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A slippery road to success for Metchosin soap company

There was no room at the markets, so the founder of a fledgling Metchosin soap company packed up a box and walked into a local shop. All 50 soaps sold out in a week.
Debbie Cooper of Metchosin Soap Works with some of the materials used in her soap-making classes.

There was no room at the markets, so the founder of a fledgling Metchosin soap company packed up a box and walked into a local shop.

All 50 soaps sold out in a week.

“I thought that was fantastic beginner’s luck,” says Debbie Cooper of Metchosin Soap Works, who also sells under the brand names Victoria Soap Works and Vancouver Island Soap Works.

Turns out it wasn’t luck. The bars kept on selling and, 20 months later, Cooper’s soaps are carried in 37 stores and spas on Vancouver Island.

Starting today, they will also be carried by Planet Organic throughout B.C., and other locations in Alberta and Ontario.

Each bar has a craggy top, reminiscent of the Island’s rugged coast. Those crags double as hand-holds to avoid the slippery soap problem.

Cooper, husband Fabrizio Lozupone, and daughters Julia, 12, and Jovana, 7, live on their organic Coolidge Creek Farm on 2.2 acres in Metchosin. They grow produce and raise sheep and chickens, including heritage breeds. Cooper also leads the 4-H program in Metchosin, with 35 youngsters participating.

It was Cooper’s interest in living a healthy life that prompted her to look at what products are used on our skin. When her best friend and niece each received a diagnosis of cancer, she became more committed to using natural products.

Olive, coconut and avocado oils are used in the soaps. “It lathers super-rich from the coconut oil.”

After “dabbling” in soap-making at home, Cooper toured soap factories while on holiday in Hawaii to learn more.

Cooper figured that when her youngest daughter turned six, it was time to launch her soaps, expecting that the two of them could sell at local markets. But regional markets already had their own established soap makers, as did craft fairs, so she pounded he pavement looking for retail sellers.

The bars start at $6.95.

Soaps are inspired by capital region locations, materials and scents. Family members go for walks to find inspiration from the outdoors. Names include East Sooke Park, with an evergreen scent. Witty’s Lagoon Beach soap has a fresh scent with a wave design in the middle. Bamfield Mud Scrub features clay from that Island location,

The aim is to remind visitors of where they’ve been. So far, the company has produced 35 scents and new ones are constantly being added.

Soap display boxes are made from silvered picket fence panels. Cooper salvaged them from an old fence on the property of her late father, Gary Cooper.

“They will be my good-luck charms because they are from my dad. I want him to part of my business,” said a teary Cooper, who credits her father with giving her a strong work ethic.

Carla Robinson, co-owner of Simply Gifted at 101-755 Goldstream Ave., said the store has carried Metchosin Soaps for two years. “Customers love it. People come back to get it again,” Robinson said.

Cooper has “done a really good job of making it look natural, but still pretty.”

Customers prefer to support a local product, said Robinson, who also uses the soap at home. “I love it. My husband loves it.”

Based at 4495 Happy Valley Rd., Cooper has two staffers working in the studio, Mike McKinstry and Tess Harrison, plus a sales representative, and she anticipates hiring another person to help with production.

McKinstry, who has been friends with Cooper since they were 10 years old, said it is creative work. “No two bars are alike.”

Metchosin Soap Works also sells bath salts and deodorant. Cooper runs weekly two-hour classes in soap-making, sending participants home with four pounds of handcrafted soaps that are cut into 18 bars. She will be adding advanced classes soon.

Starting May 1, Metchosin Soap Works will be open for sales in the Happy Valley Road studio from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cooper stages several open houses every year.

Cooper said Metchosin Soap Works is profitable and gives her the quality of life and time with her family that she wants. “We are a small-batch soap company and that’s what we will always stay.”