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Malibu couple crafts artisan soaps from home

Alison Richarson smiles while placing freshly made on drying racks in her soap kitchen. Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Pictured are leftover slices of Surfer Suds soap among a measuring tape and cutting tool.
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
4:58 pm PDT August 12, 2014

To her husband, Gary, Alison Richardson’s propensity for experimentation is innate. 

“I had a little inkling that she was a chemist in another life,” Gary said. “I’ve been the tester for everything so far; food, facials, all kinds of stuff. She has a special talent for it.”

In many ways, Alison is a chemist. Donning a white overcoat, reminiscent of laboratory garb, Alison dashes and dabs, mixes and morphs until she has created the ideal combination. The only thing missing from this chemist’s concoctions are chemicals. 

Alison — backed by her partner and resident tester and craftsperson, Gary — has created Soap the Earth, a line of handmade vegan soaps and skincare products all from their Sequit Falls home in western Malibu. 

The idea originally came to Alison, a certified esthetician, when she was hit was a debilitating sickness 15 years ago.

“I was bed-ridden and couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Alison said. “That’s when I started really cleaning the house and cleaning our lifestyle. I went vegan and got rid of all the chemicals.”

The grapefruit trees on the couple’s 8-acre property then became the inspiration for Alison’s first soap. Her menu of products now boasts 21 different varieties of bar soaps, along with lotions and baby products.

“I started just selling to my clients who came for massages or facials; that really was our intent,” Alison said. “Our growth has been organic in every way.”

Soap the Earth is now available at Malibu’s Vintage Grocers in the Trancas Country Market, select locations in Westlake Village and online via the couple’s website or through Etsy. Despite the growing demand, though, Alison and Gary have no plans to change the homegrown, family-run nature of their business. In keeping with the handmade nature of their products, down to the cutting and packaging techniques, the Richardson’s value the human element of the process above all else. 

“One advantage of staying small — just the two of us — is that we’re on the other end of the phone or the email when a customer places an order; we have the flexibility to personalize and customize everything,” Gary said. “We’re not automated in any way.”

Since stocking Vintage Grocers with their products, the Richardsons have seen an interesting and encouraging spike in their business, as well.

“We’ve watched our Internet traffic and seen a lot more visitors to the site who are in Malibu,” Alison said. “That’s exciting for us. Malibu has that small town feel and we want the people here — our neighbors — to feel connected to a product that’s made locally.”

Many of the ingredients used in Alison’s soaps are grown on the couple’s property, and Alison has even taken to growing her own loofahs to place in the gift baskets and party favors they sell. Alison has also integrated her mother, stationed across the pond in Alison’s hometown in England, into the business; she provides hand-knitted toy monkeys for Alison to nestle in her Mommy & Me baskets. 

“There’s something about sourcing items that have real value to them,” Alison said. 

The duo are constantly developing new and innovative ways to utilize their land and talents to better their products. 

Gary, who is a woodworker, designer and craftsman by trade, applied his strengths to the business by building Alison her very own soap kitchen, right next door to his wood workshop. Tucked away in an idyllic enclave off of Mulholland Highway, the pair stroll to work together every morning, just a short jaunt down the hill from the house that Gary designed and built decades ago.

“I think we’re the luckiest people in the world because we enjoy each other’s company so much,” Gary said. “We spur each other onto new heights.”

“We have a really killer commute in the morning,” Alison said, laughing.    

For more information Soap the Earth, visit www.soaptheearth.com