Willamette University

Soap Tim - Ledford '01

Biology Major > Roving Sales Partner > Soap Maker and Business Owner

Tim Ledford ’01

Tim Ledford ’01 has a secret recipe.

Interestingly, he came up with the ingredients for his company’s lathery trademark in a pinch, at a time when — through an odd turn of events with a business partner — he found himself managing a soap store without having any soap to sell.

“I had two weeks before Thanksgiving and the holiday season,” he says. “I had a store but I didn’t have any product.” So he did what any good entrepreneur would do: He created it himself. “I made all kinds of test batches. By the 10th batch, I handed the soap out to people I knew and they told me I had a winner,” he says. The basic mixture hasn’t changed since.

“Everybody bathes.”

All of this came about because Ledford — a biology major who says he put his degree to use when he had to learn what makes soap extra soapy — rejected the notion of having a boss. “Running my own show is great because I don’t like the idea of having a limitation,” he says. Previous jobs conditioned him to avoid being tied down in someone else’s system. A natural salesman, he chose not to continue an earlier lucrative position in favor of controlling his own mobility.

He is aware of the risk involved, but that was part of the appeal to running his own business. “Waking up every day and having it be unknown — that’s the exciting part,” he says. But why a soap business, people ask? Ledford answers with typical pragmatism: “Everybody bathes.”

For more, visit slabsoap.com.

How it’s Made

Soap, Ledford says, is made of some form of fat (“You can dress it up and call it coconut oil if you want, but what matters is that it’s fat”) and lye, a white solid known by chemistry majors as sodium hydroxide.

Ledford uses a cold method (which really means that he uses only moderate heat) of liquefying and incorporating the ingredients. They congeal to produce what is called the trace — a thickened substance recognizable as being soap-like. Adding in any other ingredients for scent and texture — lavender extracts and dry oatmeal for exfoliating, for example — produces soap for a specific purpose.

Ledford says he discovered an interesting thing about the manufacturing process: There’s no waste. “Maybe I’ll have some residue after cutting the bars,” he says, “but all I have to do is pour some water on it.”

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