Woman's goat's milk soap finds worldwide market

Sunday, February 24, 2008
By J. Jude Hazard ( Contact )
Gazette Reporter

MECHANICVILLE — Maryclaire Mayes knew right away that she was onto something when she started using goat milk to make bars of soap in her basement 10 years ago.

At first, Mayes gave the bars to friends and family for Christmas. People liked the soap so much that she decided to start selling it, and Alabu Soap was born in 2000.

Eight years later, the company sells most of its soap over the Internet to customers from 28 different countries. Mayes estimated that Alabu sells about 2,000 bars of soap every month from that same shop in her Mechanicville basement.

“I find it very satisfying because I have a business where my job is to please other people,” she said in a recent interview. “I just feel like I'm helping them simplify their lives by giving them a natural product.”

About one-third of each bar of Alabu soap is goat milk, and the bulk of the other two-thirds is a mixture of olive oil, coconut oil and soy oil. A small amount of essential oil, cocoa butter and castor oil is also added to create fragrance and a soft texture.

Mayes mixes together the oils with lye and goat's milk, stirring until it has the right consistency. The bars are then molded and cut. It takes about four weeks for the soap to dry before it can be packaged for sale.

Mayes buys about 16 gallons of goat milk a month from local farmer Kris Brock. Each bar of soap requires about one ounce of milk.

Science project

Mayes' first batch of soap was about nine bars that dried on paper bags as part of a science project that Brock suggested for Mayes and her home-schooled children.

The company's production capacity has since increased with the help of Mayes' son, Hal, who created a system using large pots to mix and stir the soap. Now the company can make 315 bars in every batch.

Brock uses the soap herself and also occasionally helps wrap the soap.

“I go away on business meeting sometimes and I forgot to bring it with me one time,” she said. “My skin just felt nasty. I try to bring it with me all the time now.”

Local Alabu customer Rosemary Lussier says the goat's milk soap helps keep her skin moisturized and healthy. The Halfmoon resident buys the soap for her family and said her husband also uses it as shampoo.

“I have tried virtually every soap on the market. I'm a soap junkie,” Lussier said. “Nothing compares to [Alabu].”

Lussier said that her husband had problems with dry skin in the past but hasn't had any issues since he started using Alabu.

“We absolutely die if we run out of it,” she added. “It's a super product. It doesn't surprise me at all that it's taken off as well as it has.”

Although Alabu still sells to local customers, Mayes said that the company is now focusing on selling on the Internet and to grocery stores. Mayes plans to move the company into a new building within the next two years.

“People are wanting to get away from chemicals and [move toward] more natural products, and this really hits that and it really gives them good results,” Mayes said. “I think the more stores we get into it's just going to get out there and it's going to be very popular.”

Local focus

One of Alabu's new customers is Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany. Assistant Manager Mitchell Liberman said that the full-service grocery store tries to focus on local businesses.

“There's this movement to try to consume within a 100-mile radius as much as possible specifically to cut down on transportation and use of petroleum,” he said. “If people want to see small-scale local enterprise, which everybody claims they want to see, then they need to support it.”

A large part of Alabu's business is outside of New York, though.

On Tuesday, part-time employee Stacey Fitzsimmons was wrapping some of the 3,000 bars of soap that are going to be shipped to Saudi Arabia later this month for a wholesale order. Employees use coffee filters to wrap the soap before sealing the bar with a sticker bearing the company's logo.

“I'm a teenage girl, so I've tried a lot of stuff,” Fitzsimmons said. “If I'm in the shower, I make sure I have a bar of Alabu.”

Another customer is Laurie Van Luevender, who lives in New Baltimore, Mich., near Ann Arbor. Luevender said she found the Alabu Web site five or six years ago while researching goat milk soap. Her 13-year-old daughter has skin that becomes dry and itchy very easily.

“Nothing was working,” Luevender said. “Finally I said, ‘All right, I give up, I'm going to try this lady's stuff.' The rest has been history. It changed my daughter's skin.”

Luevender said her family uses about four bars of Alabu soap every month and that she keeps a stock of at least 30 bars at home.

“Within a week after using her soap, my daughter's skin went just from where she scratched until it bled to being able to stop scratching,” she said. “This has taken care of what medical ointments have not taken care of.”

Mayes said that she has read other similar stories from satisfied customers.

“We were really overwhelmed in the beginning when we got our Web site,” she said. “People started writing us and telling us that this had changed their life.”

Alabu has over 50 different fragrances of soap and each bar costs about $4. The company also makes lip balm, lotion, and shaving soap.

For information, visit the Web site at www.alabu.com or call 665-0411.