People – January 2004
Victor Taylor’s earliest memories are of his great-grandmother making soap on the family farm near Candler after the Thanksgiving hog killing. As an adult, nostalgia washed over him. He wanted his son and daughter to experience their family heritage.
Recreating the past meant buying pig fat from a butcher — Taylor thought the kids would get the idea without him having to slaughter a hog — melting the fat over a fire in a cast-iron kettle and mixing it with lye. The family poured the mixture into pans, let it dry, then cracked it with spoons to form bars of soap. That was 10 years ago. Today Taylor’s company, Asheville-based Appalachian Natural Soaps Inc., makes 3,700 bars of soap a week in 18 aromas. They are stocked in nearly 400 shops around the country.
Taylor, 42, got an associate’s degree in culinary arts from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in 1981 and went to work for the Biltmore Estate as a cook. By 1993, he was Biltmore’s director of meeting-and-convention sales. He wasn’t looking for a new job when he revived his family’s soap-making tradition.
But when he tried the recipe, friends raved about the soaps. On a whim, Taylor and his wife Pam put labels on the 4.5-ounce bars and took some over to T.S. Morrison & Co., Asheville’s oldest store, which ordered 30 and sold them within two weeks. That encouraged Taylor to peddle the soaps at craft fairs on weekends. The bars attracted wholesale customers. Taylor snagged retail customers when he started making sales calls at specialty gift shops around the state. Soon he had drummed up enough business to quit his job at the Biltmore.
Taylor won’t reveal revenue but says the company is profitable and has had annual growth of 30% to 70% the past five years. Bars sell for about $5. Appalachian Natural has seven employees — all family members — who still make the soap by hand.
Through the Internet, Taylor imports ingredients such as cocoa butter from South Africa. Early on, Pam Taylor sought advice from her high-school chemistry teacher about how to combine various oils to develop different aromas. The 18 scents include lavender, almond-honey-oatmeal and rosemary-lemon-poppy seed. The company also makes lip balm, body powder and a salt scrub. It is developing a natural deodorant.
“We stay away from artificial fragrances,” Taylor says. “It’s our pledge not to put anything on your body that you wouldn’t put in it.” Taylor claims no one has had an allergic reaction to any of the products. And animal lovers need not worry: “We wouldn’t know how to do animal testing if we wanted to,” Taylor says. “Unless you count our cocker spaniel, who used to like to eat the oatmeal-soap mixture.