Madison Monday: All Good Things Soaps and Such

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It’s a chemical world out there. There are chemicals in your food, in your water, in your napkins, in your cleaning products, in your deodorant. You get washed and powdered in chemicals from the moment you’re born and pumped full of them after you die. We live a chemical life, as is demonstrated by the fact that a 2003 Mount Sinai Hospital study found at least 91 different chemical pollutants in the bodies of nine volunteers, an average of 53 cancer-causing chemicals, 62 neurotoxins, 53 immune system disrupters, 55 that cause birth defects and 34 that damage hearing.

Scary stuff, but in the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should confess at this point that my father is actually a research chemist, and chemicals (specifically the ones that go into the plastic lining in diapers and feminine napkins) funded my education and gave me the boost up in life that allows me to now spend countless hours writing blog entries in our local coffee shop. Like many Americans, I’m leading the good life thanks, in part, to chemicals.

As unhappy as it might make my father, though, it sometimes makes me uneasy, thinking about the chemical barrage that is modern life. If you want to take a break from chemicals of the artificial kind in Madison, All Good Things is a good place to start.

If you’ve walked down Main St. in Madison in the past two years, you’ll know All Good Things as the source of the bubbles drifting down the street, a perk which my stepdaughter especially appreciates. All Good Things is owned and run by Sonia and Larry Folkner and their two sons. The Folkner’s have lived in Canaan, which is just up the road from Madison, for almost 20 years, where in addition to making soap, they raise grass fed Angus cattle. If soap’s not particularly your thing, you can also buy some of their beef at the store or at the farmer’s market in Madison on Saturday’s. Their hamburgers were a hit at our local dinner for Foodstock a few weeks ago, and are also chemical-free. Soon, they’ll be expanding into Longhorn cattle, as well, if you’re into a rangier, lower cholesterol option.

Larry and Sonia
But most of what you’ll find in All Good Things are all natural body care products. Sonia began making soap because of her interest in essential oils. An essential oil is essentially a distilled solution of some aroma compounds from plants. I use eucalyptus essential oil drops in hot water for steam treatments (great for sinus congestion and pressure). Essential oils are all natural, made from some part of the plant product, and because all of the soaps at All Good Things are made with essential oils, you won’t find any artificially flavored products.
Sonia can tell you about when she first started making soap, and did use artificial scents. She spilled some artificial honeysuckle flavor on her arm one day, and thought how great it would be to smell like honeysuckle all day. By the afternoon, she was feeling sick. Did the artificial honeysuckle make her sick? I can’t say for sure, but there’s a power to the logic of the idea that there are things our bodies are probably accustomed to smelling, and things that are bodies aren’t really accustomed to smelling. And that maybe we’re more likely to tolerate natural smells than we are artificial ones. So, no strawberry or raspberry flavored soap at All Good Things, because you can’t make an essential oil from those particular plants.

Instead, you get soaps like my personal favorite, Lemongrass Sage, or Dark Chocolate, Black Licorice, Lovely Lavender, Gentle Chamomile, May Chang (from a flowering Asian tree), Orange Twist, Peppermint Eucalyptus, or even Pine Tar. Not all of them are scents you’d necessarily expect from a bar of soap, but let me tell you that you just have to take a whiff to be converted.

Personally, I was never much of a soap person in the past, and definitely not all natural soaps. After my first round teaching Environmental Sociology a few years ago, I made the conversion to more all natural cleaners. I compost, recycle, and filter my water. But my environmental consciousness stopped at the bathroom door until I stepped into All Good Things.

In the past, I’ve had bad experiences with all natural soap. Some left a icky residue, some didn’t quite foam up, and one in particular actually left red stains on my skin, which was not really I was looking for in a soap. But having already sampled several of the Body, Hair and Linen Spray’s from All Good Things, I thought I might as well give the soap a whirl, and am so glad I did. Of course their soap smells great, and the bars look beautiful. They’re cut with rough edges that are usually sprinkled with whatever the main ingredients in the soap are…chocolate, lemongrass, lavender, or even coffee beans or cornmeal. What I wasn’t expecting was how nice the soap feels. All Good Things soap feels good, forms a nice lather, and leaves you feeling just clean, which in my mind, is how soap should leave you feeling.

That they make a good product is just one reason to feel good about buying from All Good Things. All the body care products made by Sonia and Larry in All Good Things are all natural. The soaps are made with combinations of palm, coconut, olive, and rice bran oils along with essential oils. Everything is made right there in the shop downtown by Sonia, Larry or other family members. So All Good Things is both local and family-owned.

All Good Things is also environmentally responsible in their packaging. The paper labels on their soaps are made from recycled paper. More recently, Sonia and Larry switched to biodegradable plastic wrap around the soaps. It costs a little extra, but Sonia thought it didn’t make sense to be making all natural soap and then wasting a lot of plastic to wrap them up, and she could afford to pay extra for the biodegradable wrap while still making a profit.

In the envrionmental sociology course I teach, we often wrestle with the conflicts between preserving the environment and making a buck. There’s a theory in environmental sociology that argues that capitalism is inherently destructive of the environment. If you want to save the planet, you have to get rid of capitalism. And I don’t know, maybe that’s around the corner. Capitalism certainly doesn’t seem to be working particularly well, lately.

There’s another theory that argues that capitalism can be compatible with preserving the environment and our natural resources. It just needs some…tweaking. Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine exactly what that tweaking might look like, but All Good Things gives me some idea. Sure, the Folkner family wants to make money and support themselves. But they have other goals as well. To produce healthy products that don’t cause any harm to the people who use them or the environment. To start small and go from there. To be members of their community. Sonia’s favorite part of making the soap is hearing the stories folks tell when they come back in the store or e-mail them. The stories about how Lemongrass Sage has the added benefit of keeping bugs away, or Little White Lye’s success at preventing poison ivy, how the Pine Tar soap cleared up a skin condition, or just the comfort of being able to use a product on your skin without having to worry about which of those 91 chemicals it might be adding to your body. What would it be like to live in a town peopled with businesses like All Good Things? Or a country? Or a world? Well, I know for sure it would certainly be a better smelling world.
All Good Things sells all of their products online at their website, if you’re not so lucky as to live in Madison. In addition to soaps and body spray’s, they sell bath bombs (very enjoyable for those moments when you can manage to lock husbands, children, and cats out of your bathroom for a long, hot soak), bath salts, bath muffins, shea butters, massage oils (which I have also sampled during my monthly massage, at Eco-Massage), perfumes, powders, facial care and lip balm products, and shaving soaps for men.

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Comments

  1. When LASS next visits Madison, I totally want to go here.

  2. Wonderful blog post — I appreciate your fair-minded mix of self awareness and product review. I really need to visit Madison someday — it seems a bit like a Midwestern Cambridge (or what I'd like Cambridge to be!). I've not had much luck with natural soaps either — similar experiences to yours. However, a local oil-based perfumery converted me to that rather than alcohol-based perfumes, so what you recounted re: natural/artificial scents quite resonated!

  3. Sandi, definitely on the agenda for the next LASS visit. I thought about you the first time I went in there and when I bought my bath bombs.

    Audra, oh, that's lovely. Madison: Cambridge of the Midwest. Perhaps that can become our marketing slogan.

  4. @Robyn — my mom lives in Asheville, NC which locals like to describe as the Paris of the South. It is pretty artsy and lovely.

  5. Valerie Shafer says:

    I have visited this store a few times, and LOVE the products! Thank you for doing our bodies good! :-). Hope to see you again soon!

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