The smell of success wafts from new local soap businessPublished 12:55am Sunday, March 17, 2013
The first thing passers-by will notice about Scent from Natchez is, well, the scent.
Located at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Woodlawn Avenue, the shop has a sign out front but doesn’t stand out too much from other buildings in the area. Twenty feet from the front door, however, close your eyes and take even a small whiff, and nothing in the area compares.
Standing on the sidewalk, the casual nose will catch an aroma that’s part warm church in winter and part therapeutic spring garden. There are hints of sandalwood, eucalyptus and lavender. It’s a good smell.
The scents of Scent from Natchez have been hanging around that intersection for a couple of months, ever since Ann Heard opened the hand-crafted soap shop there with her parents, Renza and Jonathan Grennell.
The all-natural soaps are based from coconut, plum, olive and castor oils, and are scented with essential oils, which are distilled from plants and are often used for medicinal purposes.
And some of the soaps can be used as a kind of holistic, natural medicine, Renza said, citing the use of the eucalyptus soap as effective in helping open congested sinuses.
Some soaps just smell good, and some — for example, the grits and coffee soap — work well as an exfoliating agent for those who want fresh, soft skin.
And others, including the Neem Coal bars made with activated bamboo charcoal or the soaps made with tea tree oil, are good for just getting really clean.
But the potential medicinal use of the soap was where the shop found its genesis. Several children in Heard’s extended family were dealing with eczema, she said, and after consulting with her brother Darryl Grennell — who is a biologist — about what oils might be used to treat it, she started making soap for the family.
“Ever since we were little children, my mother and grandmother taught us how to make soap, so I would start making it for the kids,” Heard said.
“Eventually, our friends found out about it. They would come through the house and see the soap, and we would say, ‘Take a bar home,’ and they would all say that our soap feels so good. We were giving away so much of it we thought we could sell it.”
And the word from Heard’s friends was that they would buy it.
“I have had a few people tell me they have actually gotten back in the bath after using this soap,” she said.
Before the soaps ever hit the shelf, they go through a research and development phase. The researchers in this case will be family members, between 15 and 20 total, Heard said.
“First we make some new soaps, and then we will all take baths with it,” Heard said. “After that, we all sit around and discuss how we feel about it, the whole family.”
The latest test soap is a simple cleansing agent with a loofa sponge in its center. Heard had a few bars in the store, but didn’t want to put them out for sale until her dedicated testers have given their approval.
The children of the family also give input on what scents they think should be associated with a given soap, and many of the bars in the store have names that reflect a child’s influence on its final recipe — one bar, “Just-in,” was name for a boy named Justin.
As the soaps are being crafted, Heard said she sometimes has to work to find a scent that will complement what she is trying to do with the soap.
“Sometimes you really have to mix scents to get the smell you really want,” she said. “For example, lavender is really pungent, and what most people know (as lavender scent) is probably not real lavender. I had to cut it a little with some citrus smell, and I think what we have now is a really pretty scent.”
Other soaps are made from old recipes. One dark-red offering in the store came from a method using wine that Renza said her mother used when soap making wasn’t so much a hobby as it was just a part of life.
And for those who are sensitive to strong smells, the shop offers an unscented honey-based bar.
The soaps are made in logs, and once they finish curing, Jonathan uses a special slicing tool he created to ensure each bar is the same size and weight. Depending on which essential oil was used, the bars are sold for $4 and $5.
Heard said the uncut logs can also be purchased, and that the shop will make soap baskets with an assortment of bars for those who want them.
Scent from Natchez is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.