As kids, we were blessed to have parents who loved the sand, the surf and boating. As a result, we never had to spend our summers away at camp. Instead, we spent our summers doing something else entirely. Every weekend, we said goodbye to the "mainland" and headed over to Atlantique on Fire Island, NY.
As many families in the boating community know, "boaters" belong to a class all of their own — and "the weekend" is a very fluctuating amount of time on Fire Island. If you're born into a boating family, you'll also know that their are many weird rules to follow.
For example, you'll grow up knowing that your mom always did the grocery shopping on Wednesdays. Why? Well because she had to pack the boat after dinner. Why? Well because at sunrise, your father would march you all onto the boat and race over to Atlantique before work just to make sure that we got "our" spot in the dock. Our spot? Yep – because if you're a "regular," you know that if you wanted your favored spot, you needed to beat the "partying" weekend crowd which started showing up sometime Friday evening. And, most of the Atlantique families had this unpoken rule that they all tied-up together to create a "family-friendly safety zone" of boats to force the annoying partiers to tie-up on the outer banks of the docks!
Like I said, it's all very bizarre. However, if you ask anyone who grew up and spent a significant amount of time on Fire Island, they're likely to tell you a similar story about their own community. It's just the way it is over there, but I digress…because even with all of the insanity that comes with being a regular, or a lifer, there is also a very tight camaraderie among the different communities of Fire Island people.
And so, it is with our great love of all things Fire Island, that we're delighted to bring you our latest Etsy Artisan Giveaway. This month, we have a very special guest, Bilal Hito, from the Fire Island Soap Company. Not only does he make soaps in his home on Fire Island, but he also hails from West Islip, NY – our very own home town. 🙂
This month, one lucky winner will be the recipient of 7 – that's right, I said SEVEN – handcrafted, homemade soaps from the Fire Island Soap Company. Each bar of soap retails for $5.95, so that's a pretty lovely Giveaway if I do say so myself!
Bilal, your soaps are just lovely. Can you tell us a little bit about the Fire Island Soap Company?
Well thank you! The lovely people who appreciate them are the heart and core of our craft. The Fire Island Soap Company sees itself as a response to the shift in culture we have all experienced as artisans in what's been termed the 'cottage industry'.
Local craftsmanship is at an all time low, and the only reservations of the mainstream are the loss of jobs. Our concern has nothing to do with economics, nor industry, nor employment. It is the very ethos of a preserved technique and the ingenuity of true craftsmanship – that defines us.
Today everything seems to be imported or outsourced. Our marketplace seems colorless, artificial, and quite simply put – discounted. Commercial soap is made by machines, processed by machines, packaged by machines, shipped by machines, paid for at the self-checkout by machines, and finally used by the' nine to five' machines.
Where are the humans in all of this? Where have we gone, where are our experiences? As a local soap artisan I am proud to say that we are not commercial, we are communal. This is truly a hands-on reformation in every sense of the word. It's not about getting our hands dirty, it's about getting our hands clean once again, in promoting art through the human experience.
Well said, but what's the real difference between the soap you make, and the commercial soap we buy at supermarkets?
Generally the bars found in supermarkets aren't legally allowed to be called "Soap''. This is why you'll find the packaging more accurately labeling them as "beauty bars" or "deodorant bars", etc. Soap is made when alkali is mixed with oils/butters. Glycerin is a natural byproduct of this reaction. Glycerin is great because it's a humectant (it attracts moisture from the air to your skin, and holds it there). It''s also very expensive, which is why most commercial manufacturers remove it from the mix – and sell it to other companies. It's then used to produce high end cosmetic products that could fetch a higher price than a bar of soap.
At the Fire Island Soap Company – we never remove any of the glycerin! That is our promise to you. In addition to that, we 'superfat' the soap – which simply means that we purposely leave an excess of moisturizing oils/butters to delight your skin. The excess of oils never saponify (which means they don't get turned into soap) – and therefore retain their original, beneficial properties. We never use parabens, genetically modified organisms, pthalates, dyes/colorants, petro-derivatives, or sulfates. And to top it all off, we use steam distilled essential oils and botanical extracts to scent the soaps. We oppose the use of synthetic fragrances/parfum. The bars are hand made, hand cut, air dried, and packaged by hand.
