SHE Spotlight: Rachel Sloan, Founder Nature's Trace
Nature's Trace Co. is the creation of Rachel Sloan, a small batch soap maker in Chicago, IL. She uses hand-harvested colorants and additives from her beehives and garden to bring the beauty of outside inside for everyday use.
The soaps’ base oils are sourced from a local, woman-owned business for a woman-owned business. That’s our kind of business to celebrate.
We love that Rachel is always looking for ways to shop small and live simply on her urban farm.
Yes, it’s possible in the middle of the third-largest city in the United States!
We’ve been able to watch Rachel bring Nature’s Trace to life from the very beginning… and she’s proof that you CAN follow your dreams and do something you’re passionate about! This girl knows so much about SOAP! We love this interview with her and her view on life. Read on… we truly believe you’ll be inspired, and you’ll never see soap the same way again!
SHE: How did you pick your name and what does it mean to you?
Rachel: I knew I wanted nature in the name since every bar has some ingredient or design inspired by my beehives, a hike, my favorite pine, etc. “Trace” is the moment in soap making when the batch reaches saponification, and you know it’s ready to pour into the mold. It’s a fine point; too light a trace and the soap takes forever to set up, too thick and you will have cement on your hands! But I think what I love most is all the meanings of Trace, since it is also defined as “to copy, follow, find or discover by investigation.” I copy, trace and follow the designs of nature in my soap.
SHE: Can you tell us a few key moments in the creation of Nature’s Trace? Take us back in time with you!
Rachel: A NileRed YouTube video. He’s a chemist my husband follows and he made soap one day. I had studied soap making for 6 months but was still kind of freaked out as it is basically a chemistry lab process and I wasn’t exactly a chemistry wizard in high school. But I trusted NileRed and his expertise so when he made a simple bar of soap and shared the recipe (only olive and coconut oil), it gave me the courage to take all my studying and actually make a batch of soap! And I haven’t stopped :) I was in love with the process and after that I started developing my own recipes to use oils that hit all the marks that were important to me (lather, moisturizing, long lasting, etc.). Another key point was the LABELS!! I worked with one of my best friends who is an artist and package designer by trade. We met and brain stormed on the design and when she handed me the first prototype, I teared up a bit. I felt like she put ME on paper and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the how they compliment the soap.
SHE: Seriously, not many people wake up and say… “I’m going to make soap today?” What made you decide to try it?
Rachel: I had purchased a bar of homemade soap...and wasn’t happy with it. I didn’t like the scent and it was a soft bar that melted away pretty quickly. I was literally in the shower and thought, “I bet I can figure out how to make a nice hard bar with a smell I like.” I also realized that because my husband and I had already committed ourselves to a simple, farmstead lifestyle on our microfarm in Chicago, I had access to so many incredible ingredients in my backyard. My beehives and garden alone gave me a dozen variations I couldn’t wait to implement. Also my job was KILLING me at the time. Long hours and high stress - it was awful. This passion was born out of that firestorm - reading about triglycerides and oleic acid was a glorious distraction that had nothing to do with my job and I needed that badly.
SHE: What do you wish everyone knew about how soap was made?
I am using the same ingredients my grandmother used, and really what all soap makers have used for centuries. Soap in its purest form is just a high base and high acid that turns into fatty acid salts.
I want everyone to know that soap contains sodium hydroxide (lye) and that that’s not scary!! If you don’t have Saponification you don’t have soap. (There are some glycerin soaps made without it but I have never been a fan - they just don’t make me feel clean.) All the lye is consumed in the saponification process and soap is “Super fatted,” meaning you leave in more fatty acids than can be consumed by the base, which is why your skin feels nourished, and not stripped.
Maybe I’m a total nerd and no one else will care, but I LOVE that the triglyceride structure for oils with the longest shelf life have nice, even structures. Oils that go rancid quickly are unstable, because they contain more double bonds, but visually their molecular structure is also a little helter skelter. It just feels like some kind universal truth be it triglycerides, bridges, or how we structure our lives. Chaos = rancid. Ha!
Want to gift or try Rachel’s small batch soap yourself?
Use the code SHE to get 10% off!
SHE: Do you have a favorite soap? And if you did, would you tell?
Rachel: I love them all for different reasons so that’s a tough question! We don’t have time for all of them so I’ll just tell you why I love the showcase of this giveaway, the Honey Beeswax! I am the daughter of a beekeeper and my husband and I have been keeping our own hives for 4 years so this was one of the first recipes I worked to nail down when I started making soap.
The raw honey gives the soap a wonderful lather and the slightest lingering honey scent, the beeswax makes the bar nice and hard so it will last longer, and the oatmeal gives an ever so gentle exfoliating scrub. I feel like it’s all my favorite things about soap wrapped up into one bar.
SHE: What is the biggest challenge of owning a small business, and how do you overcome it?
Rachel: Being a small business owner means you’re in charge of every aspect, or figuring out how and what you can afford to outsource. Currently, picking up raw materials at 6 am on a Friday? That’s my job. Filing paperwork with the state and understanding FDA laws? My job.
I think any maker will tell you the making is a teeny tiny part of the whole business, and you have to be passionate about that thing you’re making to make tackling everything else surmountable.
This has been a huge undertaking for me but I think one of the biggest things I have learned is to just tackle small bits at a time. I am the kind of person who just wants to “get it done” and push a finished product out the door. But that’s not how running a business works.
It’s been hard but also liberating to learn to do things incrementally and know it doesn’t all have to be “finished,” and “perfect” and one aspect may take months to finish.
I also have an incredible and encouraging group of family and friends who surround me and cheer me on! They have been a huge part of this dream becoming a reality.
SHE: What are your favorite sustainable, healthy, ethical (SHE) brands you use?
Rachel: Can Jennifer be my favorite? I love her practical, science based information simply on how your body WORKS. I think humans would have less health issues if we understood more of what’s going on when you eat this certain thing or exercise (or don’t) this certain way. Your recent “7 Ways to Support Balanced Hormones” graphic on Instagram, and your Critical Conversations podcast, gives small practical steps that can make a huge impact on taking care of our bodies.
NOTE: We didn’t ask her to ask this! We swear! But it totally makes our day. It’s EVERYTHING to know our passion of helping women take care of their bodies with sustainable, healthy, ethical changes can help them follow their passions because they feel GOOD!
SHE: What's each of your favorite healthy guilty pleasure when the going gets tough?
Rachel: I recently started making homemade chai lattes!!! With whole cinnamon sticks, clove, cardamom etc. It’s SO delicious and probably not completely healthy but I love making things from scratch and the spices make me happy down to my toes. And if things get real real bad, I draw a bath and add Lavender and Peppermint essential oils to the water. The soothing effect is practically magical.