All in a lather

The Kingston Soap Company is bubbling with passion

Rob Jones sells his soap online and at the Kingston Market.
Rob Jones sells his soap online and at the Kingston Market.
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The Kingston Soap Company makes soap in a variety of scents and shapes, including cupcakes.
The Kingston Soap Company makes soap in a variety of scents and shapes, including cupcakes.
Photo: 

Your shower is about to get a lot more interesting.

The soap you use isn’t just an everyday item — it’s created through a combination of chemistry and art.

Rob Jones, the founder of the Kingston Soap Company, enjoys a bit of both.

His soap seems to have been carried throughout the world, bought by tourists, traveling along in suitcases to countries like Poland, Egypt, France and most of Europe.

“It’s surprised me,” he said. “We’ve had people, actually, who just bought [soap] to take it to Japan.”

“A lot of people just like to take it as a small gift.”

As I stepped though his door I was engulfed by the aromatic scents of his 70 different soaps lined along the basement studio wall.

Jones said he hasn’t stopped dreaming up new soaps to add to his abundant collection.

“It’s sort of a bit of creativity, a bit of science,” he said. “I just like trying new ideas with swirling soaps and just playing with the soaps really to come up with new concepts.”

His latest project, candy cane soap, is a sign that he’s already preparing for the holidays.

“The trouble is with soap, every time you make it, it has to cure for six weeks. Basically before Christmas even begins, I have to start making Valentine’s things,” he said. “You’re trying to keep ahead all the time.”

Jones creates castille soap, which is olive oil based. This same type is made in Provence, France — the city that inspired his business.

Back in 2008, Jones decided he would quit his job looking after four different travel offices to explore other options.

“I was getting a bit tired of being on the road all the time, so decided I needed something else,” he said.

A trip to Provence, France, taken a few years prior, led Jones in the direction of soap.

“I’d seen a soap store selling soap and it’s always just piqued my curiosity,” he said. “With the market downtown it would be a good opportunity just to research, learn how to make soap and start a soap business.”

All his soaps are based on the basic olive oil soap recipe with different scents, colours or ingredients added in.

Jones, who is self-taught and only began making soap with the inception of Kingston Soap Company, tells me that soap is based on three main ingredients: water, lye and oil.

“I had no real concept of how soap was made,” he said. “The first time I did it was really unusual, I kept sort of looking at the soap as it was setting up.”

Jones starts with adding lye to the water. Lye, otherwise known as sodium hydroxide, is difficult to find since it’s also used in the production of crystal methamphetamine.

It’s a granular white colourless substance that is a 14 on the pH scale — basically, it can burn skin.

At this point I started to feel like I was in an episode of Breaking Bad with this talk of chemical reactions and meth production; it was kind of thrilling to think that the soap in my shower was so exciting.

Not to worry though: while lye is necessary in soap making, it’s safe because it is neutralized during the process.

But, before then, it has to be mixed into the water to start the heating process for soap production.

“It will actually go from zero [degrees] to boiling point within five seconds,” he said. “And it can give off a bit of a noxious fume as well.”

Once the mixture cools to about 100 degrees, Jones said the oil comes next.

All three ingredients are blended with a stick blender until it turns into a custard consistency. This stage is called trace.

“If I leave it there, and just pour it into the mould it just turns into pure olive oil soap,” he said. “I just take that and add different scents or different colours.”

He opened his scent cupboard to reveal a unique array of choices ranging from essential oils to naturally-derived fragrance oils.

One scent was labeled as freshly cut grass — it actually smelled like a freshly-mowed lawn had been mowed on a cool summer day.

Ginger ale, as well as chocolate, wasabi and lettuce were among the scents. Everything seemed bang-on, but not too overpowering.

When adding these scents, Jones is conscious of toxins, choosing only oils that are paraben and phthalate-free.

Studies have shown that phthalates have some effects on hormones, while parabens, used as preservatives, have been linked to cancer — Jones stays away from these chemicals, since many consumers may find them concerning.

Colour, as well as scents, are swirled or layered throughout many of Jones’ soaps with natural ingredients such as lavender flower or rose petals. Jones strives for the most natural product he can create, using naturally-mined and laboratory-purified oxides to add the soaps’ colours.

This nearly-complete soap comes in many shapes and sizes. After colour and scents are added, the mixture is poured into the different moulds shaped like cupcakes, cake slices, popsicles, classic bars and more.

After the process is finished there will be two products left — glycerin and the soap.

“Hand soap makers keep it all together and commercial soap makers will take the glycerin out of the soap and they’ll use it in higher-end cosmetics,” Jones said. “That’s why they say handmade soap is better than commercial soap. It’s all kept as one block. It’s better for the skin.”

Saffron and cedar are Jones’ favourite scented soap he’s made, along with the goat milk soaps. Lavender, however, remains the most popular among customers.

Though Jones makes all the soap himself, it’s become a family affair. His partner helps sell it at the market downtown while his father helps with the packaging.

The company, which sells 200 to 300 bars each week, retails soap online as well as at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Red Maple in Kingston and the Kingston Market.

While it’s all about making the most natural soap possible for the shop, Jones’ unexpected love of soap hasn’t wavered.

“Making that recipe, it just sort of keeps that holiday in mind all the time,” he said. “It gives me a touch of Provence every time.”

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