Oprah and Soap Making: Our Company Originated by Living in Flow

August 7, 2016


Do you have a passion that seduces you to take a path of learning all there is about that subject, and in the process become completely engrossed, often losing track of time? Well, that's what is often referred to as Living in Flow. And it's real, after all that's how we got to now.


I'm a university professor of education and a former bilingual 3rd grade teacher. Crazy to know that, eh? Well, when my education colleagues learn that my family and I began a handcrafted soap company in 1999, which we run to this day, they too look at me in puzzlement. Let me make the connection for you. Both worlds are not mutually exclusive, they involve listening to people, being part of a team that cares about others, and more importantly taking ideas from the conceptual, to prototyping and testing, to scaling them out to the public.


It was the summer of 1999, July to be exact, and I was on a plane ride home from Denmark. After reading the NY Times and magazines, I was quickly running out of reading material in English, when I got to the bottom of the stack: USA Today. I became mesmerized by an article featuring a newly published how-to book The Handmade Soap Book by Melinda Coss. 



Who the hell makes soap, I wondered, intrigued even more by the article's opening lead:


"Oprah Winfrey was just a little girl when she had a soap epiphany. In a flash, she knew her world was going to reach beyond rural Mississippi. "My grandmother said, 'Come here, child, and learn to make soap.' And I said, 'No, Grandma, I won't need to know how to make soap. My world is going to be much bigger than that.'"


I was hooked. The following morning, after fetching our then 4 month old Jack Russel Terrier, Zachariah, from the sitter I ran the errands to buy a small amount of ingredients to try out this inspiration. Measuring, heating, mixing, waiting, waiting, waiting. The goopy stuff did not "trace" as the recipe explained, so I poured it into plasticware and placed it on the shelf in the laundry room; chalked it up to a failed experiment.


Days later, I was running a load of laundry and as I closed the lid to the washing machine, the plasticware on the shelf above caught my attention...an indescribable feeling of surprise overcame me as the goopy mess had hardened! No way! Magic, alchemy, science. An addict was made. I worked out recipes, through months of trial and error, to make what many tell us is the best soap in the world. I have a notebook replete with recipes for soap prototypes, sketches for products, dried botanicals; a veritable time capsule from that summer of inspiration.

I became consumed by the possibilities. And anyone who knew me then can vouch on that's all I talked about, did, spent my free time exploring: SOAP! One evening I was on a long walk with my friend, Eric, who had noticed my weeks of an all consuming obsession, who asked me what excited me so much about it. At the time, as a 29 year-old, I hadn't yet developed a more robust language to express myself fully. I recall saying to him something akin to: "When I am making the soap or researching its history, designing ideas for packaging, I feel like a little boy. There's a feeling deep inside that is stirred wanting to come out. The earliest memory I have of feeling was when I was in kindergarten, painting on the easel or making sculptures with mud and water." I was experiencing again living in flow.


Yes, indeed, I was hooked by the challenge of figuring something out, even if I had no idea where it would lead. Zachariah, my Jack Russell Terrier was new us us. He was and continues to be (at 17 years old) my 4-legged best friend and together we lived on our family's 800 acre avocado Ranch, Rancho La Paloma. So of course it made sense to Zachariah and me to name our fledgling entrepreneurial endeavor Rancho Zacarías Hand-Crafted Soap of Santa Barbara. And a brand was born.


Early sketches in my journal document Rancho Zacarías's brand origins, leading to the making and small-batch production of our first soap The Ranch Hand's Cucumber Bath-Time Buddy (ha!).



Rancho Zacarías' philosophy wove together wisdom from the ethnobotanical use of indigenous plants learned from my Californian-Mexican heritage and our rich Californian ranching history. In fact the three herbs in our creed are basil, rue and rosemary (albaháca, ruda y romero), which pay homage to my grandmother and great-grandmother from whom we learned the uses of botanicals for healing and well-being. Mexican lore has it that when grown together in a pot, and set at the front and back entries of a home, only good luck, health and prosperity ensue. We are the only house, I think, today in St. Louis where those three herbs grace our front stoop and back deck. Unlike Oprah, I did listen to my grandmothers!


We made our first soaps with botanicals from remnants of old orchards present at La Paloma, witnesses to the crops historically grown there: persimmons, figs, walnuts, and of course Hass Avocados. Our philosophy was pretty simple, sharing our passion for ranch life, its history through nature's bountiful apothecary.


In 2006, I moved to Saint Louis to take a professorship, met my future husband Jeff, who is my business partner and our graphic artist guru. We took the best of Rancho Zacarías and rebranded the company to have a wider reach. Verdura Botanica was born! Our original soap formulations from Rancho Zacarías continue their skin-loving in form of our Classic Puck, a retro throwback to our our original designs from1999. Perfection never goes out of style.

Our Santa Barbara roots live on in all our Verdura Botancia offerings and we're passionate about making our origins visible, because when we forget them we become unmoored.

The moral? Passion is daunting, confusing and often fleeting. Notice what makes you curious; when are you doing something that causes you to lose track of time in the pursuit of unraveling a puzzle? It is there where I believe lies the seed of what may germinate into a passion to be further nurtured, developed and refined through deliberate practice and dedication. For us this means listening to and exploring customers' needs, envisioning new possibilities and enacting prototypes that are of the highest quality with an aesthetic that honors our origins. Then comes test, try, fail, fail, fail, learn, revise, repeat.


Nothing is easy. The reward comes every day, though, in little moments, and over time when you see a body of creative work emerge that weaves together all that we are. And in this journey lie clues of deep satisfaction from living in flow.




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