Squeaky Sailor Soap: A Swashbuckler's Tale

Sometimes good things just have a way of working out. Such is the case for Shelley Burton and Squeaky Sailor Soap.

The story begins in 2008, when Shelley was faced with time on her hands after being laid off.  Rather than drive herself crazy looking for work, Shelley decided to start a soap company on a whim one day. She asked her sister to think of a name for it. Shelley’s sister replied haphazardly, saying, “I dunno…um, Squeaky Sailor?” And, like that, Squeaky Sailor Soap was born.

The name kind of fit perfectly. Shelley, a fan of alliteration and all things odd and punny, immediately started devising soap names with her sister and a friend visiting from Australia. Before they knew it, they’d come up with half of Squeaky Sailor Soap’s line. Take Keelhaul, for example, an “amazingly exfoliating” bar named after an 18th century Dutch torture practice in which convicted mariners would find themselves dragged from their vessel to scrap the stern of the ship.

Later, Shelley wrote stories for each soap description on her etsy page. While these stories had only been intended to be fun descriptions on the site and a bit of fun for herself, she realized she could use the stories on her packaging! It was yet another perfect fit.

Squeaky Sailor Soap has grown, in part, due to the amount of time Shelley was able to put into the foundation of her business. There were never any lofty expectations of what SS could be. Instead it was, as Shelley puts it, “…a glorified hobby.” It being a hobby, however, just might have been one of her greatest strengths. By the time she wanted to make SS something more, she had already built a small market and learned what sold and what didn’t.

No less important to the growth of Squeaky Sailor is the support of Shelley’s family (including her husband who is helping to design their first lip balm), friends (Squeaky Sailor’s skin testers), and co-workers that have been purchasing products since the beginning and have helped inspire and shape where SS is today.

What makes it all work is that Shelley really enjoys doing what she does. Though she has since found another day job, she still comes home to work on soaps and research for new ideas and stories each night. “I won’t sell work I’m not proud of,” she says. “If I’m looking at a wonky bar or a weak-scented batch of soap or if a story I’m writing sounds stupid and it just won’t work, it’s not going to be sold until it’s right.”

Today Shelley aims to grow Squeaky Sailor’s online sales. You can check them out on Etsy, or on Scoutmob (which has been a huge help in spreading the word for them). But if online purchasing isn’t for you, then perhaps you just might catch Shelley at a local Renegade.  Since first going to the Chicago Renegade Craft Fair last year Shelley has felt the urge to go to all Renegade cities. For now, though, you can catch Squeaky Sailor at the Renegades in San Francisco on July 19-20, and in Los Angeles July 26-27.

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