Soap maker turns hobby into a career

Soap maker turns hobby into a career

SOLON, OH (WOIO) - The owner of Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve says her business actually started, by accident.  Ida Friedman-Kasdan was just looking for a hobby when she stumbled on soap making. Now her products are shipped around the world.
She encourages new or potential entrepreneurs to stay true to their passion and to surround themselves and their business with others who will do that as well. This advice has been her philosophy and so far, it's working.

The Solon factory looks like one big kitchen, with ingredients like coconut, honey and sugar. They're whipped up, piped and pounded into place. But the difference is, these 'chefs' are cooking up soap.

"Our goal is to use the power and simplicity of nature to soothe, to heal, to clean your skin," says Ida Friedman-Kasdan.

Friedman-Kasdan's passion for soap-making started in her own kitchen back in 2001. She was a middle school science teacher looking for a hobby when some soap makers peeked her interest at a craft show.

"I'm thinking I can do this," she says.   

Friedman-Kasdan's first batch was eight bars of goat milk and oatmeal. She tried it out on her husband who had issues with eczema.

"Two weeks later, all the eczema was gone, so you're like, ok, I think I have something here," says Friedman-Kasdan.

Now, fifteen years later, Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve has customers in more than 80 countries, including Mauritius, a tiny island all the way out in the Indian Ocean. They take more than 90 internet orders a day and ship out more than 300 products a day. 

You can find their body bars, shampoos, and lotions at stores like Whole Foods and on trendy websites like 'Buzzfeed'.  

"We've managed to quadruple without a bit of marketing," explains Friedman-Kasdan.

Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve doesn't advertise and they do not have a marketing department.  Friedman-Kasdan says if their products are great, they will sell. The company relies solely on loyal customers and word of mouth.

"We got emails, if you read them, you'd have tears in your eyes," says Sam Friedman, Friedman-Kasdan's son who works at Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve.

The mother of one young girl wrote an email to them about psoriasis on her daughter's head and back. The ailment kept her daughter from normal teen activities like sleepovers and swimming. The young girl had tried one of the body bars. 

"And after just a week or two, it had cleared up so much she now felt comfortable again.  You're talking about completely changing someone's life," says Sam Friedman.

Half of the product recipes at Chagrin Valley are created for specific problems of customers. Sam says that passion for helping people is infused into each employee at Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve. There are only nine of them and they are all related or connected in some way.

"Those nine people are my mother, my wife, friends of mine for 20 years, so there's a lot of baggage that comes with that," says Sam Friedman.  

"We've learned to listen to each other, and we all have different ideas, but the goal is the same," adds Friedman-Kasdan.  

The goal is to have Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve in every home in America.

"Where every family in America can toss out what they've got and replace it with much healthier options," says Friedman.

"Our ingredients are USDA certified organic, which you will not find very often in skin care products. They are ethically traded, cruelty-free, sustainably resourced," explains Friedman-Kasdan. 

She says she still has to pinch herself when she comes into work, to think, all this started with a little curiosity in her home kitchen. 

"There's a synergy here. It's quite amazing. There isn't a day I get up and don't like to come here," she says.

She's still a teacher at heart and still a bit uncomfortable with the 'entrepreneur' title, but says she's proof that the American Dream still exists.

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