Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Shawnee from Alchemy & Ashes

When I was first learning to make soap, I stumbled upon the Alchemy & Ashes website and loved what I saw.  I thought the names that Shawnee had come up with for her products and the stories she gave with each was unique.
From the description of Nevermore, Lenore on Etsy:

"From my books surcease of sorrow
Sorrow for the lost Lenore
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore
Nameless here for evermore." ~ The Raven by Edgar Allen poe

Inspired by Poe's lost love in his poem, The Raven...this vegetable based cold process soap is made by hand in small batches using Cocoa Butter, Madder Root and Activated Charcoal for colorants, and scented with essential oils of Ylang Ylang, Pink Grapefruit, and Patchouli."

Since Shawnee was a great inspiration to me in my soaping adventures, I wanted to feature her on my blog and interview her so that you could be introduced to her works.  She graciously accepted when I asked!  Keep reading to find out about Shawnee and Alchemy & Ashes.

1) What do you make in your shop?
Shawnee:  Cold Process Soaps, Lip Balms, Eau de Parfums and Colognes, Perfumed Oils, and Solid Lotion Bars, all utilizing essential oils, herbs, and plant based oils. I also make occult items that I call "Arcana Artis" (Latin for "Mystical Arts") like Tarot Boxes, Rune Boxes and Runes, Witch Boxes, and Herb Cabinets - all made from upcycled and vintage materials.

2) What inspired you to do this?
Shawnee:  About 14 years ago, I decided to leave my job as a hairstylist to take care of my two sons. I had become really involved with Aromatherapy after reading Robert Tisserand's "The Art of Aromatherapy". To bridge the gap between where I had already been and where I wanted to go, I took an Herbal Cosmetology class. That led me to an apprenticeship under the teacher who was a Master Herbalist, who also happened to be a soapmaker. She made an awesome Bay Rum soap!

3) Do you feel there's something that differentiates you from other similar sellers on Etsy?
Shawnee:  I like to think that my essential oil blends are unique, not the typical scents you would find in most soaps. I also think the names of my products set them apart. All of my product names are inspired by history and myth, two things that keep me captivated. Those two things (scent and names) are what my customers comment on the most.

4) How long have you been making these items and how long have you been selling on Etsy?
Shawnee:  I've been making body products on and off since 2000, but I only opened my Etsy shop 2 years ago.

5) What has been your biggest struggle as a seller on Etsy?
Shawnee:  I think the biggest struggle in any market, especially one as saturated as the handmade soap market, is to set yourself apart - to offer something different. There's more than 100,000 handmade soap listings on Etsy, all competing for the same (or similar) customers. Some of us go the natural direction, while others go for artistic designs, or with fragrance or color as the main focus. There's definitely something for everybody. So coming up with a product or concept that doesn't seem the same as your competitors can be tough.

6) What has been your biggest accomplishment as a seller?
Shawnee:  I always consider it an accomplishment when I receive positive feedback and repeat sales! It's so important to me that people are happy with their purchases and their experience shopping with me.

7) What's one tip you'd give someone who is new to selling on Etsy?
Shawnee:  If I have to narrow it down to only one tip, it would be to "sell your heart". Anyone who handcrafts a product that they love puts a piece of their heart into everything they make. There's no other way to do it for me. Love what you make, and no matter what it is, someone else will love it too. Other people will see that you put your heart into it, and they'll feel it too - the way you describe it in your listing will convey that. I'll never sell (or make) something that I don't love. It just wouldn't work for me, no matter how profitable it was.

8) What's your favorite piece in your shop right now?
Shawnee:  I really love my Eau de Parfums. Lately I've been wearing my "Soothsayer" Eau de Parfum and getting lots of compliments from both women and men. When it appeals to both, I know it's good.

9)  What is your favorite product to make?
Shawnee:  This may be a strange analogy, but I would equate Perfume with my heart, and Soap with my brain - both very important parts of me, but sometimes one wins out over the other. Soap works as a medium for my first love - essential oils. And while I love formulating soap recipes that will be gentle and luxurious on the skin, my inspiration almost always starts with the fragrance.  I know it's very hard for someone to purchase a fragrance online based on my description, because we all pick up different elements from the same scent. I may smell the complexities of each ingredient, while you may only smell the synergistic blend of all the ingredients. Fragrance is a very personal choice, and for a multitude of reasons. It's mysterious, elusive, intangible - but it's also provocative and passionate, and very real. It's magic. It's alchemy.

Here are a few of my favorite thing srom Alchemy & Ashes on Etsy:

If you would like to see more of Shawnee's products check out her Etsy shop or like Alchemy & Ashes on Facebook.

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