An Interview With Natural Deodorant Wizard Rachel Winard of Soapwalla

Rachel Winard makes a line of natural beauty products called Soapwalla, and one of those products is a natural deodorant that changed my life. Is there a way to say that without sounding like a crazy person? I don’t know, but it’s true. Apply directly to the armpit, apply directly to the armpit.

I’d wanted to avoid the aluminum in traditional deodorants/antiperspirants (even though it’s not scientifically proven to be harmful), and because I am a sweaty, smelly person, I’d been looking for a good, actually functional natural deodorant for years. (I found one that was all right, and have chronicled my obsession on this website.) But nothing was quite the baby-bear porridge of natural deodorants, until the lovely Emily Gould mentioned Soapwalla in a blog post last year.

I ordered it from Etsy (it’s $12), applied it (it’s a nice, unisex-smelling peppermint-lavender clay-cream), and haven’t smelled bad since, as far as I can tell. It is extraordinary. I know these things don’t always work for everyone — different bodies, different personal chemistries — but the handful of people I’ve shared it with have had the same reaction (e.g., “I am wearing this deodorant at this very moment sitting at my new desk on my first day of work, I have a dope computer and a huge desk and a window and really nice smelling armpits!!!”). Who knows, maybe it does work on everyone. Grateful to and fascinated by Rachel, I got in touch over email about how she created this body odor holy grail, among other things. (I am a shameless hippie now, yes. Join me!)

You make organic face and body products. Since when, and what did you make first?

I started experimenting in the kitchen about 10 years ago when I was going through the protracted process of being diagnosed with systemic lupus, an inflammatory chronic autoimmune illness that manifests in a number of ways but often includes very sensitive skin. My first products were my lavender and french clay soap and restorative face serum, as those were the products I desperately needed to calm my skin down. My line grew with me — whatever product I needed, I created. I perfected the line over 7+ years and premiered it November 2009.

How did you discover/create the sorcery that is this natural deodorant?

Ha! I spent many, many, many months tweaking the recipe until I felt it was just right. I tried every natural and sorta natural deodorant on the market, and they were all wanting in some area — I swear, some made me smell worse than if I’d gone au natural. [Ed. — RIGHT?!] I spent about six months researching deodorant properties of essential oils and played with different concentrations of foodgrade powders and clays until I landed on just the right combination of both. Then I took another six months amassing feedback from friends and family (they’re always my guinea pigs :-D) until I was hearing 100% satisfaction across the board. Only then did I premier the product on the market.

I like that there’s that mildly off-putting factor — that you have to apply it with your fingers — because it almost makes it seem like you’re earning it, if that makes sense. Like it’s the one extra step that keeps you “in the club.” Because it only sounds weird before you do it, and then you do it, and it’s like, ah, that’s nothing. And it’s actually nice at this point. Feeling more in touch with my body/armpits, maybe. I don’t know. But I know that I love it.

I tried other application methods but ultimately nixed the for a few reasons: (1) I like the minimalist packaging — I think it’s a nicer design and is much lighter on plastic usage; (2) the user has much more control over how much and where they’d like to apply the deodorant. It means you don’t get random white streaks on your clothing, and you can cover the entire armpit; (3) there’s nothing weird about touching one’s armpits. I promise.

You also make many things besides deodorant, like body oil, soaking salts, vegan lip balm — which are your most popular? Do you have a favorite, or are they like children?

My deodorant cream is the most popular, followed by the moisturizing body oil and shea butter, and the tangerine and clay soap bar. However, the new Lip Locked are quickly gaining a following, which makes me SO happy. I spent about 18 months on the recipes (tweaking about 2,500 times) before I was absolutely satisfied that I had a great vegan lip balm. I’m really happy to hear positive feedback from customers about ’em, because I love them, and I’m crazy particular about my lip balms — they must have staying power without coating or making my lips feel waxy, and they must stay put (I hate when lip products migrate into my mouth. Who wants to eat lip balm?). And they must be vegan. Virtually every high-end lip product on the market has beeswax or honey, and I was adamant about using a foodgrade wax that would provide coverage. Finally, I wanted scents that smelled delectable and appealed to everyone.

I’m trying hard not to make this sound like a frenzied infomercial, but it’s difficult, because I think what you do is so awesome. Natural stuff that’s not bad for your body that actually does what it claims. It’s incredible. Usually these things just sort of croon in earth-mother voices that they’ve got you covered and now everything’s perfect, but then they never do and it never is. (*long look at the many natural deodorants that have betrayed me*) So, thank you.

I SO know what you mean. This is exactly why I started making my own products.

You started out making everything in your Brooklyn kitchen, but you just moved into a new warehouse/production space. How is that? Do you work with anyone else? I’m envisioning it like a brewery, except instead of beer samples, you’d hand visitors tiny thimbles of body oil.

I adore my new work space! I was away this past week and took photos so I could swoon over my gorgeous space while I was away (I know, I’m odd). The space is 430 square feet, and our apartment is 425 square feet, so I feel like I’ve gained a new apartment AND workspace. I’m a very organized person by nature, so it’s also satisfying for everything to have its own home (and not tripled up, like in the apartment). My girlfriend Stacey helps me every second she’s not at work (she’s a librarian at Queens Public Library) and I have a super intern named Farrell one day a week.

I love the thimble idea! I haven’t had many visitors yet, but will have an open house early May. I’ve been playing around with the idea of providing samples of unscented body oil and body wash and a buffet of essential oils for folks to create their own flavors. Or having a loaf of soap and cheesegrater for folks to slice off a small sample to take home with them. Maybe I’ll create a whole skin cafe!

[YES!] And Soapwalla is your full-time job?

Soapwalla is three full time jobs 🙂

To help counter the frenzied-infomercial aspect of this, please tell me something bad about Soapwalla. If there even is anything, which there probably isn’t. Child labor? You sold your soul?

My boss is a hardass, never gives me days off!

I’m sad that this interview is coming to an end, because that means I can’t interview you again for the first time about natural deodorant. Sometimes all I want to do is talk about natural deodorant.

I totally understand, I could talk about natural deodorant all day long.

Rachel Winard makes Soapwalla.