Soap that cleans your body without dirtying the earth
When it comes to the side job that she runs out of her Manoa home, Wendy Hee thinks that her neighbors must be wondering what, exactly, it is that she is doing.
“I feel like a mad scientist,” she says. “I’ve got my gloves on and my mask — I look like Walter White.”
As menacing as she may look while she’s working, her neighbors can rest easy: Her side job is making soap. She and husband Mike run My Manoa, which produces all-natural soap and other up-cycled products.
“Being in Manoa, you want to be conscious of your environment. It’s so nice here, so you don’t want to do any damage to your environment,” Wendy says. “Not only here (in Manoa) but all of Hawaii.”
Both have full-time jobs — Mike as an operations manager and Wendy as an IT consultant — but My Manoa is a passion project that they pursue nights and weekends. They had been toying with the idea of making their own soap for years, after Mike tried some handmade soap that his friend’s mother had made.
“I liked the way it made my skin feel — it didn’t have a residue after,” Mike explains. “And my skin isn’t the best, so it helped to clear up my skin a little bit.”
When they moved into the current Manoa home a few years ago, they finally had the space to do it. So they experimented, learning the craft through online tutorials — and lots of trial and error — until they settled on their winning recipes.
At first, they simply intended the soap to be just for their own use. But they gifted their extra products to friends and family, and it gained popularity, so they opened an Etsy account. Now, My Manoa products also are available at local stores including Pink Sand, Roberta Oaks, Green Mountain, Urban Outfitters, Aoki’s North Shore Trading Company, Guava Shop, Sweet Home Waimanalo and 3rd Ave Shore, as well as other shops on Neighbor Islands.
Its soaps include Handmade Charcoal and Tea Tree, Organic Kona Coffee and Green Tea, all of which also are made with pure, simple ingredients such as essential oils, lemon and sea salt. My Manoa also has expanded its product line to include homemade laundry detergent, cups from up-cycled beer bottles and surf wax. It even has got Beach Soap specifically designed for easy transport — small slivers of soap that are perfect for taking to the beach shower.
One of their favorite parts of running My Manoa has been being able to see what these natural products can do for their customers. One of their regulars, for instance, shared the soap with a teenager she knew.
“She said that he had had such a problem with acne, but that the soap really helped him out,” Wendy says. “And that was just the greatest thing to hear.”
Although Mike and Wendy admit that having such a successful side project on top of their full-time jobs can get hectic, their collaboration through My Manoa is another way for them to spend time together as a couple. Wendy makes most of the soap, while Mike is the creative force behind the company’s simple, slick packaging design.
“Making soap is really fun because I get to work with my hands and create things that we can use,” Wendy says.
“It’s nice to know what is going in stuff,” she adds.
That is a concern that was sparked for the Hees a few years ago, when they saw a documentary about the toxins that are in everyday foods. Shocked about what they learned, they started to be more conscious about what they were eating.
“Through that transformation in what we eat, it kind of translated into what she makes,” Mike recalls. “And we try to live that way as much as possible.”
“It’s hard to make good products with just sustainable or eco-friendly (items),” Wendy says. “But you want to do right for people. That’s the only stuff we want to be on our bodies, so that’s the only thing that we are going to put out for other people.”
For more on My Manoa or to purchase its products online, visit mymanoa.com.