ROTHSCHILD, Wis. — Skin issues have plagued Michelle Neathery her entire life. When her youngest daughter was born with the same issues, she found a better way to care for her own skin and that of her child.
“I have always had eczema, dermatitis; I get hives from just about everything,” Neathery said. “Then my youngest daughter was born and had eczema scales all over her face. She would scratch, and her face would always be all cut up. So, I tried a natural soap made here in the area, and it was great. But, I wanted a little more control over what went into it and the fragrances.”
Neathery began experimenting by making soaps. One of those experiments gave her the result she had been dreaming of achieving. She found soap made from goat’s milk to provide the skin relief she and her daughter had been craving.
“I started out making soap using oatmeal, and that helped my skin a lot,” Neathery said. “Then, I tried goat milk as an experiment, and I have never turned back.”
As Neathery saw success with her own health, her friends and co-workers took notice and began asking to buy soap from her. Twenty years later, Neathery is the owner of Little Bull Falls Soap Works in Rothschild. Working full time in addition to running her business, Neathery said she relies greatly on the help of her husband, Kevin, and her daughter, Brianna Baker.
Besides her storefront presence, Neathery markets soaps online and attends a vast number of craft shows each year.
She sells her soap both retail and wholesale and has customers from around the U.S. as well as internationally.
The business was launched in earnest in 2003, with a storefront presence added four years ago, just before the coronavirus pandemic. While many small businesses struggled and faltered during the pandemic, Neathery said she was thankful to be able to keep her store open. She was deemed as an essential business because she was selling soaps and hand cleansers. She continued to build her online presence.
Not a dairy farmer herself, Neathery sources goat milk produced in Wisconsin from a woman who collects and freeze-dries the milk. Working with powdered goat milk is more convenient for her than working with liquid milk, Neathery said.
“I don’t have to worry about the milk spoiling,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about freezing it and having the storage for that.”
Between 75-100 pounds of powdered goat milk go into Neathery’s soaps each year, and she estimates she sells several thousand bars of soap during the year.
Neathery makes soap year-round, but the quantity she makes each week varies throughout the year.
“Right now, I am making soap once a week,” she said. “But when I am making soap once a week, I make three batches, so I am making about 200 bars each week. Usually, in July, I start making more soap to build my inventory for the fall and will be making soap several days each week.”
Once the soap is made, it is allowed to set for 24 hours before it is cut into bars and placed on drying racks to continue the curing process. Neathery said it requires at least six weeks to cure to be ready to be packaged.
All varieties of Little Bull Falls Soap Works are made from the same basic recipe, with differences coming from the blend of essential oils, the natural fragrance oils and the natural colorings Neathery uses.
Neathery has over 100 varieties of soap in her store. She said while some of the soaps were created with a seasonal theme in mind, she tends to keep them stocked throughout the year. Her best seller is Door County Cherry.
“Keeping everything very natural is important to me,” Neathery said. “Some people immediately think of chemicals when they hear fragrance oil, but I use the highest quality fragrance oils and only ones that are natural.”
Even with the other natural ingredients, Neathery said what makes her soaps successful is the use of goat milk.
“The goat milk is the key,” Neathery said. “I have a vegan soap, but almost no one buys that because the goat milk is so good for your skin. That is what makes the soap so good.”
Neathery continues to improve both her soaps and her business model by working to source more of her ingredients locally.
“Keeping things as local as possible is important to me,” Neathery said. “When you buy local, you know more about what has gone into the product you are buying.”
Neathery is a member of the Something Special from Wisconsin program which is administered and promoted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The designation recognizes that at least 50% of a product’s processing, production or ingredients are from Wisconsin.
“When I first started, I was sourcing my goat milk from one of my ingredient suppliers, but they were from Ohio,” she said. “Now I am using milk produced in Wisconsin. I am moving away from olive oil to more sunflower oil, because that is a product I can source from here in the U.S.”
What started as a desire to help herself and her daughter turned into a passion for Neathery, one she wanted to share with others.
“Struggling with skin issues is frustrating, but healthy skin just makes you feel good,” Neathery said. “Creating something that helps solve those issues is a good feeling. The goat milk adds so much to the soap. It is creamier and so good for your skin.”
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