life etc.

A little inspiration; Ellen Cagnassola of @SweetSoaps

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Women are inspiring. Fact. I’m a woman therefore biased in favour of my sex, so there. When a woman works hard at what she wants, goes with her instincts and makes her dreams come true, I find it absolutely trip worthy. What’s not to admire and be inspired by? Ellen embodies this to a sweet T. Her passion has guided her through and through and she is the poster woman for why believing in your dreams and yourself most of all, will get you even further than you ever imagined you could go. She is the founder of Sweetsoaps; a charming, niche, crafting business located in New Jersey. Proudly American made, with lots of goodness for society; using recyclable products and energy conscious manufacturing processes, (isn’t that something absolutely womanly; the home before her needs? The greater good? Biased I may be but it doesn’t make it any less true 🙂 Sweet Soaps has come a long, long way but this is just the beginning. Ellen has managed to successfully build a brand through her marketing savvy and sheer determination. Her story is inspiring; SHE is inspiring and cool enough to drop a few lines in a twitter-orchestrated interview with me…

What made you decide to start your own company?

I have always been an independent thinker and easily frustrated by mentality or corporate America.  I wanted it all, being a good mother and a successful woman.  In 1998 working from home was rarely an option in any full time job.  SO I set out to create my own future.

What is the concept behind Sweet Soaps?

My first product was an oval bar of soap in a cute box with a handle.  The fragrances were based on nostalgic smells from my childhood i.e. bubble gum, blueberry, peach, apple, etc I wrote a poem about each fragrance and what it meant to me as a child.  I have a sweet tooth and the soap looked like candy to me so it just made sense and scents to call it Sweet Soaps.

Paint a picture of your first momentous moment with sweet soaps. How did you feel?

The first really big moment that took my breath away was in 2003 when Neiman Marcus put my Gold Monogram Soap in their Christmas catalog.  It was overwhelming for many reasons.  One because its iconic, two because it is the ultimate compliment, and three because I had no idea what to expect in volume.  I laughed, I cried, and then I worked my butt off.  It was a huge success and it grew over the year.

The Bacon soap; how did you come up with that?

Bacon Soap was born on Twitter as a joke. It was an off-handed remark out of frustration most likely.  After I tweeted that one comment, there was a response of; yes I would buy that please make it.  It was at that moment I discovered that Twitter was the fastest product development tool I had ever used. It was grown over the past 3 years.  I am wholesaling it for the first time to a catalog called “What On Earth” coming out this spring.

A day in the life of Ellen; what is the like?

7:45; drop kids at school, get a bucket of coffee

Come home, answer emails, tweets, while drinking coffee.

I generally work at a Tazmanian Devil speed from 9-3 when my kids get home.

After school things, I have 2 girls 11 and 17.  My youngest rides horses, track, and runs 5 k races.

My 17-year-old works 2 part time jobs, learning to drive, college visits, and just took the SAT.

While I am a taxicab I have my iPhone with me at all times.  If I am in the car waiting for someone I am always answering emails, making phone calls, tweeting but never when driving!!!

5pm; dinner, while cooking I am checking my phone in case one of my partners needs me or a customer is asking questions.

There are a lot of times I am making business calls in the evenings too because I am on the East Coast and there are the West Coast folks 3 hours behind me.

Once homework and dishes are done, I am most likely making product samples or looking for new marketing opportunities.

I have a creative think tank in my home, filled with all kinds of crazy things. I am always drawing and dreaming up new product ideas.  That is a process that happens organically at all times of the day.  I try to stay focused on priorities to get things to fruition.  Right now I am prepping for The NYC Stationery Show at The Javits Center May 20-23rd.  We are launching a few new product lines that are in specific niches and top secret until the day of the show.  I am building a database for these potential customers, it is very boring but it must be done.  While I am doing that I am also working on a new collaborative relationship with another family owned company.  I create product, ship samples, and then we talk about how to come together for a win/win relationship.  I am very excited about this potential and can’t wait to make the announcement.  All good things take time.

Somewhere in this Tazmanian daily routine, is a five mile walk…25 miles a week!

(Ellen, picture me bowing down to you…)

Career and family; how do you marry the two?

Let’s start with the fact that you need people who love and support your vision.  I am lucky that I have that or I would never have made it this far.  My kids have lived this soap opera for 15 years it is normal for them.  I created it for them and it has allowed me to always be present and available to them 24/7.  You do realize it is not easy to be married to someone one like me.  I know I am exhausting but I am also never boring! My husband Chris is my best friend and my rock.  He is the stable accountant that allows me to be a spinning top of creativity; it just works even 22 years later I am madly in love with him. He also knows when to keep his mouth shut and just tell me yes. Ha-Ha! Even I know some of my ideas are out there but I am a businessperson first and the bottom line is, there is genius in all things but not all things make money.  It has taken me 15 years to realize that but I get it!

Have their been any pitfalls along the way and how have you dealt with them?

Oh hell yes!  I have had people think they can crush me out of jealousy I guess?  I showed them my power.  Once you live through on of those you realize, there isn’t anything that can stop you from achieving your success.  I am mentally and physically stronger at 44 than I ever was at 24.  My confidence and my resolve to plant my flag on the moon is coming and I am building speed!

What do you hope for others trying to follow in your lead to realising their dreams?

Know that you don’t need to be the smartest or the best right out of the gate.  You just have to be willing to work harder than you ever imagined and keep getting back up no matter what.  It’s a numbers game not a game of intelligence.  Learn from every mistake but don’t repeat it!  Ask for help and help others along the way.  When you help other people you learn very valuable lessons and it makes you better.

Where to and What next?

We plan on going nationally in a much bigger way of course.  Long term I am feeling a global extension of one or more products.

Now that I am no longer manufacturing, I am concentrating on product design.  My future goal is to license my other consumer goods product ideas to other larger companies.  I am an inventor at my core and there is a decade of products in my head waiting for a home.

Presently I have a partnership that manufactures my soap kits for a large retail chain in the US and Canada.  This is one branch of my business to the masses while my Sweet Soaps brand is marketed to the luxury boutique market.  I call it having your soap cake and eating it too!

p.s. I told you she was inspiring!