Pandemic draws soap maker out of retirement

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BETHLEHEM – Tadhg Slater is like many other North Country residents – compelled to contribute to the local community during the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike others, however, he is a seasoned soap maker with over ten years of professional experience under his belt.

Up until five years ago, Slater’s Massachusetts-based company had a distribution chain that sold luxury organic soap from coast to coast. His handcrafted products were also delivered under private label to numerous inns and markets. He said it was a staggering amount of work for one person, and he chose to step away with no intention of returning.

A resident artist at 42 Maple Arts Center in Bethlehem and a recent transplant from the Greater Boston area, Slater began making soap again last week. He delivered 105 bars to Rek.Lis Brewing to be distributed for free to every customer ordering takeout from the restaurant. He said it was one small way to encourage the support of a local business during hard times. Now, the artist is making hundreds of bars of unscented soap that is available to medical personnel and first responders, as well as anyone else in need.

While he had no intention of returning to soap making, Slater said it became apparent early on in the pandemic that soap would soon be in high demand. “First, we saw the toilet paper fly off the shelves and then the hand sanitizer. I knew there would be an increased demand and need for soap soon enough. I may as well fill the need,” he said.

When asked what first led him to become a soap maker, Slater laughed and said it started with a dream. “I woke up the next day and started learning everything I could about it. I watched every YouTube video and devoured every book I could find about saponification,” he explained.

Part of his on-boarding process, Salter said, has been to restructure the Bethlehem-based art center, 42 Maple, to become a grassroots production facility. A temporary sign for the newly-formed Bethlehem Soap Company was installed outside the building.

Similar to the recent trend of regional distillers shifting from alcohol to hand sanitizer and clothing manufacturers stitching surgical masks, Slater said he sees the art center as a suitable starting point for his new venture. As social distancing restrictions lessen, other resident artists will help him with production.

“In the short term, our immediate focus is to keep the first responders and health care agencies that need our product stocked at little or no cost, while also producing the same top quality organics for our amazing customers to order. Our long-term goals include the establishment of a full manufacturing facility and the creation of new jobs,” explained the artist.

After the required two-week cure time, the fledgling company’s initial deliveries are slated for both the Littleton Police Department and Ammonoosuc Community Health Services, with more organizations to follow. Slater said he anticipates online pre-orders for scented products to be available to the public within a week or less.

“The opportunity to make a difference and create something new is what we needed. We wanted to feel like we would be doing our part in a town we live in and love. Helping our community has always been paramount,” stated Slater.