Caitlyn tops the list of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She is conscientious, creative, adventurous, compassionate, intelligent and graceful. A Milwaukee native, Caitlyn moved to Detroit for graduate school, where she studied social work at the University of Michigan. She worked on a community project at Creekside Community Development Corporation on Detroit’s east side before teaching English in Thailand for a year. She returned to Detroit where she volunteered to teach English and prepare adults to take the GED at Southwest Solutions’ Adult Learning Lab (she is currently the Lab manager). During this time, Caitlyn also started her own business, Motor City Soap. The vegan soaps and balms are natural and beautiful. She celebrates the company’s 5th anniversary this month, and we met up at one of her retail locations – The Farmer’s Hand – for lunch and to chat.
She surprised me with some goodies and I have to say I will exclusively be using her soaps from now on. I don’t use perfume so the soap’s light scent has been welcomed by both me and Danny. Best of all, it hasn’t bothered any of the highly scent sensitive people in my life. And while I’m more than happy to buy soap, for the more ambitious among you, Caitlyn also hosts soap making classes! It’ll be a fun gift for my chicken farmer, bee keeper, baby food making best friend!
Learning About Soap
I took a soap making class in 2012 at a skillshare program at Cass Community Kitchen in Midtown. I was really interested in learning to make soap – the economics of making my own body care product – and I was starting to grow my own food and shopping at farmers markets. I realized that I shouldn’t just stop at what I put in my body but also think about the products I’m putting on my body. So this idea of a more holistic lifestyle made sense to me. I started selling to family and friends and from there I expanded to Eastern Market on Sundays, the Corktown farmers market for a few years, and now my business is shifting towards experiential events. I teach soap making classes now so I’ve come full circle and it’s been a lot of fun.
Business in Detroit
The business community is really supportive and it’s a unique place to do business. At the end of the day the most important thing is the type of relationship you build with the store owner or fellow business owner. For people thinking of starting a business, I say do it and do it today. Don’t wait and don’t think you have to have it all figured out now because your business plan will never be 100% perfect. It will always adapt. It’s also important to let people in to your space and ask lots of questions.
My grandmother and her sister are from the UP and they grew up gardening. As early as I can remember she was always growing something in the backyard, so I think my first memory of a tomato on the vine is from the garden in my grandparents’ backyard. Growing has always been a theme in my life and I think that has a lot to do with my interest in the type of food that I eat and the products I use on my skin. Gardening takes a lot of time and energy and heartbreak. I have a community garden with friends and we’ve been watching these beautiful tomatoes turn from green to red and I got a text this morning saying, ‘Bad news, I think a rat or a squirrel has gotten to our tomatoes’. It’s so heartbreaking to put in all that work and then find out they’ve been eaten by rodents in your lawn.
That’s also the highs and lows of doing anything – giving it a try, doing your best and readjusting when things happen.
The Two Detroits
I don’t think there is one right answer or one way that we need to create, move forward and invest in Detroit. It’s a really complicated situation and I think the most important thing is to be open and learn from each other and make sure the actions we take don’t do harm to others – on a small scale, our individual interactions, and big picture with the city and state policies for development, transit and education. It’s a lot but I think when you consider how important it is to honor the diversity we have, it can’t be ignored.
My passion lies in this intersection of healthy natural living and teaching. So teaching soap making classes is a natural thing to fall into. I would love to open a soap studio and have a series of workshops and classes that I would lead and I would invite other beauty care product makers to come in and teach. I’ve purchased a distiller with a grant through Eastern Market and Citizen Bank to use natural herbs grown by local growers and distill them in natural essential oils, so that’s another component. I’d love to have a garden next to the building and show people how to distill their own herbs and have a holistic approach to the entire product line.