Keeping Clean with Somerville Soap Works

Rebecca Lyn Cooper, who splits her time between Somerville and Los Angeles, is an architect by training and self-described “maker of things by temperament.” While working on her dissertation on the West Coast she began to develop terrible allergies from the massive fires that rage there every year. She also found herself crafting more to stay sane while nearing the end of her academic work.

“Suddenly I was allergic to everything,” Cooper said. That included many bath and beauty products she had previously loved using. “When you start reading what’s in stuff, it’s shocking.”

So Cooper started making her own soap, constructing a bar that’s as simple and clean as possible. It contains only water, lye and olive oil, which Cooper says is the oldest known cleansing agent.

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“I’ve always been the type of person who knew things were made,” said Cooper, who is also a knitter, crocheter and sewer. And though she loved the Simply Clean soap she created, she found herself longing for “all these fancy things that people have.”

That lead to the development of her Oatmeal & Honey soap and the creation of Somerville Soap Works. Now her line of soaps includes varieties like Espresso Scrub and one made with cacao and peppermint for the holidays. Cooper makes the soaps in her Magoun Square home and sells them at local markets. You can find her sudsy products at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market at the Arts at the Armory (191 Highland Ave.) this Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

“I’m so passionately invested in the idea that we need to build small, local economies thick with networks of local businesses,” Cooper said. And she’s found a very receptive customer base in Somerville’s blossoming local movement.

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“There are so many people who want to buy local,” Cooper said. “Residents care passionately about this being a great city.” So does Cooper, who hopes to make it her permanent home.

In the meantime, she’s collaborating with other Somerville-based business like Slumbrew. Cooper connected with the founders at a Somerville art gallery and now she’s using some of the local brewer’s beers in her soaps, like one made with Happy Sol Hefeweizen and blood oranges and a version with Porter Square Porter and cacao nibs.

“I started making the soap completely selfishly. Then I gave it as presents to everyone,” Cooper said. What started out as a “complete lark,” in Cooper’s words, has grown to become so much more. “There’s an element of magic to taking every day ingredients to make happiness.”

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