To say Gail Horn is busy this week would be a bit of an understatement. Not only is the owner of the Camas-based The Soap Chest busy prepping for Mother’s Day customers, she’s also gearing up for two of her three sons’ weddings — one in May, the other in June — and planning for the popular Camas Plant & Garden Fair, which celebrates its 20th year on Saturday, May 13, showcasing several dozen plant- and garden- themed vendors, including Horn’s Soap Chest, in historic, downtown Camas.
Horn has brought her natural, botanical soaps, often made with herbs grown right behind her business at 521 N.E. Everett St., to the local plant and garden fair for the past three years. The first year was rainy, but still fun, she says, but the past two years have been sunny and totally packed with customers.
“Last year I had my biggest-ever single day,” Horn says of her sales at the 2016 plant and garden fair. “I think I did around $1,200 in just a few hours.”
Considering the fact that Horn’s products are mostly handmade soaps, spritzers and bath accessories like the loofah scrubbers she grows in her own garden, with reasonable price points, the $1,200-in-one-afternoon sales figure is impressive. Horn credits the popular plant and garden fair with drawing the crowds to downtown Camas and giving vendors an easily accessible throng of shoppers ready to buy plants, garden accessories and, of course, gifts for mom.
“There are a lot of people who come to the plant and garden fair to buy their plant starts for the year, but it’s also the day before Mother’s Day, so you see a lot of fathers, sons and daughters wandering around, looking for a gift for mom,” Horn says.
In fact, it was her mothering life that led Horn down the entrepreneurial path 15 years ago. In 2002, Horn was the mother of three elementary-school aged boys, Marty, Devin and Justin. It was Christmas-time and Horn’s family wanted to exchange handmade gifts. A friend had recently given her some homemade soap, peaking Horn’s interest in soapmaking, and she wondered if making all-natural products might help her own dry skin and her boys’ troubles with eczema.
The experiment launched the early days of Horn’s Soap Chest business. For the first 13 years, she grew botanicals in her own backyard, and made soap inside the home she shared with her husband, Dean, and their three boys. Space was tight, but Horn grew her business, bringing her soaps and other skincare products to the Camas Farmer’s Market each week throughout the spring and summer months, and selling online to customers around the country.
By 2014, she was ready for her own retail space. Horn had always dreamed of renting a little retail shop in downtown Camas, but when she and Dean discovered that a vacant lot at the corner of Everett Street and Fifth Avenue was for sale, Horn decided to create her own business space. The Horns’ Soap Chest building, which also includes a next-door office space and a three-bedroom upstairs apartment, opened in 2015 with retail in the front and a large workspace in the back.
Since then, Horn has increased her product line and customer base. Most recently, she created a soap she’s longed to have for many years: the new Camas Lily soap, representing her town’s namesake plant.
Because the blue Camas lily, which blooms once a year and only grows in the perfect conditions, doesn’t have much in the way of a smell, Horn had to experiment for quite a while to get the perfect lily-based scent. She wanted something that would appeal to both women and men and represent the essence of the Camas lily. The result is a soap scented with lily as well as fir essence to capture the fir tree-studded areas where the lilies grow. The soap has a creamy, off-white base color with pops of fir-green and blue-purple ribboned throughout. Although the soap is still curing — a process that take at least a month — Horn has sliced slivers of the Camas Lily soap to share with customers at the May 13 Camas Plant & Garden Fair.
The Soap Chest owner also plans to bring her Garden Therapy soap, which has shea butter to help soothe skin after a day of digging and planting in the garden, as well as ground walnut shells to help get all the garden dirt off of your hands. If customers can’t find what they’re looking for at Horn’s plant and garden fair booth, the Soap Chest will be open during the fair on Saturday, so customers can just walk up to Everett Street and find more options for Mother’s Day gifts.
Horn is one of several dozen vendors coming to this year’s 20th annual Camas Plant & Garden Fair, which fills the streets of historic downtown Camas with plants, vegetable starts, garden art, flowers, trees, outdoor furniture, Mother’s Day gifts, hanging baskets, bird feeders, live music, a potting station, and booths with local plant and garden experts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 13. A free Kids Fun Zone, organized by the Camas Farmer’s Market and Camp Windy Hill will be set up from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the fair.
For more information, or to see a full list of vendors, visit www.cwplantfair.org.