Meet The Woman Whose Lupus Diagnosis Inspired A Game-Changing Skincare Line
Rachel Winard, founder of Soapwalla, struggled to find products that agreed with her skin — so she took matters into her own hands and created her own.
This week I had to opportunity to chat with Rachel Winard, founder of skincare company Soapwalla. While I loved hearing Rachel's story and learning more about Soapwalla, it was really her cool but kindhearted, unapologetic but receptive personality that won me over.
After being diagnosed with lupus, an auto immune illness, 16 years ago, Rachel's health went from seemingly really good to really bad in what seemed like an instant. While her symptoms were vast, one area severely affected was her skin. Unable to find products that didn't send her skin into panic mode, she set out to create her own. From there came Soapwalla, her all-natural and sustainably sourced skincare line.
But Rachel is so much more than just Soapwalla and the ingredients she uses, rather she is a woman committed to staying true to herself and standing up for what she believes in — and that is what makes her inspiring. We chatted with Rachel about her story, what it's like leading a queer-owned, woman-run company, and as always, what livingly beautifully looks like for her.
Livingly: Tell us about your story and how Soapwalla got started.
Rachel Winard: I really started making skincare out of necessity. In 2002-2003 I was going through the rather protracted process of being diagnosed with lupus. Lupus is an auto immune illness, which means your body gets confused and attacks its own cells as if they are foreign bodies, which leads to a whole host of symptoms and side effects. Everyone is different but almost across the board people have skin issues.
Overnight my skin went from being totally normal — I'm not exaggerating when I say I barely had a pimple my entire teenage years — to wildly reactive. I tried everything on the market at the time that said it was for sensitive skin or hypoallergenic, natural or organic, and I found that all of those buzzwords, especially back then, that's all they were — buzzwords. Not only were they not calming my skin but they were exasperating my overall health issues because of the intense preservative methods.
So, out of necessity I thought, if I can’t find it I’m just going to have to make it. And that's how I got started in this. I tend to be a little bit of an overachiever, when I put my mind to something I really put my mind to it, so I taught myself chemistry, basic formulation, aromatherapy, herbology — really the whole nine yards so I could create products for myself I felt comfortable and safe using, and that were also going to support all of my health systems. Then, after seven years of perfecting the line I premiered it in December 2009, so this December , will be our ninth birthday.
Though you started Soapwalla out of necessity, have you always had an interest in natural skincare?
RW: I always ate very well, but before all of this I was absolutely a stereotypical consumer. If something was on a shelf and had a nice package and fancy-pants words on it, I assumed somebody vetted that for me, that somebody said it was okay and somebody was checking. And then I learned that's not really the case. That was really eye opening. Also, just learning what these words were. This is a place I think education is empowerment and ignorance is not necessarily bliss. Just because a word is super long doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad for you.
We use the Latin names for all of our herbal ingredients on our products because that's the standard in the EU. Those words can look super scary, but it's really just the Latin word. What I learned when I really dove into reading labels was, oh this a silicone derivative, this is a paraben derivative, and so on. I could figure it out from the chemical names and I also felt like I wasn’t scared by what I was reading — I knew what it meant and knew if I was interested in having that in my skincare product or not.
Soapwalla is a woman-run company, which is amazing. Tell me more about that and what it means to you.
RW: Yes, we're queer-owned and 100% woman-run and operated. We are an all female crew!
I will always hire the best person for the job, but its really nice to work with all women. It’s super, super rare. It's hard to walk anywhere in the world and be in an all female environment. I think because of my life experiences and walking through the world with my identify, I set up my business very differently. We're not hierarchical — I mean, yes, I am the boss and make the final decisions, but I take out the garbage and do the dishes and I expect everyone to do the same. It’s much more hands-on and everyone knows what's going on, and I think that’s a nicer way to run a business. Half my job is to empower my employees to figure out what they're best suited at and then let them do it.
Have you dealt with any issues being a female entrepreneur?
RW: Oh, a ton. (Laughs.) First the assumption is that I'm male, that if I own the company I'm definitely male. I'm also a petite woman, I'm five foot and look like a 12-year-old boy, so there is a lot physical dismissal, too, which I always find really fascinating. I'll be standing in front of people and be introduced as the founder and CEO of the company and people will still actively search for the person in charge because it obviously can't be me. I am also very out and proud, and I think that's part of my responsibility as a business owner with even a small platform. It definitely puts a mark on me and I even get hate mail for it.
What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs?
RW: One, do it because we need more women out there being badasses. And two, it's like the least sexy piece of advice out there but it's the most important one — it doesn't matter what you do, you have to put your head down and do the work and try not to pay attention to what everyone else around you is doing and saying. Just put in the time, put in the effort, and focus on you and your goals, and that'll get you really far. That’s the only way to get yourself far.
What is your favorite Soapwalla product?
RW: Oh man, that's kind of like asking me my favorite child. I would say the products that I don’t leave the house without, like the travel-size concentrated repair balm, which is this really lovely balm that melts upon contact and soaks into the skin, and it smells amazing. And the travel-size toning mist, which is our facial toner. And then our multi-purpose spray, because I ride the subway and I'm constantly putting my hands on things that a million other people have touched. I love our multi-purpose — it's a hand sanitizer but it's also a de-funker. I box as well and I use it on my boxing gloves to make sure they don't get stinky. And it's a natural bug repellent, which is super important here in the Northeast.
Do you have any FAVORITE self-care practices?
RW: Yes, boxing and yoga. A lot of people think they’re opposites but I find them incredibly complementary. Both of them you have to be present in the moment, and both of them you have to focus on your breath. If you lose your breath you lose everything else. And if your mind starts wandering, if you're boxing, you’re going to get hit in the face. It's a real, immediate way to remember to stay in the moment. And same with yoga. You can obviously float in and out with yoga a little more easily, but they're both the same concept. I'm a musician, my background is violin, and I find them both very musical for that reason. They're both about the rhythm of you and your body and your breath — letting your mind take a break, which I love.
At Livingly our motto is "live life beautifully." What does livingly beautifully mean to you?
RW: I love that. For me it means living my life authentically, even when that goes against the grain of what I'm told that should look like or feel like. And also using my time here on this planet to make sure that everyone I come in contact with feels a little better about themselves after.
Do you have an inspiring woman in your life that you think should be featured on Livingly? If so, we'd love to hear about her! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org