By John Lovett
Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.
Colquitt and Co. Soapworks, known locally for its wide palette of handcrafted soaps and lotions, wrapped up its fifth year in business by opening a new storefront at Green Pointe Center in Fort Smith.
Trina Colquitt and one of her soap makers were busy last week at the little Barling soap factory on Fort Street making new batches of their artfully designed aromatic soaps to restock shelves at both Colquitt & Co. Soapworks locations.
“Christmas wiped us out,” Colquitt said Wednesday in a nearly empty storeroom as Sarah Smith prepared to cut a new batch of black raspberry soap bars. “Soap always makes good presents, and local support has really kept us in business.”
Since starting in a little shop eight years ago next to a nail salon in Arkoma, Colquitt’s soaps have become a favored item for personal pampering and gifts to loved ones. Most Colquitt customers have been from Charleston, Lavaca and Barling, she adds. But with the new Green Pointe location in the middle of Rogers Avenue, Colquitt’s sales have jumped and calmed initial worries that November was a risky time to make the move.
Fort Smith’s fine soap lovers took notice, clearing shelves of their most popular cold pressed soaps and had a bit of aromatic therapy in the process of discovering just what Colquitt and her crew can do with a few basic ingredients. A foamy white topping to Colquitt’s Seaside soap adds a creative effect. Some of the soaps look like food. A little secret to her craft is using bubble wrap to make the intricate indentations of a honeycomb pattern on top of her best-selling honey almond shea butter soap. The artisan’s craft for those double and triple layer soaps, however, remain years in the making.
“We really started this on a shoestring, and we’re growing it and just trying to perfect it and get it to the point where we can afford to stay open and hire more help,” Colquitt said. “If we could get some more wholesale accounts, that would be fantastic, so we could make some stuff in bulk and sell to them.”
Colquitt currently has two wholesale accounts with Simply Couture, 305 Garrison Ave., in Fort Smith and Seasons, 910 Broadway, in Van Buren.
“You can smell the soaps when you come in. It really gives the shops a nice aroma,” Colquitt said of Simply Couture and Seasons.
Opening a bin of fresh cherry almond soaps, Colquitt fills the small store room at the Barling shop with fragrances that will continue to be layered upon as other bins are opened — violet and rose to peppermint, honey, almond rosemary, lemon and even a little coffee. As the work days go by, these bins will steadily be filled back up to fill the growing demand.
Nearby on the chopping block is a fresh 128-ounce batch of pitch-black soap made from finely ground coal dust. The detoxifying soap is actually her biggest seller, Colquitt said, and is made from 100 percent all natural ingredients.
Taking soap to a high level of artistic expression, Colquitt & Co. Soapworks artisan Sarah Smith deftly pours in different layers of green and white soaps to create “Green Tweed” bars that are topped with droplets in a style reminiscent of Jackson Pollock.
As Colquitt explains their soap making process, with a smorgasbord of expensive essential oils and a variety of natural abrasive additives like sand and seeds, Smith goes on to cut the dried slabs of black raspberry soap that have cured to a hardened shell over 24 hours. A 128-ounce batch will make 28 bars and they can do five batches in one day. While many of the soaps go for about $8 a bar, others with more expensive ingredient, like the black coal soaps fetch up to $10 and $12 a bar.
Colquitt justifies that with a note that some of the black detox soaps out on the market slide up to the $25 range.
Although a website where customers can order online is in the works, Colquitt currently is able to sell her soaps, lotions and skin tonics only at the storefronts. The soap maker said she initially got into the business to sell only online, but a change of fate came when she first started in Arkoma and the woman who ran the nail salon kept bringing her customers over to see Colquitt’s soaps.
Storm Nolan of CSK Hotels, Green Pointe Center property managers, said that business has been steady at the shopping center. Inscriptions, a well-established Fort Smith business, is planning to move into Green Pointe in January and Carrot Dirt is expanding its juicing operation into the space next door that previously housed a yoga studio, Nolan said.
Although Colquitt plans to keep her small soap factory in Barling, the Fort Smith Planning & Zoning Department is in the process of developing a new code for specialty manufacturers like Colquitt that could possibly allow small-scale artisans and craft manufacturers like her to work in C-5 and C-6 zones.