“A mentally steady Filipino is a mentally steady Philippines. If that’s too remote or lofty a goal to go for, well, we can always hope – otherwise there is always good soap.” – Gang Badoy Capati (Founder, Rock Ed Philippines Art Therapist, Project: Steady, Mess Lab, Soap Maker in Chief)
Those who know Gang Badoy will agree that her handcrafted soaps are pretty and yummy-looking, but what is the real story behind her getting into soap making?
“ay! may reason din bakit siya food-looking! Kasi I use food grade ingredients- kasi ang theory ko if di kaya i-absorb ng tiyan mo, bakit ipapa-absorb mo sa skin mo”- Gang
Apart from being well-known as a writer, radio and TV host, Gang is best known as an alternative educator through an NGO she founded herself called RockEd Philippines that creates awareness on social issues. She is also a TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men ) and TOWNS (Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) awardee for Alternative Education, the first and only Filipino to be honored with both prestigious awards.
So why is she now making soap? Here are some interesting facts.
The itch that led to soap-making
She initially made soap for personal use, and one time decided to try make one for her mom who has Alzheimer’s – She noticed she enjoyed smelling everything – soap, shampoo, lotion – so she started making pretty and scented ones for her to appreciate, and eventually got to know natural scents and colorants.
“I grew up with seasonal allergies; contact dermatitis was something I had to get used to. Like any Filipino kid of the 70s, we grew up with what was available on the market. So when I left to study in the US, I had such a terrible time adjusting to the change in humidity (it’s quite dry there) and of course, the cold. I started looking for ways to keep my skin from being too dry. I’m not one so much for aesthetic skin care stuff — but by now I am certainly an expert at what keeps skin moisturized and which products contain what. So – long story short – I decided to make my own soap. It wasn’t grave interest, really — it was more a response to my allergies.”
Discovering her love for soap and the word “saponification”
“My first real soap-making experience was in the late 90s with my roommate in Indianapolis named Meghan. She was English and was a Botany major. We experimented using ice cube molds, it wasn’t so bad since we were only making for ourselves anyway. That worked out.”
Gang in ’90s trying her hand in soap making in the US
Eventually, I’d read up on a lot of Applied Chemistry. I also took a temporary job being a sales person in a perfumery managed by a Chemistry Professor and there I learned to really, truly, madly, and deeply take in scents. That was also when I first learned about saponification (it really is one of my favorite words and is the name of my secret soap Instagram account) — basically saponification is the name for a chemical reaction between an acid and a base to form a salt which is soap! I loved the idea of the chemical change. I delighted in the analogy that an oil stops becoming oil, and lye stops becoming a caustic substance when combined with an oil – and together they form something that can clean – and that is safe when done right. I savored the poetry of combining two completely different elements to form a whole new third thing bigger than them both.”
So, what’s special about her soap?
“I have a feeling all handmade soaps are special. The mere fact someone took the time to create it with their own hands, I think that makes anything special. What I think is special about my soaps is this — I travel a lot and try to find raw materials to add to my soaps. I never meant to sell them (but I do sometimes take orders now) so I was able to afford making soaps with the best saffron, with the freshest Lavender buds from France, some I picked myself, I was able to acquire Frankincense resin from Oman, Elemi resin from Bicol. I learned about more plants from the Sierra Madres from another soap making teacher (the fantastic Ana Gutierrez Niguidula of Bodyfood All Natural based in Antipolo). I always ask friends to bring home leaves from trees for me when they travel and I study them and really just revel in the different qualities of the herbs and foliage of different zones.”
“So what makes my bars special? Well, I think it’s the million minutes and miles traveled put into learning more and more and more- and really experimenting, and failing (many times!) to find a perfect formula for the purpose of the soap.”
Gang is a dog lover, and it’s no surprise that her dog, Justice, gets to have his own special soap too!
“PETS ARE HYPER SPECIAL, ESPECIALLY DOGS. I MAKE A SEPARATE BATCH FOR JUSTICE! ALWAYS FRAGRANCE FREE AND PURE COCONUT OIL LANG. (ALL CAPS BECAUSE I LOVE DOGS.)”
Special soap for dogs and its model, Justice the dog
Gang’s journey into soap making eventually became a part of a bigger project umbrella, called Project Steady.
“Since 2016, I’ve been finding myself making more and more soap. It makes me happy and it calms me down. It’s my movement meditation, if that even makes sense. You can’t make soap while distracted, especially since handling caustic lye is involved, there is no space to be absent-minded, nor distracted. So soap making is my training to focus. The last quarter rolled in and I needed to raise funds for a hygiene kit project for inmates, so I decided to sell some of my soaps that have been curing since early this year.”
Project: Steady – A wellness initiative of Rock Ed Philippines.
“I am actually a Creative Arts Therapist for Wellness. I studied and trained for it. I realize lately that there are so many people who are operating and functioning despite anxiety or even depression, and the stigma of seeking help is still pervasive. What’s worse is – many of us already know we need mental health help but we’re afraid because it might be expensive, or people might talk, or what will other people think.”
“In the decade that I taught inside the Maximum Security Prison, I empirically proved that creative expression helps a lot in someone’s daily wellness. So I taught Creative Writing. Expression is sometimes all we need to stead out. Plus as an Art History major (go #UPFIGHT) I also have done my share of research of how art has always been a relative support to those with mental challenges, trauma to recover from, and behavioral disorders. Creating something, anything – will, for the most part, assist in the expressing the unexpressed. I have always believed in the gift of creating.”
“So as a Creative Arts Therapist, we started Project: Steady so that we can offer guided wellness programs individually or in small groups. We counsel face to face in the form of sessions or group classes, but we also counsel through Instagram. My recent paper was on the value of counseling through the internet. (Instagram as main venue for now.) If you feel like asking questions you may tag us on IG (@projectsteady) — we have a team that replies.”
“We are not psychiatrists, we have consultants for that, neither are we clinical psychologists, but we have partners who are – so we can offer assessments, and access to counseling if need be. Personally, I only take on three to five clients at a time and always for a minimum of three months. Gusto ko rin kasi tutok. One program track is memoirs and journal writing, one is visual art therapy, and there’s also a track that involves (you guessed it) SOAP MAKING!”
The Mess Lab
“I suppose Project: Steady is also Rock Ed’s way of responding to the times, just like previous Rock Ed projects has always been a response to the times in the service of the young Filipino. I think in such an unsteady world, in these unstable times – steady is a good goal.”
Her soap is not just a work of art – and science – it is passion with a commitment to help society. With every purchase of any product from Project: Steady shop, you are helping fund its several wellness projects.
Instagram: @projectsteady / @projectsteadyshop / @saponified
Photos courtesy of Gang Badoy