FORT LORAMIE — What started as a Christmas gift project has blossomed into a thriving business for Shiela Musser, of Fort Loramie.
She’s the woman behind Eileen’s Natural Soaps. The scented bars, bath bombs, laundry detergent, bug repellent, sunscreen, lip balm, facial scrubs, lotions, pain relief creams and shampoo that she creates have become popular purchases by patrons of area farmers markets, festivals and craft fairs. They are also available in 18 area stores, including the Wagner’s IGA stores in Fort Loramie, Minster and New Bremen; Chief Supermarket in Lima; Bunny’s Pharmacy in Sidney and Ace Hardware in St. Marys.
Musser began making soaps about six years ago, after the market dropped out of her chinchilla business.
“I sold chinchillas and dogs,” she said recently. “When the economy crashed, people weren’t interested in chinchillas.” Looking for a way to create interesting Christmas gifts for her family, Musser suggested that her husband, a gardener, grow loofah.
“We’ll do loofah and soap for presents,” she said.
Musser plunged into research about soap-making.
“I made my first batch and my skin felt so much better. So I kept it up,” she said. As friends and family members requested certain products or scents, she expanded her research and her product line. Her daughter suffers from adult acne. That sent Musser to the Internet to find what she might do to aleviate it.
The result is a facial bar that contains tea tree oil, mustard, which Musser said is a natural antibiotic, and jojoba oil.
“That’s the closest oil to our own natural skin oil. It tricks the skin into thinking it’s producing enough and then it doesn’t over-produce. Over-producing is what causes acne,” she said. Her daughter’s acne diminished. Word spread about the soap and the facial bar is now her biggest seller.
“I also make a sugar scrub, and that’s good for acne,” Musser added. Her own migraine headaches prompted her to concoct something that could bring relief.
“If you can catch a migraine before it really flairs — This is something that you put on the back of the neck, your temples, the tops of your ears. It works,” she said. “It’s also a pain relief cream for ‘weekend warriors.’”
At first, Musser made the soaps in her kitchen and stored them in the living room. But it wasn’t long before they began to take over the bedroom, too. So the entrepreneur decided to go beyond gift-giving and sell the bars at summer markets. But she knew she didn’t want to call them Shiela’s Natural Soaps.
“My name is spelled differently from most Sheilas. When people would pay for the chinchillas on PayPal, they would misspell my name and it wouldn’t go through. I didn’t want that with this, so I used my middle name, Eileen,” she said.
Shakespeare noted that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and Musser’s soaps by her middle name proved to be a hit. Musser moved her operation to the garage, so she’d have more room to work.
Her husband, Kevin, became a sales representative, scouting out places where the products could be sold. A family friend, Annie Bollheimer, of Fort Loramie, volunteered to help with production and sales and has been assisting for six years.
“I like going to the sales. I enjoy being around people,” Bollheimer said, as she shrink-wrapped cool water-scented bars. The team was selling at three or more markets a week.
“You get feedback that way. You see what people like,” Musser said.
By November 2016, she needed larger soap-making equipment and a larger facility than the garage. She moved her business to a storefront in downtown Fort Loramie. At 12 W. Main St., she manufactures 156 bars of soap at a time. Palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil and castor oil — “It enhances the bubble,” she said — get blended in one tank and weighed on a large scale on the floor.
“It’s a recipe. The weight of everything has to be right or it doesn’t turn out,” Musser said. In another tank, lye is mixed with water.
“Then I mix it all together and add fragrance and color,” she said. The soap is poured into large cubes to harden, where it sits, insulated, for two days.
“I demold it, slice it into logs and then slice it again into bars,” Musser said. The bars then cure on racks for 30 days before they are wrapped by hand.
“But we’re moving away from shrink wrap to boxes,” she noted. “It’s biodegradable shrink wrap. Everything we do is ‘green.’” She purchases as much of her supplies locally as possible. And she keeps her products affordable.
The 4-ounce bars sell for $5 each and there is a variety of some 20 or more scents available. A 4-ounce bottle of lotion sells for $6. Musser has packaged boxes of seven bath bombs for a Valentine’s Day special, selling for $12 a box.
“The bombs help you relax in the tub and make your skin feel good,” Musser said. “I’m always looking for things that are good for your skin.”
Paulette Meyer, of Fort Loramie, decided to test the soap when her friend first started making it.
“I was having problems with my skin. I thought, ‘She’s making it herself from all natural products. I’ll give it a try.’ I love it. I also love her lotions,” she said. Meyer became a staunch customer. She purchases not only soap and lotion but lip balm, sunscreen and bug repellent.
“I have two kids that mosquitoes love. (The repellent) is good for them. You’re not having those odd chemicals,” she said.
Despite her now years of experience at her craft, Musser is still surprised when she tries something new.
“Any little change you make can affect your recipe,” she said. “I’m always amazed. When I swirl the color in and you cut it, I love seeing what it looks like.”
Musser does not have regular store hours because she is often selling at offsite markets; however, she does sell at the Main Street location by appointments, which can be made by calling 937-295-4212 or emailing email@example.com.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.