The phrase, “If you are going to do it, do it right” is befitting to one Detroit-based maker, Brandon Mitchell, who took it upon himself to make the skincare industry a better place — one soap bar at a time. All of Cellar Door Supply Co. soaps are made from 100% plant-based (and as he calls them, skin-loving) oils, top-notch fragrances and essential oils, mineral-based colorants, water, & lye. That’s it! A vegetarian himself, Brandon was frustrated at the lack of vegan body-care products available in the commercial realm, as well as products with straightforward ingredients that were actually good for your skin. He decided to start his own business, making soaps, candles, and other body care necessities, and has since seen year-over-year growth that shows no signs of slowing down. We were lucky enough to get an insider look into how Brandon makes all of Cellar Door’s products in his impressive home-basement studio.
Photography by Ali Lapetina.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work.
My name is Brandon Mitchell and I’m the founder of Cellar Door Bath Supply Co. We create bathwares that are 100% vegan, 100% handcrafted, and 100% awesome! With a wide variety of small batch goods to choose from, including bar soaps, soy candles, and beard oils, we have something for everyone!
What initially drew you to soap making?
I started making soap because I was tired of reading soap labels with ingredients that were known to be harmful to people and the environment, especially when the offending ingredients didn’t really offer much in terms of quality or efficacy. As a vegetarian, I was surprised to find out that the majority of commercially available soaps contained tallow (beef fat) or lard (pig fat). I knew that whatever I did, there would be no animal ingredients involved. Soap-making started out as a hobby, but after seeing the interest in ethical, humane body care products, we started selling our soaps about a year later and have continued to grow year after year.
Tell us about your soap-making process. How does a bar of soap go from an idea to somebody’s soap dish?
Our soaps are made in small batches using the cold process method by mixing our proprietary blend of five plant-based oils with a lye solution and allowing them to harden overnight. The next morning, the batch is cut into individual bars and allowed to cure for a month. This allows the oils and fragrances to mix and mingle with each other to create a bar of soap so spectacular, even we sometimes have trouble letting them go (but not really….maybe). Once cured, we slap a label on them and send them out to smelly folks in dire need of soap!
How do you come up with the names for your products?
Inspiration strikes in strange ways. Smell is the sense most associated with memory, so typically I’ll just smell my newest creation and see what memory gets triggered. On occasion, I’ll work the other way around. A fun name, or sometimes even a color scheme, will hit me and I’ll take that and try to capture the perfect scent for it.
Why should people buy handmade when it comes to bath and grooming supplies?
It really comes down to what’s on the ingredient label. If you look at a bar of commercial soap, the first ingredient is usually sodium tallowate, which is made from beef fat. Aside from the humane aspect, it tends to be very drying on your skin. You’ll also find synthetic detergents called sulfates, which again tend to be overly drying on the skin. In our products, we only use 100% vegan ingredients that are known to be gentle on the skin.
Tell us a little bit about your work space.
I wanted to keep Cellar Door as a home-based business in order to stay close to my family for as long as possible, so I’ve transformed our basement into a full time soap studio! We have plenty of shelving for our raw materials and finished stock, and plenty of table space to make and package our goods. As much as I like our space, our business has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years, so I’m hoping to start looking for a dedicated shop space outside of the home next Spring.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while owning and operating a business?
Nothing happens overnight. It can be easy to get discouraged early on, but I learned over the years to just keep your chin up and forge on. We’re about to enter our 10th year and I can’t count how many times I wondered if this business was viable in the early days. But, after 4 years of working my butt off, I took the plunge to go full time and haven’t looked back since.
Top 5 places everybody needs to visit in Detroit?
The Lunch Room – An amazing vegan restaurant in Ann Arbor, While it’s not technically in Detroit, it’s close enough that it’s definitely worth the visit. Try the Banh Mi.
Eastern Market – If this isn’t quintessential Detroit, I don’t know what is. Produce, food trucks, artisans, and some excellent street music make for a perfect Saturday.
The Fowling Warehouse – It’s like bowling, but with footballs. It’s just weird enough to work. Plus, beer.
Midtown – It’s crazy how much this area has built up over the last few years! If you’re looking for some good shopping and some good eats, this is the place to be.
Sister Pie – If you like pie as much as Dean Winchester, look no further. They keep a rotating menu and always use seasonal ingredients in their pies.