Clean and Light

E arly on in the pandemic, when “we were washing our hands constantly,” Annabelle Hutchinson decided to make soap for her friends and family. She started with online tutorials and experimented from there, discovering the joy of being “creative in a hands-on way”—an energizing contrast to her more abstract work as a PhD candidate in Political Science at Yale. The same year she started, in 2020, that energy “exploded” her hobby into a business, Elm City Botanicals, named for the city she’s lived in for seven years.

Soapmaking “really is a science and an art,” she says. “Soap is made when the natural oils and butters chemically react with the lye to form something new—a hard bar of soap! There’s no lye in the finished product at all.” Because lye is highly corrosive before being mixed with other ingredients, Hutchinson wears goggles and gloves in a well-ventilated space. After being poured into a mold, soap batter takes about a day to set and six weeks to “cure” into the final product.

sponsored by

Bridget Riley: Perceptual Abstraction at the Yale Center for British Art

While Hutchinson “geeked out” learning about saponification (the chemical reaction that creates soap), she also explored the artistic aspect—developing fragrances and decorating the bars. Working with essential oils, it took awhile to figure out which “scent profiles” she found most appealing and how to effectively create them, because some essential oil scents “don’t make it through the soapmaking process.”

Her favorite Elm City Botanicals product is the Lemongrass soap ($8), but the best seller is Black Slate, with top notes of bergamot and lemon, middle notes of peppercorn and ginger, and bottom notes of natural patchouli, cedar, vetiver and frankincense. Other popular soaps include her Wild Rose and Lavender + Cedar varieties, which smell exactly like their names. Because she makes small batches by hand, Hutchinson often experiments, recently creating Watermelon Sugar (like the Harry Styles song), a three–layer bar styled after the fruit.

Experimentation also led to the addition of two types of candles to her shop. Made with “natural skin softening oils and butters,” her massage oil candles ($19) are meant to be lit for 5 to 15 minutes, then blown out. The warm melted oil can then be rubbed into skin.

Meanwhile, a small line of “luxury” candles highlights natural ingredients and fragrances while also showcasing Hutchinson’s humorous take on academic life. Made from soy wax, one candle dubbed the All Nighter ($22) smells “like strong coffee and motivation” while another, Finish that Darn Paper, smells of “antique libraries and determination,” as per the labels. The full scent profiles were too sophisticated for my nose to tease out. Nonetheless, when my daughter came home, she exclaimed, “It smells amazing in here!”

Still, it’s the eye-catching beauty of her soaps that draws people to her stand at popup markets—and the personal touch. “I’m such a people person,” Hutchinson says. With Mother’s Day in mind, she’s stocked up for upcoming popups at Koffee (4/30), East Rock Brewery (5/7) and the New Haven Night Market (5/13).

Pre-pandemic, Hutchinson would never have conceived of Elm City Botanicals. Now, she revels in it. “It’s showed me there’s room in life for multiple careers and pathways,” she says. “I enjoy it. It gives me fulfillment. I’m grateful for it.”

Elm City Botanicals
[email protected]
Website | Instagram

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Heather Jessen is a poet and writer who likes asking questions. She’s in awe of the educators, artists and social workers who’ve helped New Haven kids and families during the pandemic.

Leave a Reply