Wow — I had no idea! I always wondered why they were called "Beauty Bars", but I just thought they were trying to fancify the art of bathing. I never imagined it was because they were cheaping out on the glycerin! How did you even got started in soap making?
After I returned from a trip to Syria, I was inspired to delve into the time honored tradition of traditional soap making. My visit there allowed a 2,000 year old heritage of soap culture to cross my path. The first solid form of soaps were developed in that very region and later to spread throughout the Mediterranean. Every place and peoples it would meet, it's form would evolve. Variations of techniques and ingredients would allow soap to become part and parcel of every great civilization.
I appreciated the 'anthropology' of soap and it's connection with geography. Every region has it's gift, and that gift becomes the soap. Understanding these gifts puts every soap maker in a perpetual state of possibility.
I began loving soap first, and it was only after I was completely engulfed – that I became willing and able to produce. My first batch was made from nothing but olive oil, I made twenty some odd bars. I still have a bar from my very first batch. The excitement that went into it…I cannot compare it to anything. I consider it to be the best batch I ever made.
That's really amazing. I don't think I've ever really thought about where soap-making originated. I'm learning so much from you today! So, in your opinion, what's the most important thing to keep in mind when making soap?
Being true to the purpose! Why are we making soap – what is the purpose? For the Fire Island Soap Company, it is to revive traditional soap making methods. It is to make a real soap whose ingredients are real, pure, and true. This art of ours is unique – as it will be used and not merely observed. We are appealing to the senses of sight, touch, and smell – which we must remain connected to. It starts with proper ratios of fruit and vegetable oils, butters and extracts. Understanding the properties of our ingredients is the most important thing we must keep in mind when making soap.
Obviously, soap making is an art form as well – so what inspires you?
Our surroundings of course! Fire Island is such a unique place, I cannot compare it to anything. Every soap we make is inspired by something or somewhere – on Fire Island. Whether it be the ferry ride, the boardwalk, the lighthouse, or the rusty bikes and squeaky red wagons – every bar we make has an origin, and that origin comes from the Island. Nostalgia is really powerful, and we seek to connect people with all the happy memories they have.
I love it! As you know, my siblings and I spent our summers in Atlantique, so anything that connects me to that very special time in our childhood makes me happy. When you're not making soaps, what else do you do?
Ha! I guess it's safe to say that you know how to keep yourself busy! Well since this is an Etsy Artisan piece, I'd like to know – what do you love most about selling on Etsy?
I love the users! You really feel like you're at a craft fair. Every person you meet has a story, and people take their time to get to know each other. It's a cultural exchange of sorts – I have friends from all over the world that I met through Etsy!
With a product this lovely, you must be available in retail shops, so spill it…where else can we find you?
Natural health food stores, gift shops, general stores, beauty salons, surf shops and more! Our list of retailers is growing by the day – every few weeks we seem to land on the shelves of a new local store. The stores that carry our soap tell us that they heard about us through the word-of-mouth of customers. We would personally like to thank all of you out there for being our best promoters! We are on Facebook, Twitter, Etsy and other e-stores!
Well Bilal, thank you so much for your generous Giveaway this month, but before we go, I would just like to share your YouTube video, the Fire Island Soap Factory Tour, with all of our readers. We wish you the best of luck!
Want an amazing 7-piece set of handcrafted soaps from the Fire Island Soap Company?
You can purchase these lovely pieces directly from The Fire Island Soap Company, [Enter "WeKnowStuff" at checkout where it says "Apply Coupon Code" and get 10% off the entire order!] or you can enter our contest below to WIN!!
Here’s how the Giveaway Contest works:
1.) Like Us on Facebook.
2.) Help Us Spread the Word:
Tweet this: Amazing New #Giveaway Contest from @WeKnowStuff_US – Win a 7-piece set of handcrafted soaps from @FireIslandSoap http://ow.ly/aJbLi #soap
3.) Leave us ONE comment below and let us know what you've done (please include a link so we can see how you helped us spread the word).
The winner will be selected on May 31st at 4:00 PM EST. USA residents only, 18+ or older.
Denine & Daniele