Spinster Sisters' soaps are little bars of art – visually (stare long enough and you'll see tiny galaxies) as well as aromatically.
In the early 1990s, founder Kelly Perkins started hearing about the negative health impacts of triclosan, which was in pretty much every bar of soap on supermarket shelves.
"It's in everything," she says. "I don't want to put those chemicals on my body anymore."
So Perkins went to the Boulder Book Store and bought a couple of books on soap-making and started doing it for herself. Then she made soap as gifts for friends and family.
"I got super into making soaps," she says. "I didn't think it was going to be as fun as it was and as creative as it was."
It also proved a more visceral pursuit than her previous career as a business analyst.
"It's kind of repetitive but it's a little bit cathartic getting your hands in there," she explains.
Perkins describes the time-tested process of saponification: "When you're making soap, you're essentially combining oil and water," she says.
After the resulting soap cures for a day or two, then it spends four to six weeks drying after it's sliced so that it completely dries.
The Spinster Sisters name dates to Perkins' earliest soap-making efforts with her sisters in the early 1990s, but she was a solo act when she went pro.
"In 2010, I did one craft fair and sold out by one in the afternoon," she says of her start.
She continued with about a dozen craft fairs and it snowballed from there. Supplying 2,000 retail accounts, the company now has 16 employees on the payroll between the 7,600-square-foot "Microsoapery" in an industrial park and a retail store in downtown Golden. Perkins started with a countertop KitchenAid mixer; now ingredients are blended in an industrial mixer.
Over the years, the Spinster Sisters catalog expanded from soaps into bath salts and bombs, scrubs, and a sore muscle rub called Muscle Stuff – more than 100 different products in all. The soap lineup includes 20 formulas that range from Rosemary Mint to Pomegranate Lime.
Fragrance and function are both important. Take the Gardener's Citrus Scrub Bar, with five citrus essential oils along with hemp and chia seeds, lavender, and oatmeal, a combination that's great on grime. Perkins notes that mechanics like it every bit as much as gardeners.
"It's a very scrubby soap," she says.
Sustainability is a front and center at Spinster Sisters. The factory uses 100 percent renewable energy as Perkins strives to build a sustainable supply chain.
"I do all the formulations," she explains. "That part is really fun to me, too: to see how far I can take the sustainability piece."
Take the Muscle Stuff, with sustainably sourced cayenne pepper, habanero pepper, and menthol among its ingredients.
"It took a full month to get it where I wanted it. When I hit it, it was such a eureka moment," says Perkins. "Man, when you hit it, it's such a good feeling!"