A clean slate: After retirement, woman begins new career making soap

·3 min read

Mar. 26—ONA, W.Va. — A career discovered in retirement also keeps an ancient Appalachian art alive.

Janie Brownfield, owner of Brookstone Soaps, said she had husband, Ron, a physician, bought the business in 2018 from Dwight and Sharon McMillan.

"Sharon was a patient of Ron's and she would always bring him a bar of soap when she had an appointment and he loved it," Mrs. Brownfield explained. When they retired, Mrs. Brownfield said, her husband told her and they decided to buy the business, which they operate in a detached garage at their house.

She said they make soap the old-fashioned way, using the cold-press method with lye and water and then adding oils, fats and fragrances.

"You make them in 25-pound blocks and let them set at least overnight," Mrs. Brownfield said. "Then, cut them into loaves and then bars, and then cure them for three to six weeks."

While the process takes time, she said soaps remain harder than commercial soaps and they contain fewer chemicals. She said her husband recommends such natural soaps to his patients.

Soaps don't use animal fats.

"We use coconut and almond oils. It's all vegetable-based," she said.

Brookstone Soaps make other products, too, including poison ivy salve made from jewel weed, which traditionally is used to treat skin rashes and athlete's foot; dog shampoo and paw salve; lip balm, bath bombs, natural deodorant, headache salve, shaving soap, body butter, lotion bars and beard balm and oil.

"When we were at festivals, we had people ask about beard products so we started making them," Mrs. Brownfield said.

Although she said she always enjoyed crafts, Mrs. Brownfield said she had never made soap until they bought the business. She worked full-time for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine before retiring so she could have a more flexible schedule and spend time with her grandchildren.

It turns out, the soap business has required a commitment of time. She said she went to the home of the previous owners several times to learn how to make the products using their recipes.

"They had a daughter with eczema when she was pregnant, and they experimented with recipes to help her skin," she said. "They started giving products to their friends and neighbors and then taking their products to festivals and it grew from there."

Products are made with goat's milk and some are made with J.Q. Dickenson Salt, which is mined in Malden, West Virginia, from an ancient ocean trapped under the mountains in the Kanawha Valley. The business has been operated by the same family for seven generations.

Brownfield said the salt is used as an exfoliant in four or five soaps and in bath bombs. They also use a byproduct of salt mining called nigari.

"Nigari has minerals that are softening to the skin," she said. "That goes into the body butter. We have a neat little partnership."

Brownfield said she also enjoys relationships with customers.

"The biggest thing is how much people like it," she said. "It was already an established business, but it's nice when people really enjoy the soaps. It's good for your skin and I like the different fragrances."

Brownfield said internet sales have increased greatly since the pandemic began. Products also are available at The Wild Flower Gift Gallery in The Market in downtown Huntington; The Wild Ramp in the antique district in West Huntington; Drum Emporium's Healthy Life Market and Shipwreck, both at the Huntington Mall; and several stores outside the region.

(606) 326-2661 — lward@dailyindependent.com

Brookstone Soaps in Ona, W.Va., makes and sells soap, lip balm, shaving soaps and other product. The store is available on Facebook, by emailing brookstonesoaps@gmail.com or by calling call (304) 633-8128.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting