This month we're featuring women makers, an annual series we affectionately call Female Frontrunners. We feature sake breweries run by women for Sake Gumi, and we also feature women artisans and makers at the shop.
Both Yoko and I are from the Bay Area – we met as teenagers in Cupertino, then went off to faraway places after college (her to Tokyo, and me to NYC). The strong pull of the Bay Area, sunny and abundant, brought us back to start our little retail store in Oakland in 2012. It is a special place here, the Bay Area; so it's important to us that we not only showcase makers from Japan, but from right in our community too!
Asako Hostetter brought in her soaps to our shop in 2018 and we've been carrying them ever since. Her entrepreneurial spirit, love of California, and quest to work with the most sustainable and gentle ingredients, is what we love most about her and Heavenly Soap Company. She's also always game for a fun collaboration and new ideas, which is what we're all about!
Please introduce yourself.
Hello, I’m Asako. I came here San Francisco from Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan in 2012. I learned flower arrangement and tea ceremony in Japan. My favorite sport in California is skiing. I enjoy the flowers are blooming all seasons in the Bay Area. I love beautiful California nature.
Please describe the concept and history behind Heavenly Soap Company.
I just love aroma of natural essential oils and I wondered if I could make something with essential oils. I planned to have a soap shop and I made a logo of Heavenly Soap Company before living in San Francisco. The name Heavenly Soap Company evolved from the image of the heavenly sky interacting with the beauty of nature down here on earth. Our logo expresses a beautiful view of the moon, a cloud and a shining star suspended among the heavenly bodies.
What did you do prior to owning your own business?
My first work was event coordinating and advertising for a local newspaper for about six years. I learn how to make ads for print. After that I worked at traditional craft shop. I learned the art of tea ceremony. My retail experience was working at Tiffany and at a department store. Before going to US, I worked at JICA (Japan International cooperation agency). JICA is parallel to Peace Corps in US to help developing countries. All work experiences are good for my soap work. I learned about eco study at JICA. I learned advertising and designing at the newspaper company. My soap idea and package design are inspired by Japanese traditional design. A lot of my soaps are based on Japanese culture.
How did those experiences help you in creating your own brand?
We used to stay in Hawaii. I met my husband over there, heavenly paradise. The names of our nieces are Hawaiian names. Lani means “heaven”. I thought Heavenly Soap is the perfect name for the name when I decided to have a soap shop. When I started living here in San Francisco in 2012, I established Heavenly Soap Company right away. I love nature and reflect that love in my creations. I like to provide natural heavenly bath time for customers.
Why is it so important to you to use all-natural ingredients? What inspired you to practice this ethos?
I want to make soaps gentler to human beings and products better to the earth than I found available in the markets. Like people who are taking care of their heath by carefully choosing the food they consume, skincare products are supposed to be gentle and good to skin. I use essential oils but not fragrance oils. It costs more but I believe natural scents smells better.
Recently colorful soaps with flagrance oils and dyes are so popular. My soaps may look simple and plain, but all soaps are carefully planned and made in different ways for all skin types. Making so many soaps, I thought I need to make unscented soaps for all types of skin. Frequently someone will ask for a special formulation to suit their personal skin needs such as dryness, acne, and eczema or sensitivity to certain ingredients.
What are the challenges related to having an all-natural brand?
When I used to work at JICA I learned about environment issues. Palm free seemed an issue good for me to champion. You know people break the environment and the home of animals to plant Palm trees. Instead of Palm oil I use Shea Butter. My soap bases are all natural, food grade, and mostly organic. It costs more but it is especially important to keep quality.
How do you source your materials?
As possible as I can, I source at locally in the Bay Area. Most of base oils, herbs, paper wrapper, and containers are from local wholesalers. The base oils I use are provided by firm owned by a nature conscious local businesswoman. I’m very pleased to purchase locally and support the community. I can find a lot of good quality products here in the Bay Area.
What does your work space look like?
My soap factory (AKA Kitchen) is filled with hundreds of natural essential oils, organic base oils and botanicals. I spend most of my time formulating new aromas and base soaps that would be suitable for my customers skin types. I also provide collaboration soaps for individual shops, developing their own unique aromas. Much of my workshop entails custom packaging and design which I do all myself. I have graphic design experience and meticulously create each label and soap wrapping.
Please describe your process of making your soaps – from start to finish. I’d love to know all the steps that go into making these special soaps.
Then the fun begins trying to create packaging suitable for a Heavenly Creation!
All soaps are made in different way and each have unique packaging.
What's next for Heavenly Soap Company?
I love soap. I want to make soaps more and more even if my workspace has its limit. Currently I’m planning to produce more skincare products.
What other women-owned businesses do you admire or frequent? Why?
Since I started this work, I met many people who do awesome jobs. I made good friends in San Francisco. We trust and help each other. I was so helped and learned so much from them.
Which women in history or in your own life have inspired you? Why?
My mother who was an architect always showed me art, fashion and how to live. My aunt was a graphic designer and writer in Tokyo. She was listening to Rock & Roll music a lot. My other aunt was a fashion designer in US. Her design was covered on Vogue magazine. She kept teaching at Parsons School of Design until she was 74 years old. Such a strong and talented woman to mentor me.
I want to make heavenly beautiful products, so I do graphic design for every soap package. I always send her my design images and I ask for her opinions. She is not so good at E communications, but she tries to keep up to check my design and give me advice. She is a great advisor.