Seeing Soapwalla founder Rachel Winard at work in her expertly organized Gowanus studio (like many small, creative businesses, they've set up shop in the Old American Can Factory), it's easy to see why over a relatively short period of time, her line of all-natural beauty products has gained a fiercely loyal following, verging on the cultish. Everything in the room, from the oils she extracts naturally over a painstaking 18-week process to the table where she and her partner Stacey personally handle all mailings and purchases, is as thoughtfully put together the products themselves.
"It's actually set up more like a commercial kitchen than a skincare lab, because of the nature of my products," Winard explains, putting together boxes for deodorant cream, the product that shot the company into the public eye. "I'm using food-grade ingredients, and I would say the method in which I make things is more akin to cooking than chemistry. When I first started researching natural skin alternatives, I had been diagnosed with lupus and my skin was just freaking out. I got my hands on anything and everything I could read, and a lot of the really valuable information came from sort of old wives tales, herbs people have been using for years, and also the best ways to extract."
But then, the tight, efficient set-up doesn't mean the studio is without a sense that the place is lived in, and a home to focused creative work. "We spend a lot of time here, and we wanted to make it feel like home," Winard says, gesturing toward an elaborate lego structure built into the windowsill. "It's a good old Brooklyn factory, and the windowsill was actually unusable because it's so uneven. So, we decided to fill it in with legos. It seemed really easy, but then it took us about 40 hours to finish!"
Which would explain a sense of loyalty they have to the place. Barring a move to a bigger studio within the factory—a change that seems imminent as business continues to take off and she gets ready to add still more products to her line—Winard says, "I don't ever want to leave."
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.