By Kate Jordan
Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Grandmother Carol Ann Johansson was inspired to launch her business “The Soap Factory” after creating a soap to help her granddaughter with a skin disorder. Folsom said she has dedicated her life to researching and using natural sources into her products to help others who are also suffering.
Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.
There’s a hidden gem in the heart of Van Buren that began with one woman’s desire to help her granddaughter.
The Soap Factory, 818 Main St., in Van Buren caters to women, men and children of all ages, and offers a variety of more than 100 skin products to treat a variety of skin conditions. The business has been open for 20 years, and began with Carol Ann Folsom’s granddaughter, Melissa Johansson, and her skin disorders.
Folsom’s story began in 1994.
“When Melissa was six weeks old, I quit my job … that I had worked at for almost 15 years. I quit to be able to take care of Melisssa and do all of the things that I wanted to do that I had missed. We had lots of fun,” Folsom said.
Today, they have fun making the products together.
“I have fragrance and essential oils that all come from plant sources, bath soaps, scrubs, sleep aids, lip balms, toothpaste and lotions to name a few to make people feel more comfortable. I use essential oils that cure pain. God created everything that we need. We just have to implement those things (into our lives),” Folsom said.
Products vary in price between $1 to $30, depending on what the customer decides to purchase. Most soap bars are $5.50.
Folsom said she has dedicated her life to researching and using natural sources into her products to help others with skin disorders.
When Johansson was 16 months old, she developed a rash that soon after spread into bumps and large sores all over.
“We went to some doctors and a skin specialist in Fort Smith took one look at her and told us it was atopic dermatitis. He told us he sees 30 kids a day with the same thing and he said we don’t have anything that cures it,” Folsom said. “He said sometimes they outgrow it but if they don’t, you have to learn to live with it.”
Folsom’s husband, Art Folsom, said, “The doctor told us our granddaughter was going to have to live with it (her skin disorder) … but Carol Ann wouldn’t take no for an answer, and continued to work very hard on her products. That’s how she is. Everything she does is that way. She’s going to do it until it’s right and if it’s not, she find another way to make it right.”
“I just prayed, ‘Lord, we have a problem, and I believe you have the answer to all things. The Bible tells us if you need something, ask,'” Carol Ann Folsom said. “So, I also prayed, ‘Lord, please show us what you can do. … I know you have an answer.'”
The answer she received was to begin with research, Folsom said.
“Everywhere I’d go, there would be something about skin or skin disorders. If I went to the grocery store, there’d be something that would say something about skin and I’d research. I’d go to the library and check out materials that would have to do with skin or skin disorders. … I started reading labels to find what chemicals were in each soap on the market,” Folsom said.
Through her research, she said she discovered something she found alarming; that nearly every skin care product on the market has chemicals that are bad for skin.
“I looked at every product in Walmart and drug stores. It’s worse in drug stores. … And even now, there’s lead in our lipsticks, but you’d never know it because it’s disguised behind chemical names,” she said.
Folsom said, “I went home and asked the Lord, ‘Lord, why did you allow me to waste all this time? I can’t find anything out there. Everything that I’ve found has bad things in it. How am I going to fix this baby’s skin when everything out there has bad things in it? She’s getting worse everyday.'”
Four months had passed and Melissa was still suffering.
“One day I heard a voice. It said to me, ‘You make everything else, why don’t you make something to help her?’ So I did just that,” Folsom said.
Folsom said she began by mixing things together and had a journal in which she’d write down her concoctions.
“One day, we were watching a program and they were showing a recipe on how to make soap … , Art Folsom said. “(Carol Ann) told me she was going to make it. She tried to, but it wouldn’t turn out. Anyone who knows her (knows) she’s not quitting until it’s right and that’s what she did with her soaps. She kept researching and working with it. … If our granddaughter didn’t suffer from skin problems, we’d probably not be in this business.”
After continuing to experiment, Folsom found a recipe that worked. She used milk from the goats on her farm. All of her soaps are made with the milk she gets from her 10 goats.
“If this was going to be the medicine, we have to give it like a medicine. … With every time, she began to get better and better,” Art Folsom said.
When Johansson’s skin began to clear, Folsom began making a variety of soaps and shared them with others.
“The joy of my day was getting my personal work done and then taking my granddaughter to Walmart, Carol Ann Folsom said. “If there were people there who had skin irritations, I’d give them a bar of soap. I was just giving people soap. The lord spoke to me and told me, ‘If this is going to work, your part is to make it; their (the public) part is to buy it.'”
Now, the business is thriving and Folsom said she gets most of her business from word-of-mouth. The business also hosts a page on Etsy and Facebook. Also, a lot of those who travel on the Arkansas & Missouri train stop in at her business and purchase her products, which she said they seemingly enjoy because once they use them, they’ll contact her and order more.
“We have a lot of mail orders, but it’s the local people I want to see more of and take us serious,” Folsom said.
She added, “… And telling people my story. Our business is not a froo-froo thing. It’s not about the packaging, looks or smell. We are about good health and organic products that are safe.
Folsom said her products can cure disorders, including eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis.
“I even make special soaps if someone comes in and doesn’t find what they’re looking for. I am happy to accommodate people. I want to meet people’s needs and I want people to respect me for that,” Folsom said.
Folsom says no chemicals or alcohols are used in her products.
“These products are natural and great for people’s well-being. A lot of people don’t take into consideration what they are actually using on their body. They think, ‘Oh it costs this, or oh it smells likes this or oh, it has this name brand on it so it must be good.’ Well just because it smells good or has a nice, fancy label on it, or even a nice price tag on it, doesn’t mean it’s a good product. A lot of people don’t know about the harsh chemicals they put on their body or about what those chemicals do to their bodies,” Johansson said.
When Folsom decides to retire, she is giving her business to Johansson.
“That makes me feel so grateful,” Johansson said. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve it because everything she’s done … . I just want to live up to all she’s done and live up to the products she’s made.”
For now, “This is my everyday life. It’s kind of overwhelming especially when I hear the story (of how this evolved) because I’ve heard it so many times. … With this being my everyday life, sometimes I take this for granted. Thinking about how awesome this is that she started this by helping me and she didn’t have to do that, but she wanted to, and it’s still a lot to take in for me,” Johansson said.
“I love doing this,” Folsom said. “This is what I was meant to do. I have people who have bought from me in the past, and will come in and say I’ve saved their skin, I’ve saved their lives.”