Single Mom Turns Hobby Into Full-Time Soap Business

Single mother Jeanine Gantt started making soaps in 2001 to relax after getting off work as an emergency room social worker. Today, that hobby has turned into a full-time business called The Charleston Soap Chef, the business featured in this week’s Salute to American Success.

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“I started to give the soap bars to friends and family as gifts, and they started asking me to make them more … so I asked them to start buying them from me and had a small business going,” Gantt said. “One day I was working in the ER in mental health and had my first son at home – a little baby – and I decided I was absolutely done working in mental health and wanted to work a more flexible schedule.”

Though she first started making soaps thanks to a craft-store kit, Gantt moved on to developing her own formulations and fragrances. In 2003, she set up shop at the Charleston Farmer’s Market, calling her business The Charleston Soap Chef.

“I celebrate the low country here in Charleston and am proud of the traditions in the South. The fragrances range from sweet tea to Southern magnolia,” Gantt said. Bar soaps run from $6 up, while sugar scrubs retail for $20.

Gantt said the experience has enabled her to teach her two sons (now ages six and eight) valuable lessons about entrepreneurship.

“They help me make some of my bath soaps and Dead Sea salt blend scrubs … We put a seashell from the beach in each [product], so we’ll fill the buckets up with seashells together,” Gantt said.

And though balancing business and single motherhood isn’t easy, Gantt says it’s worth the challenge.

“I have learned that balance is the most important thing. There’s always something you could do for the business 24/7. Sometimes you have to stop and set the business aside,” she explained.

But putting family first doesn’t mean sacrificing sales: Gantt says business is booming this time of year.

“It’s definitely our busiest time of year. About 40% of annual sales come from the holidays,” she said.

“It makes me feel proud that they purchase my products and enjoy them or put them under their Christmas tree. They’re just as excited about receiving them as I am about making them,” Gantt added.