New Restoration Soap & Bodycare shop opens Friday

Founder Ruth Collins is determined to bring chemical-free bath and body products to the Madison community.

Ruth Collins was always a “big brand person.” If she didn’t recognize the name of a product, she wouldn’t buy it. But when the products she purchased started irritating her skin, she began experimenting on her own terms.

“If you are actually willing to look, there are tons of natural soapmakers,” she says.

Collins is proving it possible to make bath, body and oil products that are cruelty, chemical- and allergen-free with the Sun Prairie business she founded in 2017, Restoration Soap & Bodycare. After a successful stint as part of the Culture Collectives pop-up shop program, which supports small businesses owned by people of color, Collins is opening her first brick-and-mortar shop at 10 S. Allen St. on January 14.

Collins sells handmade bath salts, soaps, truffles and scrubs, with many products available for use on the hair, face and body, such as her Amazon rainforest soap collection, as well as lip balms and butters, lotions, moisturizers and a line of vegan products, all of which range from $8 to $28. She creates the products with organic ingredients, botanicals, herbs and purees, using natural powders, clays and floral or fruit substances to scent the products, eschewing artificial ingredients or fillers.

Over the last few years, she has built relationships with people in Wisconsin and across the globe, conducting extensive research into environmentally friendly companies to ethically source her ingredients. About half of the oils come from Brazil or Africa, specifically in Gambia or Benin. A majority of the fruits — such as mango — are sourced from the Caribbean islands. In the Madison area, Collins is inspired by the art community, which she says is rich in culture. Originally, Restoration Soap & Bodycare took off as she attended various farmer’s markets, fairs and events.

“That’s one of the nice things I like about here, especially being in the Sun Prairie area,” says Collins, who is originally from Freeport, Illinois. “For me, I’m in a ton of different groups where I network with different soapmakers or people that make body products, and I have literally met people all over the world.” She also attends conventions and is currently taking formulation classes.

It took trial-and-error and leaving a career in corporate banking to refocus all of her energy on her newfound business, but Collins says she would rather take the risk than have regrets. She briefly returned to a banking job earlier this year but realized Restoration Soap & Bodycare was her calling.

“Sometimes failure is nothing but an opportunity for you to say, ‘Let’s see why it failed.’ You have to keep going,” she says. “I don’t want to be 80 years old, wondering, ‘If I would have tried, maybe I’d be happy.’”

Collins also joined the Black Soapers Collective International group, where she’s learned about success stories that help her imagine a future for her business. She intentionally looks to buy ingredients from women-owned, sustainable companies.

“I’m proud to say in the last few years there are so many businesses of color that are growing here in Madison, and that there are actually organizations popping up breaking those barriers,” she says.

For Collins, relating to the customers and understanding their needs is most important. At one point, if a customer said they liked a scent, she found a way to make it. The art of saying ‘no’ took time, but initially, she sold more than 70 different scents her first year in business. Now, with a streamlined offering of 15 scents and a brick-and-mortar store, Collins is ready to showcase her bath and body products.

Collins says the location for her new shop near Madison West High School was affordable, but the biggest pull factor was the large picture window. If people couldn’t walk by and see the soaps, she didn’t want it.

Restoration Soap & Bodycare has a sleek aesthetic with a white brick wall and signs that remind visitors to “renew” and “refresh.” Her goal was to make the soaps, which sit on marble tables, the stars of the shop. Yet she says the best winter product is her creamy cocoa butter lotion, perfect for for moisturizing and protecting the skin during the colder months. She is also planning on introducing a scrub bar, where customers can select a body bar and add different scents she has on hand. Collins says nothing beats the moment the door swings open, exuding a sweet, soothing aroma — but not overwhelming, the way it might be in big corporate stores, which has always been a turnoff and irritant for Collins. She will not make any product with a scent she cannot stand, although “unfortunately people like lilacs,” she jokes. Collins prefers fresh, earthy scents like citrus, cedar and sandalwood.

“What keeps me going is when customers come back and say things are working for them,” she says. “With me it’s not just all about the sales. I get to do something I love.”

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