Joanne Vega came up with the idea to handcraft all-natural soaps after buying a book on the subject by an Italian interior designer who, as Vega put it, “wanted soaps as beautiful and authentic as the homes she was creating.”
Curiosity about the process — as well as a husband allergic to scented soaps and her own battle with the skin condition rosacea — led her to experiment with different ingredients.
In 2000, Vega started making soaps, which she sold at local farmers markets and fairs until 2009 when she and her husband, Eric Krever, opened their first Heart’s Desire Soap Co. store in Pismo Beach. A second location in San Luis Obispo opened in 2012.
Heart’s Desire now sells more than 75 skincare products, all handmade daily at the San Luis Obispo shop. The family-owned company’s motto is: “You deserve to be more than just clean” and that means “skincare products are your first line of defense to your health,” said Vega.
“Everything you put on your skin goes into your skin and will affect you, from the chemicals that are within clothing to the polluted air you walk through,” she said.
In the next month, Vega plans to expand the Heart’s Desire product line to include deodorant, shampoo bars and hair conditioner, as well as soaps for men. She’s also working to create “an amenity line” catering to the bed-and-breakfasts that want soaps and products for guests.
“We will also be carrying bath accessories such as towel wraps, bathrobes, anything to make your life more enjoyable and happy,” she said.
The stores are also stocked with jewelry from local artists, photographs and other crafts.
Vega is considering opening another shop, and she is grooming her daughter, Christine Lamprecht, and her 7-year-old grandson, Remy, to take over the business one day.
Vega declined to disclose financial information about the company, but said it “has been in the black since day one” and its finances have “increased considerably every year, thanks to the best customers, who are much more like friends after all these years.”
How soap is made
Here's how Heart's Desire soaps are made, according to owner Joanne Vega:
Many of the soaps start with an herbal infusion, which is made the night before so it’s cold in the morning.
The ingredients — such as olive, coconut and palm oils, as well as shea butter, cocoa butter, hempseed oil, jojoba oil and mango butter — are measured and put into a large pot.
They are melted until there are a few solid chunks left, and then removed from the heat, staying at 90 degrees or lower to retain the integrity of the ingredients.
Next, a small amount of sodium hydroxide — soda ash created by boiling wood ash with rainwater and skimming the liquid off the top — is added to the infusion, which is stirred and mixed well.
The liquid is then poured into the fatty acids and stirred briskly with a whisk until it’s creamy. Additional ingredients are added quickly — essential oils or items such as merlot wine or chocolate chips — and poured into molds as the pot is stirred to get a swirl design.
The pot is covered with a lid and a thick blanket to lessen interference from the outside temperature. It heats up on its own as it solidifies and slowly starts to cool down to room temperature after two days.
Finally, the soap is unfolded, cut with a plaster knife and put onto a shelf on the drying racks, where it typically stays for three weeks. Each bar is hand smoothed and beveled, then labeled.