BREMERTON — When Laura Kneib decided to fend off the downfall of “idle hands,” she did so with a challenge.
“I threw a gauntlet down in front of myself,” she said. “Can I make soap from reclaimed french fry oil?”
That sounds random, but Kneib learned to make soap from her mother, and doing so was something she’s done “pretty much all my life.” Also, she knew it was possible to make soap using bacon grease, beef tallow, and “all manner of different oils.”
The challenge, though, was whether or not oil used for cooking that had been heated up and cooled down, could be refined enough to make a good, usable soap.
“It took about a year and half to get a stable recipe that wasn’t too high in glycerin,” Kneib said. “Once I got that, it was just, ‘Oh, this is too cool to sit on.’ ”
That’s when Kneib started F.R.O.G. Soap (From Reclaimed Oil and Glycerin).
Initially, she sold her hand-made soaps out of her home. But when her house was overtaken by soap for her walk-in and online customers, she knew something had to change.
She then started working out of the side of the Admiral Theater in downtown Bremerton, where her business lived for six months until a permanent storefront on Fifth Street in downtown Bremerton was ready.
“It used to be about 75-percent online (sales),” Kneib said. “It’s just grown to … 50-50 (percent) online and in the shop. Most of the year, it’s steady online sales, but so much of it is walk in.
“It’s a destination place now. People come from Seattle, saying, ‘You’ve got to go to F.R.O.G. Soap.’ It’s grown very nicely, very nicely.”
Everything sold in F.R.O.G. Soap is hand-made, from the soap that started it all, to shampoo, bath salts and bombs, lip balm and more. With the exception of jewelry made by a local artist and shaving bowls made by a potter on Whidbey Island, everything is made in the store.
“I make the furniture and everything,” Kneib said.
Her most popular products, Kneib guessed, include her tea-tree peppermint shampoo and her Puget Sound Soap that’s made from salt water, sea lettuce and sand from the Sound.
“At gift-giving time, it’s gone,” she said. “I can’t keep up.”
Since starting her business four years ago, Kneib said almost five tons of reclaimed material has been used to make her products (the reclaimed oil is only used for the soap).
“It’s a good product. It’s pretty. It makes a great gift. It helps people out,” Kneib said.
She said that people with skin conditions forced to buy expensive soap free from certain chemicals or products can find a cheaper alternative in her soap.
Plus, she said people come back to her store because “they have a good time.”
“It’s fun in here,” she said. “It’s not like buying new tires. This stuff’s fun.”
Kneib said she gives workshops to teach people to make soap using her methods. She’s even worked online with people in Bolivia, Italy and Tunisia to help locals learn how to make soap using reclaimed oil and ingredients naturally occurring in their areas, such as clay, grass and seaweed.
“I guess it’s like a marriage,” Kneib said about F.R.O.G. Soap. “You’ve got to be there every day, ups and downs, good weather, bad weather, fighting humidity for some products.”
Looking forward, Kneib wants more space for her shop. Currently, her storefront is packed to the brim with displays. After the start of the new year, she said they’ll be adding more shelves. But she wants more space to display more product, as well as teach larger workshops (currently, there’s only enough space for three people). She’s even considered opening a satellite location, maybe in Gig Harbor or Poulsbo.
F.R.O.G. Soap is at 530 Fifth St., Bremerton. For more information or to shop F.R.O.G. Soap online, visit frogsoap.com.