including the possible addition of another wholesale outlet on the island, Kim said she has no interest in becoming a mega-business. She would like to get just big enough to be able to employ people locally.

“We have dreams,” Kim said, but “we don’t want to become so huge that we’re bought out. We want to keep it a family-owned business.”

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