DeVerne Augustus and Dana Mathews have a crazy interesting maker story: originally from the salon world, they landed in soapmaking over time. We met them through one of the Drekker Craft Markets and fell hard for their gorgeous, natural soaps they create here in town! Be sure to find them at a local market this fall to check out their seasonal scents.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
We are just two guys who like new adventures and have a hard time sitting still. I (DeVerne) grew up in Perham, MN and moved west to Spokane, WA in 1991. Dana is a northwest native, growing up in and around the Spokane region most of his life. We met in 2001 and have been inseparable ever since. Our first business was our salon in Spokane which we operated, as stylists, for 15+ years. We even had a chocolate and wine shop in a part of the salon. As stylists, we always worked with our hands in a creative fashion. I have always found additional ways to be creative; I crafted the handmade chocolate truffles for the chocolate shop, made beaded jewelry and even dabbled in lapidary, cutting and polishing semi-precious gemstones from across the globe. In 2017, we moved to the Palm Springs, CA area. Living in such an incredible locale was great, but we found ourselves wanting something less hectic and missing some cooler weather. We definitely found that here in the Fargo area when we moved here in 2021.
Since retiring from the salon world, we have started careers in real estate. After moving back to the region and settling in West Fargo, we knew it was time for a new endeavor that helped us get out and meet new people since we essentially knew no one. Drawing on my (DeVerne) time in the beauty world, educating and focusing on healthy alternatives free of the chemicals found in so many personal care products, making natural chemical-free soap made perfect sense. That is how Wilds Soap Company was born.
Describe what type of products you make as Wilds Soap Company.
We create natural, handmade, vegan, palm-free soaps. Every color comes from plant powders or clays, every aroma comes from natural essential oils. The goal is to offer soap that is good for the body, soul and environment. We use no palm because of conservation and sustainability concerns, no artificial pigments or fragrance for concerns of health and safety.
Tell us how you got started with soapmaking.
I have a history of working with personal care product lines and have always been concerned with the chemicals used along with how those chemicals interact with our bodies. After moving back to the Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo area, we wanted to start a business that didn’t require all the overhead a storefront requires and left time to build our careers as Realtors®. Dana’s excellent client service skills are perfect for engaging guests at shows. He has a genuine knack for turning strangers into fans and friends. Soapmaking seemed like a great fit to utilize our prior knowledge and experience while providing endless opportunities to meet members of our new community while experiencing so many great venues and businesses at the same time. Being part of vendor shows at local breweries are starting to be our favorite.
Where does your inspiration come from for new scents or products?
Honestly, inspiration came from things I like. We made many citrus-based fragrances to honor our time living in Southern CA. In Palm Springs, when the citrus trees are blooming and fruiting, the air is heavy with their fragrance. Last fall as the long dark days of winter were looming, the idea was to give a bright energizing kick-start to the day. We have several woodsy aromas that are reminiscent of walks in the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest. Every Thanksgiving we would visit family in Bellingham and go on short hikes. The Old Growth Forest aroma is designed to smell like those hikes. Another aroma is based on stays on the Clark Fork River with my sister and her husband. Other aromas come from walks with our dogs when we smell wildflowers and the prairie in bloom. Still, others are classic aromas that are loved by many. Other aromas come from customer suggestions—our Fishing Soap is an example. We were at a show and someone asked if we had anything that helps remove the smell of fish from hands. Having never heard of such a thing, I went to the all-powerful Google and searched for info. I couldn’t find a recipe but did find the information that turned into the anise-based aroma and it is a hit with our customers. Inspiration lives all around us, all we have to do is be open to experiencing it.
What is your personal favorite creation/soap so far?
I’ve made some pretty soaps that smell wonderful, but my favorite creation is my Vegan, Palm-free recipe. I love the soap because it has a dense creamy lather without sacrificing all the sudsing of the bar. It cleans great without stripping away all the natural protective oils our skin makes for us.
What is something people might find surprising about working with soapmaking?
Soapmaking is an incredibly precise process, and different oils react differently with lye. That can make developing recipes tricky. I use software to create and test a recipe so I am certain that all the lye will be reacted out of the batter, yet ensure enough moisturizing capability is left in the finished soap. When soap is made right, all the lye is gone and turns into other elements entirely.
What is something you’ve enjoyed the most about doing this handcrafted business?
Learning how to create color and design in soap has been a very fun trial-and-error process. Natural colorants are more muted than oxides and micas and can be tricky to work with. Some natural colorants change color when they are in the lye reaction process or cure into usable soap. Let’s take our woodgrain soaps as an example. We want them to look like cut pieces of wood (think the grain in hardwood floors or a two-by-four). Learning which plant powders will contrast enough yet still look like natural wood has been an enjoyable process.
What is the most challenging thing?
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but learning how to create color and design in our soaps. Natural colorants are somewhat limited in range and intensity. An example is rainbow-inspired soaps for Fargo-Moorhead Pride. Getting really good red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet was pretty difficult. While clays are pretty stable, indigo powder (blue) and alkanet powder (violet) don’t always play nice in soap regarding their hues. And color proportions in soap are challenging. Learning how much white to contrast with the colors in swirl techniques and how little black it takes to overtake everything else is proving to be a long-term learning curve.
What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?
Don’t wait, just get to it. Stop second-guessing yourself, you know enough, and you will figure it out. I heard an adage a long time ago. “You don’t need to see the whole staircase, you only need to see the next step to get started,” or something like that. It is 100% true.
Where can people find your work?
We love doing in-person shows, they get us out and about in front of people so they can personally experience the look, feel and smell of our soaps and of course our stellar personalities.
Look for us at events at Wild Tera Cider, Fargo Brewing Company and Drekker. We’ve been part of Plants for Patients plant parties, Vintage Market, Mini Makers Market and Unglued Makers Market. We’ll be in the Red River Refillery in Brewhalla when that opens. We can always be reached at our Facebook page facebook.com/wildssoap.