Glacial silt helps Juneau woman sell soap

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- If Stacie Varner has learned anything in her 17 months owning a business in Juneau, it's that business people have to be thick-skinned.

''Smooth-skinned, but thick,'' she said.

Smooth skin is something Varner, the owner of a handmade-soap company that uses glacial silt as an exfoliate, knows well. Thick skin is something she's acquired after 1 1/2 years in the soap-making business, an industry she said is ''really competitive'' in Juneau.

''It's not that difficult to make soap, but the kinds of soaps you can make, the possibilities are endless,'' Varner said.

She taught herself to make soap from the Internet and books. She crafted her ''original'' scented bar, with white and green layers reminiscent of an iceberg, before opening Glacier Smoothie in August 2001.

''It was hit-and-miss,'' Varner said. ''I experimented a lot and finally came up with what I felt was a good product.''

The soap debuted at a craft fair in 2001. While the fragrances Varner has developed for her soaps keep people returning to buy more, she said, the silt in every bar makes the soap unique.

''As far as I know, we're the only glycerin soap with silt in it,'' Varner said. The soap is ''patent pending,'' a label she hopes to change to ''patented'' within the next couple of months.

Varner freely describes her soaps but is less eager to discuss how she developed the fragrances, where she gets her glacier silt, or how she makes the soap.

''They're trade secrets,'' she said.

She did reveal that she heats all of the silt used in her soaps to a high temperature, even though it is not required by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency that approved her soap for commercial sale.

''We just want everything to be pure,'' she said.

After heating the silt, she hand-sifts it to ensure its fineness.

''The silt has an exfoliating quality about it, but because the silt is so fine, you don't feel it happening,'' she said. ''It sort of polishes your skin.''

Her soaps have names such as ''Gold Panner's Girlfriend,'' ''Fireweed Fluff'' and ''Arctic Entry.''

''Lemon Creek,'' a lemon-scented soap, has a translucent yellow band running through an opaque yellow bar of soap. ''Sandy Beach Sunrise'' is a blend of yellows and oranges that smells like grapefruit. ''Dividend Dreams'' is the color of money and smells like a tropical beach.

''I just name them names that I think are funny, basically, or if they have a funny meaning to me,'' Varner said. ''Like Dividend Dreams. Every year my husband and I get out (permanent fund) dividends and think, 'Let's get out of here,' and then we pay bills with it. It's like an inside joke.''

Fragrances for the soap were developed through ''sniff testing'' that Varner performed on her family and friends.

She makes the soap in her home. One batch takes four or five hours and produces 100 4 1/2-ounce bars.

She has to find time to make soap while raising three daughters, the youngest of whom is three weeks old, and working her other job as a medical transcriptionist for two local doctors.

''I'll sleep when I retire,'' she said.

She said her husband, Jack and other family members and friends help her ''multitask.'' Her mother, Pat Stringer, keeps the business' books.

Her company has no employees, but that may change with the upcoming tourist season, when Alaska-made products enjoy an increase in sales.

Glacier Smoothie is featured in a downtown gift store. Varner also sells the soap on her Web site, with one added benefit for locals: She offers free delivery to Juneau residents.


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