Today I am so excited to share with you my interview with the incredibly inspiring Rachel Winard; founder of the natural beauty brand Soapwalla. Rachel tells us all about her background, exciting career path, and why the discovery of an illness really made her re-evaluate what she wanted to do with her life.
Hi Rachel! When did you decide to create Soapwalla and why?
I started playing violin when I was 4 years old, and became serious about it quickly. I left the music world at 19, got an undergraduate degree in political theory, and ended up at Columbia Law School (long story!). During my first year of law school I got very sick. Overnight I went from being perfectly healthy to having all sorts of medical conditions crop up.
It took a year, but I was finally diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus for short). It is a chronic autoimmune illness that has varied symptoms but nearly always affects the skin, as it’s our largest organ. Like others who suffer from lupus, I get terrible skin rashes, hives, and irritated skin patches. When it was at its worst, I could barely use water on my skin without irritation.
The concept for Soapwalla was born one late night in early 2002. After months of unsuccessfully hunting for face and body products that wouldn’t aggravate my sensitive skin. I tried everything on the market I could find without any luck, and finally decided to start making my own products that were as healthy and wholesome as possible. The product line for Soapwalla grew from there.
My guiding principle when I first started formulating, and our overarching philosophy still is: ‘The skin is our largest organ and for it to function at its best, we must feed it wholesome ingredients. If I refuse to put something in my body, I don’t want to put it on my body.’
I graduated from law school in 2004 and practiced land use and zoning law at 2 large NYC firms for four years. In 2006 I had a health crisis – I was on chemotherapy to try to get my illness under control, with little success. I left for India for four months to see an Ayurvedic doctor in Mysore (in the state of Karnataka). We worked together every day for those 4 months and he got me feeling better than I had in years.
When I returned to NYC, I knew my days at the law firm were numbered; the stress was just too much for my fragile immune system. I left the law in June 2008, struggled for a year and a half to figure out what I was going to do next. During this time, friends and family gently prodded me to sell my beloved skincare products to the public. I premiered Soapwalla on Dec 1, 2009 and we just celebrated our 7th birthday!
What really sets Sopawalla apart from the competition?
I am diligent about sourcing raw materials as I figure our products are only as good as the ingredients we use. I spend a good amount of time researching and forming relationships with farmers and suppliers for our materials. This means I know exactly how the ingredients are grown and harvested, how the soil and workers are taken care of. And also how the materials are pressed/extracted/processed/packaged; with everything from soup to nuts. It makes my job so much more fulfilling to really understand the entire lifespan of each ingredient we use.
What has been the general reaction and feedback to your products from customers?
We have amazing customers. I get hand-written letters from folks and feel like I have a real and personal relationship with my clientele.
There’s nothing like receiving a note from a customer telling me how our products have changed their lives. I still tear up when I think of the clients who feel comfortable in their skin for the first time in years thanks to Soapwalla. Or the customer who used our Comfort Bath Salts and Original Luxurious Body Oil religiously to combat the debilitating pain associated with endometriosis, and how overjoyed she was when she had a pain-free month. THIS is why I do what I do.
Why was it important to produce all natural products?
I approach skincare the way I approach food. As I said above, our products are only as good as the ingredients we use. We focus on utilising natural ingredients for Soapwalla. Which for us means that we don’t use synthetic ingredients like petrochemical by-products, parabens, phthalates, etc. This is because I’ve found natural ingredients to be more effective at treating the underlying skin conditions I’m formulating for. As well as being better for the environment and more pleasant to work with. It’s a win-win-win.
What’s your favourite Soapwalla product?
(1) Our Deodorant Creams, because they work! (I also love the smell and application method.) (2) Restorative Face Serum, it’s so soothing doesn’t exacerbate my lupus-related skin sensitivities. (3) Luxurious Body Oils, because the scents are absolutely luscious, the oils feel like liquid velvet, and they instantly absorb into the skin!
What’s your average day like?
I get up between 4 and 5am, make myself a cup of coffee, and answer emails for an hour or so. I love the early morning hours to get this done! It means I can have a solid chunk of uninterrupted time to really focus on answering questions in a thoughtful way.
Then I shower and either practice yoga or get in a boxing session (my two physical passions). After that, I head to work, eat breakfast (oatmeal these days), and I handle whatever the day has in store for me. This can range from meetings, phone calls, production, checking in with retailers and suppliers.
I try to head out of the office between 3 and 4pm, and walk home (20 minutes or so). I’ll often stop by a market to pick up items for dinner (I nearly always skip lunch, not on purpose but because I get so involved with my work that I forget to eat). I head home and prep dinner and we generally eat by 6pm.
I answer more emails until 8pm, watch some television or read, and then go to sleep by 9pm. I’m strict about that. I need a solid 7-8 hours of sleep a night to keep my health in check and to feel like a human.
Do you think you have a work/life balance?
I try, but it’s always a give and take. There are times of the year (like holiday season) where I work every day for a few weeks straight. It’s simply the nature of the job. As a counter-balance, I take a week off in January, completely unplug, and hang out on the beach!
What’s the best part of your job?
Interacting with the Soapwalla customers. Definitely.
What words do you live by?
Two quotes: (1) “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? by Mary Oliver, and (2) “Do No Harm but Take No Shit.?
If you enjoyed the interview with Rachel just as much as I did, and are interested in the Soapwalla philosophy check out the brand and its products here.
All images via Rachel Winard.