INTERVIEW: RACHEL WINARD


Today we are very excited to share with you; our lovely readers our latest interview with the incredibly inspiring Rachel Winard; founder of natural beauty brand Soapwalla. Rachel tells us all about her background, exciting career path, and why the discovery of an illness really made her re-evaluate what she wanted to do with her life. 


Hi Rachel! Tell us a bit about your childhood and how you feel that has influenced you today? When did you decide to create Soapwalla and why?

I started playing the violin when I was 4 years old and became serious about it quickly. I became a professional classical violinist at the age of 12 and was sure that was going to be my lifelong career. I graduated high school early, went to Juilliard right after I turned 17, and then relatively quickly realised that it was as perfect a fit for me as I thought.

 

I left the music world at 19, got an undergraduate degree in political theory, and ended up at Columbia Law School (long story). During my first year of law school, I got very sick. Overnight I went from being perfectly healthy to having all sorts of medical conditions crop up. It took a year, but I was finally diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus for short), a chronic autoimmune illness that has varied symptoms but nearly always affects the skin, as it’s our largest organ. Like others who suffer from lupus, I get terrible skin rashes, hives, and irritated skin patches. When it was at its worst, I could barely use water on my skin without irritation. The concept for Soapwalla was born one late night in early 2002, after months of unsuccessfully hunting for face and body products that wouldn’t aggravate my sensitive skin. I tried everything on the market I could find without any luck and finally decided to start making my own products that were as healthy and wholesome as possible. The product line grew from there. My guiding principle when I first started formulating and our overarching philosophy still is: ‘The skin is our largest organ and for it to function at its best, we must feed it wholesome ingredients. If I refuse to put something in my body, I don’t want to put it on my body.’

 

I graduated law school in 2004 and practised land use and zoning law at 2 large NYC firms for four years. In 2006 I had a health crisis – I was on chemotherapy to try to get my illness under control, with little success – and left for India for four months to see an Ayurvedic doctor in Mysore (in the state of Karnataka). We worked together every day for those 4 months and he got me feeling better than I had in years. When I returned to NYC, I knew my days at the law firm were numbered; the stress was just too much for my fragile immune system. I left the law in June 2008, struggled for a year and a half to figure out what I was going to do next. During this time, friends and family gently prodded me to sell my beloved skincare products to the public. I premiered Soapwalla Dec 1, 2009, and we just celebrated our 7th birthday!



What really sets Sopawalla apart from the competition?

I am diligent about sourcing raw materials. I figure our products are only as good as the ingredients we use. I spend a good amount of time researching and forming relationships with farmers and suppliers for our materials. I know exactly how the ingredients are grown and harvested, how the soil and workers are taken care of, how the materials are pressed/extracted/processed/packaged; with everything from soup to nuts. It makes my job so much more fulfilling to really understand the entire lifespan of each ingredient we use, and you can see that difference in our products themselves.


What has been the general reaction and feedback to your products from customers?

We have amazing customers. I get hand-written letters from folks and feel like I have a real and personal relationship with my clientele.This is partly why I created our Tailor-made Skincare bespoke service, as a way to really delve into issues with clients one-on-one in a refreshing and unique way.

 

There’s nothing like receiving a note from a customer telling me how our products have changed their lives. I still tear up when I think of the clients who feel comfortable in their skin for the first time in years, thanks to finding a regimen that works for their specific needs. Or the customer who used our Comfort Bath Salts and Original Luxurious Body Oil religiously to combat the debilitating pain associated with endometriosis, and how overjoyed she was when she had a pain-free month. THIS is why I do what I do.


Why was it important to produce all natural products?

I approach skin care the way I approach food. As I said above, our products are only as good as the ingredients we use. We focus on utilising natural ingredients (which for us means that we don’t use synthetic ingredients like petrochemical by-products, parabens, phthalates, etc.) because I’ve found them to be more effective at treating the underlying skin conditions I’m formulating for, as well as being better for the environment and more pleasant to work with. It’s a win-win-win.



What’s your favourite Soapwalla product?

(1) Our Deodorant Creams, because they work! (I also love the smell and application method.) (2) Restorative Face Serum, it’s so soothing doesn’t exacerbate my lupus-related skin sensitivities. (3) Luxurious Body Oils, because the scents are absolutely luscious, the oils feel like liquid velvet, and they instantly absorb into the skin!


Why was it important to keep the entire range vegan?

There’s no reason to use animal by-products in skin care to achieve the results I look for. And I’m a huge animal lover, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable using those ingredients for several reasons (sourcing, cruelty practices, contamination, etc.). If I don’t personally want to use those ingredients, I won’t use them in our formulations either.


What’s it like being vegan in the city you live in?

Yes -being vegan in NYC is a dream. There are so many amazing restaurants, cafes, boutiques, etc. You name it, we have a vegan version here. {That being said, my all-time favourite vegan restaurant is Bamboo Garden in Seattle, WA. If you ever visit Seattle, go straight there from the airport. You won’t be sorry!).


What’s your one health tip?

If I can offer only one health tip, it’s to drink enough water. You wouldn’t believe how poorly you feel when you’re slightly dehydrated.



What inspires you?

Nature, the ocean, good art – books, music, movies. And laughing my face off with friends and family.


What’s your average day like?

I get up between 4 and 5 am, make myself a cup of coffee, and answer emails for an hour or so. I love the early morning hours to get this done because I can have a solid chunk of uninterrupted time to really focus on answering questions in a thoughtful way.

 

Then I shower and either practice yoga or get in a boxing session (my two physical passions). After that, I head to work, eat breakfast (oatmeal these days), and handle whatever the day has in store for me: meetings, phone calls, production, checking in with retailers and suppliers; it changes from day to day.

 

I try to head out of the office between 3 and 4 pm, and walk home (20 minutes or so). I’ll often stop by a market to pick up items for dinner (I nearly always skip lunch, not on purpose but because I get so involved with my work that I forget to eat). I head home and prep dinner and we generally eat by 6 pm.

 

I answer more emails until 8 pm, watch some television or read, and then go to sleep by 9 pm. I’m strict about that. I need a solid 7-8 hours of sleep a night to keep my health in check and to feel like a human.


Do you think you have a work/life balance?

I try, but it’s always a give and take. There are times of the year (like holiday season) where I work every day for a few weeks straight. It’s simply the nature of the job. As a counter-balance, I take a week off in January, completely unplug, and hang out on the beach!


What’s the best part of your job?

Interacting with the customers. Definitely.


What words do you live by?

Two quotes: (1) “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” by Mary Oliver, and (2) “Do No Harm but Take No Shit.”


What’s next for you and Soapwalla?

We have some exciting endeavours on the horizon! We’ve been working on three new deodorants for 2 years now, which will be released in 2017, as well as a second body polish. I am also planning a big trip to Europe in the spring to meet with retailers, customers and press.


If you enjoyed our interview with Rachel just as much as we did, and are interested in the Soapwalla philosophy check out the brand and its products here. If you are vegan blogger, business or just about anyone leading an inspiring vegan lifestyle then please get in touch about being part of our interview series 🙂

All images via Rachel Winard.

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