Teacher learns the art and business of soap-making

January 10th, 2019
Niema Stone, owner of Soapstone Soaps, at Always Brewing in the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, which carries the all-natural soaps that Niema makes. On the counter near Niema are bars of her soap that she specially makes to be sold at the coffee shop.

The hand-made soaps created by Niema Stone are not only all-natural. The unique swirl of color and texture in each bar seems like a piece of art meant to be touched.

Niema came up with idea of making her own soap about 10 years ago. The idea sprang from her desire to help her husband with his eczema, a condition where the skin is easily irritated. Niema started researching soap-making and what ingredients are good to promote healthier skin.

“It was a learning process for me,” Niema said. “I’m not a chemist and I hadn’t worked with lye before. Through experimentation, I came up with my own recipes, using ingredients to soothe and nourish the skin. My husband and I used the soaps, and I also gave samples to friends and family. Their feedback enabled me to perfect my recipes. Over time, I gained in confidence and knew I had an excellent product that could help others with their skin-care needs.”

Bars of Morning Joe soap, made by Soapstone Soap, for sale at Always Brewing. The soap contains ground coffee beans, which act as an exfoliant. Other all-natural ingredients include shea butter, activated charcoal, oatmeal, and more.

Niema makes her soaps in a room at home that she and her husband made into a lab. She avidly pursues her craft in her spare time. Niema works full time as an elementary school teacher in Detroit Public Schools. She has been a teacher for 20 years. Her dream is to retire from teaching and successfully run her own business, which she calls Soapstone Soaps.

After she launched her company, Niema understood that she would need to learn more about how to operate a business. Once again, she researched diligently. She read about Southwest Solutions’ ProsperUS Detroit small-business training program. Niema also discovered that ProsperUS training is conveniently offered at partner organizations in certain neighborhoods, including her own: Grandmont-Rosedale.

“I was good at making a product, but I needed to develop business and marketing skills, a business plan, and better record-keeping,” said Niema, who graduated from ProsperUS last January. “ProsperUS taught me a lot.”

Once she had a well-packaged product, Niema sought out places to sell her soaps and body butter. She called more than 100 shops in the Detroit area. To date, eight (8) are carrying her products. A list of these locations is on the Soapstone website.

Niema’s business is not yet profitable, as she tries to build her customer-base and reduce production costs without compromising the high quality of her soaps. Last November, Niema was awarded a $10,000 grant by the New Economy Initiative through its annual NEIdeas Challenge. Niema is using the grant to buy equipment and ingredients.

“I have over 20 types of handmade soaps available,” Niema said. “This is my passion and my dream.”

ProsperUS Detroit has trained nearly 900 aspiring small business owners in Detroit. To learn more about the program, visit its website.

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