Soap-making as an art: Local artisans present at “Cinco Dias con Nuestra Tierra”

By: Edna I. Cruz Reyes

March 27, 2012

Mariela Robles' artisan booth sells a variety of natural soaps and hand creams. Her small enterprise, Sofimar, caters to a variety of clients from tourists to locals.

Reminiscent of a bazaar, the local fair was filled with booths featuring local products, ranging from produce and candy to artistic creations done by artisans. The big tents were filled with people who gathered around these booths to appreciate the work these artisans had done. The air was filled with the succulent smell of food from nearby carts, mixed with the aroma of natural candles and soaps from different vendors.

During the week of March 13 to 17, the grounds beside the Mangual Coliseum at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez Campus (UPRM) were transformed into the annual fair “Cinco Dias con Nuestra Tierra” (Spanish for “Five Days with Our Land”).The fair offers the opportunity for local vendors and artisans to sell their products. Among these artisans were many local soap-makers who had the opportunity to present and sell their natural products.

Mariela Robles, a local crafter of natural soaps and owner of Sofimar, expressed enthusiasm as clients smelled her variety of soaps and asked questions about the benefits they provided. She explained, “My soaps are completely hand-made and have moisturizing properties for the skin.”

When asked if people supported the local artisan market, she answered, “Indeed! Local consumers buy my products, but I receive a greater support from the tourists who are very eager to buy local products.”

Soap-making is considered an art by itself. Creating soap from scratch is no easy task, since it consists of using the science of chemistry to create it. The basic process of soap making consists of combining an acid (oils) with an alkali (sodium hydroxide). This process is known as saponification.

The process of soap-making (upper picture) requires the use of carefully measured ingredients to produce an excellent quality batch of soap. The final result (lower picture) is sold not only as a natural product, but also as an artistic creation. Pictures by: Angelina (upper) and Kathy Miller (lower).

It may seem an easy process, but these oils have to be measured in weight, and the quantity of sodium hydroxide or lye is established according to the quantity of oil and the saponification value of each. These values are standard for each different type of oil, and they can be found in any soap-making book or online database.

After completing the saponification process, the artisan adds color, essential oils or any additive, such as honey or oatmeal, to the mixture. The soap mix is then placed in molds; these can be made of wood or heat-resistant plastic. The molded mix has to be covered and placed at room temperature in a dry place for a minimum of 24 hours.

When the mix has settled in the mold for over a day, it should be removed and cut into approximately one-inch bars. These bars are left to dry at room temperature in a cool and dry place that contains no humidity. They should be left drying for approximately 4 weeks, so the bar can harden properly, and no traces of humidity is left in them.

Soap making can be viewed as a chemistry class by itself. In fact, an organic chemistry laboratory experiment at the UPRM consists of making soap as part of the class curriculum.

Another local artisan that was selling natural soaps at the fair, among other natural products, was Alexis Sotomayor. He is a Chemical Engineering graduate from UPRM, and has been in the soap making business for over 10 years.

Alexis Sotomayor, the owner of Caribbean Soaps, attends the fair every year to sell his products. A UPRM graduate, he used his knowledge as a chemical engineer to create his own business, which has been successful.

As he expressed: “I have been in this business for over ten years. I started out in my garage and eventually managed to find a permanent locale for my business.”

Alexis does not limit his craft to soaps making, he also makes hand creams, ointments, and massage candles, among many other natural products. In fact, he was awarded by the local magazine Natural Awakenings the Local Product of the Year Award in 2011.

Caribbean Soaps, Alexis’ business, has the web page http://www.CaribbeanSoaps.com, where their products can be ordered online. Also, his store can be visited at 1655 Paraná Street in Paradise Hills, San Juan; the phone number is (787) 754-4561.

As for Sofimar, Mariela’s business, has a permanent booth in the Barceloneta Outlets. Or she can be contacted at her phone number (787) 444-4197, where mail orders can be made.

Whenever you wish to pamper yourself and indulge in the gifts of nature, go visit a local artisan, or experiment on the wonderful craft of soap-making.

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6 Comments

  1. marie0825 said,

    April 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm04

    Great Feature!!!

  2. DyanneMarie said,

    April 16, 2012 at 12:00 am04

    Very interesting topic! It is different, delightfull & very interesting…. It is important to make people know more about puertorican artisans and their work.

    Love it! 🙂

  3. lauramena13 said,

    April 25, 2012 at 12:00 am04

    very interesting in the form that the information is organized. love the pictures !

  4. karimar120 said,

    April 27, 2012 at 12:00 am04

    A great way to look more into the event. Really good idea of writting a feature about one of the artisans.

  5. reyesfernando said,

    May 15, 2012 at 12:00 am05

    Very good like all your descriptiion. I did know that making soups require all that work. I enjoy reading your feature story !


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