Customers like the process as well as the products
'What'cha making?" a shopper asks conversationally, propping his arms on the counter and leaning over to take a peek at Mia Ohye's work. Though she has nearly finished, she gives the customer a quick lesson in making pillar candles and bar soaps the Island Soap & Candle Works way.
At the store's location in Ward Warehouse -- there are three on Oahu -- the scent that drifts outdoors from the handmade candles and soaps and is often enough to pull a curious shopper inside. But if that isn't enough, there's the lure of seeing soaps and candles being made on the premises.
In preparation for the holiday season, employees will make gourmet soaps with names like Orange Pecan, Apple Cider, Spiced Plum, Xmas Spice, Mint Chocolate, Candy Cane, Pear and Xmas Berries (a combination of cranberry, bayberry and winterberry). There will also be seasonal candles, said Ohye: Cinnamon, Orange Pecan, Christmas Tree, Spiced Plum, Apple, Candy Cane and Christmas Spice.
Ohye, assistant manager for this location, began making the products herself when she joined the ranks of Island Soap & Candle Works five years ago as a salesperson. She worked her way up to soap and candle supervisor, and began teaching new employees as well as prospective buyers the art. Nor is she immune to the products herself: She favors the Papaya Oatmeal gourmet soap, as well as papaya-scented candles.
Ohye noted that tourists lean toward pineapple and plumeria-passion soaps, while residents gravitate toward the scents of pikake or white ginger -- often making their choices by unscientific means: the sniff test.
Store owner Rosaline C.E. Wang has a saying: Just follow your nose. The store has a "soap bar" -- a sample area where customers can let their noses do the choosing among 50 gourmet soaps.
ON A quiet afternoon, Ohye and fellow employee Kehau Waiholua mixed up a fresh batch of candles and soaps, a ritual performed three times a week. Ohye compared the process to cooking: "You have to follow the recipes and be exact in measuring the ingredients. Plus, it's about timing and we have to be fast in pouring it."
Wang says the process takes a no-nonsense commitment. In a single session Ohye mixed 42 pounds of pikake-scented soap, for 57 large bars or 114 small ones.
The process for making single-colored pillar candles is encouragingly easy; a weekend crafter might be tempted to give it a try. But for store employees, this is a process that will be repeated continuously: Vats of beeswax and paraffin will be melted down and continually strained to remove the impurities from the beeswax. Fragrance will be measured and added before the mixture is poured into a waiting mold, which has a cotton-wire wick inserted through the bottom. The candle base will harden after about eight hours. The next day, a new layer will be applied every few hours, bonding with the original layer.
Soon enough, the finished pillar candles -- Vanilla Sea in this case -- will be added to the store's collection, which also includes monkey pod and coconut shell-bowl candles, travel tin candles and votives.
In-store demonstrations are something Wang -- who also has locations at the Pacific Beach Hotel and Hilo Hattie on Nimitz Highway -- calls "entertainment retail," comparable to the way Cold Stone Creamery employees prep ice cream in front of customers. "Here, people want to know you how make it and what's in it."
The end results are snatched up by those who appreciate the creations as decoration, in addition to their functional purpose.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mia Ohye, assistant manager of Island Soap & Candleworks at Ward Warehouse stirs a large vat of paraffin and bees wax.
"AHHHHH." Another shopper browsing the store nearly presses her nose into a cake of soap as she inhales its clean scent, sets it down and scoops up another. Once satisfied, she drifts over to the production area to join her friend, observing Ohye scrapping excess soap from molds, then storing the sets nearby to cure for 21 days.
The watch-and-learn scenario is one that will be repeated over and over through out the day, punctuated by the ringing of the cash register.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mia Ohye carefully removes a pillar candle from its mold at Island Soap & Candleworks at Ward Warehouse.
Island Soap & Candle Works at Ward Warehouse is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Call 591-0533.