Sparta business driven by love of chemistry, art and healthy skin
At 1924 Custom Soapery in Sparta, it all started with a peculiar passion. Owners Aaron and Missy Brooks have been running their small-batch soaping business since 2017 when Aaron made his very first loaf of soap and it all snowballed from there.
Aaron has been buying handmade soap since he was a teenager. “I’ve always appreciated it,” he said. He bought his first handmade soap from the co-op in La Crosse and throughout the years, whenever he had the opportunity, he would buy more.
It is very labor-intensive to make soap and requires higher quality ingredients, which is why it usually costs more than the mass-produced soaps found at stores.
In the beginning, Missy didn’t share Aaron’s appreciation for hand-crafted soaps and he fully admits that normally it’s women, which is now their primary demographic, who have an appreciation for the finer products.
A friend of the Brooks started making soap and created her own brand, however, at the time she had a young family and soon realized it was too overwhelming to make soap and raise her children at the same time.
“She abruptly quit making soap and she had a particular soap that I loved and we always asked her to make a single loaf just for us,” Aaron said.
“I would ask her every birthday, Christmas, anniversary, but she was just done making soap,” Missy added. “I don’t blame her and because it is so much work, it’s easy to be burnt out on it.”
Aaron asked their friend if she would teach him how to make soap, which she wouldn’t agree to, but she recommended a book to him that she had used to learn. Aaron bought the book and it sat in his nightstand for a few years until one day he decided he was going to try it for himself.
“I was really comfortable with chemicals, but this was something new. The first time I made soap, Missy was just sitting on the couch,” he said.
“I still had zero interest,” Missy interjected.
“The book was out and I was really careful about what I was doing,” Aaron said. “It took me two hours to make a little loaf of soap that first time.”
The loaf hardened and when Aaron pulled it out, they were both somewhat surprised to find actual soap. He decided he was going to make another and then another until he got to the point that he was comfortable enough with the process to start experimenting with different colors and scents.
“I kind of became addicted to making soap,” Aaron said, adding that within three months, he had tweaked the recipe around 11 times. “Through my experience, I know what a good bar of soap is and what it is not. There’s a lot of stuff on the market that looks great and I’m sure it smells great, but it’s just not good soap.”
He finally decided on what he felt was the perfect bar of soap and it would be easy enough for the Brooks to make a monochromatic soap, which is just a plain bar with no color or added oils or fragrance, but that’s not what they want to offer their customers.
Instead, the Brooks will spend months researching, experimenting and testing dozens of recipes to create their own custom recipe that brings out all the qualities they love about handmade, cold-process soap, which combine only the purest natural oils, including coconut and olive oils.
On their website, the Brooks describe each bar of their soap as “A wonderfully smelling piece of art that lathers bountifully and leaves the skin feeling clean and refreshed.”
They also firmly believe that having healthy skin shouldn’t come at the expense of polluting the environment with harsh chemicals. All of their products are sulfate, paraben, phthalate, palm and plastic-free.
As Aaron was still only making soap for himself, every time he would post on social media about his hobby, people would offer to buy it.
“I still wasn’t ready to start a business at the time,” he said. Missy and Aaron decided to sell some soaps at their church to raise money for missions. “We sold about 300 bars and ended up raising around $1,000. We just set up a little table at our church after service one Sunday and people just flocked to it.”
After that, Aaron and Missy started selling soap at the Sparta Farmers Market and in October 2018, they decided to make their little operation a business.
The Brooks started out with one soap loaf pan and then expanded to two, then four and eventually six, which still wasn’t enough so Aaron made his own molds and can now produce 23 bars of soap with a single loaf.
“This year, we’ll probably end up making about 11,000 bars of soap,” he said. “This all happens right here in our kitchen.”
While Aaron is in charge of making the soap for the most part, Missy takes care of labeling and packaging thousands of products as well as managing their online sales at www.shop1924.com.
By requests from their customers, the Brooks have expanded their inventory to include nearly a dozen different products such as lip lotions, lotion bars, lotion sticks, shampoo bars, body butters, body oils, sunscreen, liquid soap and other miscellaneous items.
The Brooks have put their blood, sweat and tears into each bar of handcrafted soap and they have sacrificed their home as well as time with their two sons to ensure the business’ success, therefore they knew that when it came to choosing a brand name it had to be meaningful.
1924 Custom Soapery is a tribute to Aaron’s grandfather, who was born in 1924.
“I had a special relationship with him,” Aaron said. “He dropped out of school in eighth grade, like many grandpas, to work on the farm and when World War II hit, he stayed on the farm because we needed farmers to produce food; not everyone could go to war.”
Aaron’s grandfather never made soap, but he grew up in an era when someone in every family knew how to make soap and he was part of a generation that was capable of building, growing and making just about anything to sustain their lives and soaping is one of those lost skills that the Brooks are reviving.