Anyone acquainted with the beauty industry knows there’s a myriad of odd – sometimes extreme – ingredients, from snail slime to gold leaf, that are said to do wonders for the skin. But in Sitka, one woman is going back to the basics, harnessing the power of her barnyard pets to make luxury soap.
It’s a cool summer morning on Etolin Street and like most days, I’ve come to milk two of Sitka’s resident goats: Sunny and Tonya.
Goats are rare in Southeast Alaska, as well as statewide. In fact, there’s only one USDA certified goat dairy in the entire state. But this milk isn’t going to be made into cheese or put on cereal. Soon it will be a bar of soap.
“I don’t have any soaps that don’t use goat milk,” says Evening Star Grutter.
Grutter is the founder of Evening Star Soaps and Salves. The Sitka-based business sells an array of handcrafted goods, but Eve Grutter’s artisanal goat milk soap is the real star of the show. It’s been suggested that goat milk’s beneficial properties are due to its high vitamin A and lactic acid content, along with being antimicrobial.
“Goat milk adds lather and some soothing properties for the skin,” explains Grutter.
You wouldn’t know it now, but it was only a year ago that Grutter sold her first bar of soap. Like many businesses created in the height of the pandemic, Evening Star Soaps and Salves was born out of necessity. Having left commercial fishing, and as a newly-single mom, Grutter needed a new plan.
“Maybe Covid is part of why it happened because I couldn’t go out and get a different job,” she muses. “Childcare is really difficult too. And I really, really needed something that I could do, and be a stay-at-home mom.”
The idea came to her after a friend offered to give her free life coaching sessions.
“We brainstormed a bunch of different things I could do for income. I went and chose to learn about soap and to go into making soap because everybody washes,” she laughs. “And it was rather humble start with that thought, and now it’s turned into a luxury soap.”
When I meet Grutter, she’s in her basement which doubles as a soap laboratory, making a fresh batch of dandelion, lemon, and clove soap.
“Part of my basement is now child play area. And the rest of its rapidly being taken over by soap making, soap curing, and soap packaging,” Grutter said. “Soap soap soap everywhere. It’s turned into a micro soap factory.”
The soap making process is long, and at times, scientific.
“It’s chemistry. You’ve got your base and your acid, and you add the base to the acid. And the result makes the crystal which is soap,” explains Grutter. “Soap is a crystalline structure, and the goat milk and water are necessary to dissolve the base so that it can react with the oil.”
Grutter measures out coconut oil and mango butter with precision, adding to the perfume of essential oils already permeating the room. Once all the elements are melted and mixed, she pours the sweet smelling concoction into a mold to set for six weeks. Grutter sells her soaps locally and online. Her bars are on bathroom sinks and kitchen counters as far away as Japan. But while Grutter’s soap has evolved to include an array of specialty butters and oils, many of her first products were inspired by the medicinal plants of Alaska.
“I harvested some Devil’s club and infused some oils and made some soap. And it smelled like Devil’s club and I was really happy with that,” Grutter recalls. “And then the neighbors cut down a spruce tree. And I thought, you know that spruce smells really nice. I’m gonna go try some spruce needles. Spruce is like a northern worldwide medicinal plant.”
For now, Grutter’s hopes are humble. While she’s returning to occasional commercial fishing, Grutter comes clean, and admits that she has gone too far into soap to ever want to slip back.