Gnomes are hardworking caretakers of the earth. The sustaining nature of these mythical creatures is the theme of The Soapy Gnome home goods store, which opened this past June. Owned by Jenny Frech, the company uses the wisdom of the gnomes to create soaps and body care products that are kind to skin and to nature.
The Soapy Gnome opened last summer in downtown Goshen, but Frech had been ‘playing’ with soap making since January of 2013. “It started as a hobby,” Frech commented. “[But] the ingredients are pretty expensive, so to play with it the way I wanted to I had to be able to sell it. So I started selling at the Goshen farmer’s market, and I think I started selling March or April of that year.”
At this point, Frech still had no idea that she would become an owner of a home goods store in Goshen, where she would be able to sell all her homemade soaps. “The nugget of the idea started Christmas of 2013,” said Frech.
Making soap and running a soap business could and does take a lot of a person’s time, so Frech had to financially support herself and her family while she was beginning her business. “I was a teacher,” said Frech. “My most recent teaching job was at [a] high school teaching biology and environmental science. That was full time, and then I went to work part time at Notre Dame, and I was an education outreach coordinator for the center for sustainable energy—I did that for a year and a half.”
However, coordinating both jobs was difficult. “I did that at the same time I started running my soap business, and it got to the point where I had to decide whether or not to keep soap part time. I realized that if I wanted the soap business to grow, I had to do soap for full time. So I’ve been doing [that] for the last 15 months now.”
Soap making is an extensive process. Frech provided a step-by-step sequence of how she makes the soap she sells in her store. She said, “Soap making is a combination of baking, science and art. I use sodium hydroxide, which is lye, and so the beginning process involves adding oils and water to the lye in order to help dissolve it.” Frech uses all organic products to make her soaps, and they are also vegetarian.
The Soapy Gnome features a wide variety of products including soaps, bath fizzies, shampoo bars and shaving bars, among other products. Frech especially enjoys making hair soap. “I love [it]—that’s my favorite thing that I make. It’s a unique product, and it works really well for me. I struggled for a very long time to find a shampoo I liked. And so, to have made something myself is pretty fun.”
Having a passion and starting something new takes a lot of courage. Frech started something new without any assurance of success to pursue something she loves. Frech offered some advice to Goshen College students who are interested in pursuing a business: “I would say go for it. This is not the first business that I’ve tried to start. You’re going to have failures and that’s okay. Embrace those failures, don’t be afraid to fail. Just keep trying until you find something that sticks.”