How It All Began
At 42, I (Ali) knew I had to kick a 25 year smoking habit before the rest of my life could unfold. A mid-life crisis and a major spiritual transformation followed. At the same time, a friend had lent me an aromatherapy book - The Fragrant Pharmacy, by Valerie Worwood.
I bought a few small bottles of pure plant essential oils and fell in love with them. My respect grew as I had good results using these oils and naturally I began wondering how I could work with them.
"Soap" just kept on popping up in my mind - not the kit variety you make from soap powder, but proper old fashioned, start-from-scratch soap as our great grandmothers made it.
I could make soap and add my cherished essential oils (though others advised this would be far too expensive!). Two things happened about this time. First, my father gave me some money, bless him, and I had about fifteen hundred dollars as start-up funds for a little business.
Secondly, a friend (thank you Kaye) had been experimenting with the sale of different handmade crafts at the Broome markets. In addition to paper, beads, bells, and others, she had tried out soap. She assured me that she had been quite surprised that people were keen to buy quite amateurish homemade soap, and would even pay $4 for a nicely packaged bar. She herself had no intention of continuing with soap because it was just "too much like cooking". Well, I was a natural stirrer and lover of soup making, large pots, cauldrons, cups, chalices, witches brews and chasers after holy grails and that was enough market research for me!
I next set off to discover everything I could about homemade soap manufacturing. At that time, there wasn't much. Just one book by Ann Benson called "Soap" and issue 100 of Grass Roots magazine. The internet was still to come, and I knew of only 1 other WA soapmaker - Corynne with her hand made soap at the Fremantle markets. I bought a few basic utensils, moulds and ingredients. My family put up with the constant messes in the kitchen and the frequent suspiciously soap like flavours in the salad. Smokey made everything I needed from collapsible trestle tables to trolleys and extra shelving.
This experimental phase took a good 6 months of hard work and determination to stop having irredeemable failures. You have to really love a craft to push through the failures! But slowly soap making came together, along with skin care products I was making for my own hypersensitive skin and also candles, which Smokey took over, making them on our back veranda.
In 1995 Hidden Valley Handcrafts was registered and began trading at the Broome Courthouse Markets each Saturday morning.
Within 2 years there was a thriving soap, candle & natural skin care stall at the markets.
The natural environment of Broome and the bush and beach near our home (Hidden Valley) became the inspiration for the creation of many new soaps and candles.
We enjoyed “making meaning” out of our love for the Kimberley, expressing this in soap and other products.
Today we employ a marvelous and varied team of 4-8 part time helpers. We have an extensive efficient mail order service, "factory" and gift shop at Blue Haze, and still operate at the Saturday Courthouse Markets. Many of our products have come from individual requests or remedies needed for local conditions including coping with midge/sandfly bites (Midgie Magic) or cracked heels from wearing thongs (Healing Cream or Heel Balm).
Our Broome theme soaps and candles have been popular with tourists and locals as well as Broome hotels and B&Bs. Sometimes we are told we make the best soap in Australia! But while the colourful soaps continue to be popular, the skin care products and essential oils are now our fastest growing lines. It is wonderful to see how customers increasingly want natural plant solutions to their beauty, skin health and lifestyle issues, how they read labels, want less and more sustainable packaging and less synthetics.
Since Covid times we have been blessed with steady mail orders and very loyal locals. The business future looks good as more people gravitate to natural products and less harmful toxins. We are very proud to distribute wonderful products carrying a lot of love all over Australia.