Melissa Thomas

Founder/Director & Head Soap Maker
WASHPOOL SKIN WELLNESS

Location: Ballandean, Granite Belt Wine Country, Queensland

 

 

What made you decide to become a soap maker?

“Years ago when I was living on a remote cattle property with my Husband, Warren, and three daughters my parents visited and gave me a bar of handmade soap.

I noticed immediately that the ‘itchies’ stopped when I used this soap and I naturally flipped it over and looked at the wholesome ingredients. They were obviously worlds apart from the commercial products at the supermarket and, with a makers curiosity I wondered about the process.

Having an academic background I read everything I could about soap making and eventually gave it a go. Once the first batches were made I was hooked and it didn’t take long before friends and family were asking for some too.”

 

What did your introduction to soap making look like?

“I am a reader and researcher at heart and I also lived far away from anywhere I could learn, so I was self taught.

I purchased a few kits to get started and made plenty of mistakes along the way. Like cooking and many other creative pursuits there’s nothing like practice and experimentation to learn.”

 

Did you have a career before?

“I left school at junior and started full time employment in banking, but later completed high school at night school. After eight years in banking I had the results I needed to enter university and completed a Bachelor of Education with first class honours.

After beginning a PhD I was recruited to teach at a boys school in Brisbane before marrying and moving to a western Queensland cattle property at the age of 33. I regarded this as a career change and in amongst having kids and teaching distance education Warren and I applied ourselves to learning ruminant nutrition and grazing management.”

 

What does your day-to-day actually look like?

“Mornings are about catching up on emails, ordering raw materials, responding to customers and ensuring staff are clear about their direction for the day.

I’m still very hands on with production, especially soap making, so once oils, butters, essential oils and clays have been prepped I work with our head soap maker to produce around 1200 soap bars each soap making day.

Otherwise, I support staff in their various roles – packing orders, production, customer service and website maintenance, social media and newsletters.”

 

Do you have a favourite product, or one you are most excited about?

“Soap – without a doubt. 2020 will always be remembered as the year of an international pandemic – Covid-19. Education campaigns early in the year told us that the number one strategy for prevention of the spread of this potentially deadly virus was hand washing with soap. Until then many of us had assumed that soap simply washed germs away but the truth was actually more amazing. Due to its’ unique molecular structure, ordinary soap actually breaks down the outer shell of germs, effectively destroying them and then helping wash them away. ”

 

Do you have a favourite tool in your trade, that you just couldn’t live/work without?

“Ah, I wish I could say it was a piece of soap making equipment but it’s my computer that I couldn’t live without. They give us the connection we need to our customers, our suppliers, our freighters and our formulas that is so vital, especially for rural businesses like ours.

But if I did give the prize to a piece of workshop equipment it would be a stick blender – absolutely vital for mixing our soap. Hand mixing is certainly possible but it would take a very long time and I’d have one very strong arm. ”

 

What do you wish everyone knew about your soaps?

“It’s obvious to most people that all bread is not the same (there’s a spectrum from processed white through to organic sprouted long soaked sour dough) but I think it’s hard to communicate that, in the same way, all soap is not the same.

The reason we exist is to provide an alternative to commercial soap made with palm oil that dries the skin. Our formulas differ according to their purpose and have been developed in response to the needs of our wide variety of customers.”

 

When you’re not at the shop, what do you like to do out and about on the Granite Belt?

“This is a tricky question, as I don’t step away from the shop anywhere near as much as I should. I do love to walk at Girraween in the cooler months and enjoy eating out at some of the awesome restaurants and cafes in the region. ”

 

Where you’ll find Melissa…

Most days visitors will meet Melissa when they drop in to her store in Ballandean, 20 minutes south of Stanthorpe.  It’s a lovely spot to visit, with St Jude’s Cellar Door & Bistro just around the corner for a meal and a coffee.

 

…Find out more about Washpool Skin Wellness

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