An artist at heart, North Sea resident Deborah O’Shaughnessy said this week she looks at everything she does with an artistic eye. That love for detail, and for highlighting the natural beauty in things, has led Ms. O’Shaughnessy to a new passion over the past few years, one that has grown into a small family business making handmade soaps.
Ms. O’Shaughnessy, with the help of her husband, Chris, and her three children, Ana, 14, Belle, 13, and Griffin, 9, is taking the family business to the next level: competing in the Martha Stewart American Made competition, an event celebrating local and handmade products. Ms. O’Shaughnessy hopes her love for the art of soap making will propel the business into the next round of the competition, which she entered late last month.
“Now she paints with the scents she creates,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said this week about the soaps his wife makes in North Sea.
Ms. O’Shaughnessy, who teaches art at the Ross School, said she had her first experience making soap roughly 10 years ago while living in Florida, when she was invited to a friend’s home to make a batch. Beginning with the first bar, Ms. O’Shaughnessy said, she was shocked at the difference the natural product made on her skin, which had always been sensitive to the harsh chemicals in traditional soaps and products, She immediately began creating her own soaps for her family.
Over the next few years, she fell in love with the artistry of melting the oils and scents together and tempering the soap to the right consistency. After a few days of letting a mixture set, the soap is ready to be cut. No two bars of Southampton Soap Company soaps are the same. They are hand cut without a mold, and natural enhancers—like herbs or black sesame seeds—are added to the edges of each bar.
After a while, Ms. O’Shaughnessy began giving her custom creations as a gifts to family and friends. She officially launched the Southampton Soap Company two years ago.
“We have sort of become a little local treasure, and we have expanded to a lot of places on the East End,” she said. “People are starting to trust the products now.”
The American Made competition sponsored by Martha Stewart “supports the local, and celebrates the handmade,” according to the website. It was founded after the organizers realized that how many people are interested in quality craftsmanship and well-designed goods rather than mass-produced products from large retail stores.
“For more than 20 years, Martha Stewart has celebrated this spirit of innovation in the pages of her magazines,” her website says. “Now, through American Made, Martha Stewart and the editors of ‘Martha Stewart Living’ are spotlighting the next generation of great American makers.”
With several hundred entries in the competition ranging from handmade clothes to chocolate and other foods, the Southampton Soap Company is reaching out to the local community to support their effort and vote. Southampton Soap is entered in the style category.
The businesses with the most votes will advance to the next level of competition, and eventually one audience choice winner will be awarded $10,000 to boost the business. Computer users can vote up to six times in a 24-hour period. Votes can be cast at MarthaStewart.com/americanmade. To cast a vote for Southampton Soap Company, go to MarthaStewart.com/americanmade/nominee/79699 and click “vote.”
To enter the competition, the family worked together, with the kids shooting and editing a four-minute video featuring their mom that appears on the competition profile. Each day, they check the site to see how the company is doing.
“It is really cool,” Belle said this week. “I like doing it, and it is fun to be doing something different that no one else is doing with their family.”
Category voting will continue online through September 13. One week later, the competition organizers will announce the finalists, kicking off another round of voting from September 17 to 23. After that, the America’s choice winner will be named. On September 24, Martha Stewart and a team will also announce the winners in every category, and will host a two-day workshop in New York City highlighting the winners from October 16 to 17.
With the competition under way, Ms. O’Shaughnessy said she hopes the quality of her product will push the family business to the next round.
“It is giving the gift of clean,” she said. “Our products are clean, green and local. With these tight economic times, it is good to give a little practical gift, and I think business people like this idea, so that should go a long way.”