Shannon Hames, owner of Longmont artisan cold-process soap company, The Science of Bliss, has an eclectic resume: a degree in anthropology, experience as a professional photographer and a science teacher, now working full-time for a tech company. But soapmaking has been a source of joy throughout her many chapters.
The Science of Bliss just celebrated six months in business, but it builds off of two now-closed family businesses and multiple generations of soapmakers.
Hames’ learned from her mother, Pam Smith, a longtime educator now working in Greeley. Smith began making soaps to teach her elementary school students about pioneer days. She wanted to learn how her grandmother made the daily use product.
“She started making it because she wanted to see how her grandmother made it and see if she could kind of share that experience with her students,” Hames said. “She kind of started exploring it and in that way, she did a lot of the hard work with figuring out things like recipes and how it really works.”
Hames said her mother from her hobby accidentally created a business called Mountain Homestead Soaps. After Smith gave away bars of soap to friends and family, she started getting requests to purchase her product.
The business shuttered after Smith was in a near-fatal car accident in 2003.
“After she'd been doing it for several years, she got in a car accident, and kind of had to stop everything,” Hames said. “She had to learn how to walk again, everything had to be put on hold.”
While Smith was running Mountain Homestead Soaps, Hames said she was a disinterested high school student. Hames started learning how to make soap in 2008. After completing college, she moved back home for a period. She found a full room in the basement where Smith’s soapmaking supplies were collecting dust.
“I told my mom, I was like, ‘Well, you need to either sell this stuff, or we need to start making soap again. And if we start making stuff again, we're gonna not have an accidental business, you're going to do it all on purpose this time,’” Hames said.
Smith had a new outlook on life after her accident and felt the company needed a new name to reflect that. It needed to convey bliss, Hames said. They landed on the name Blissology, meaning the science of bliss and the precursor to the business’s name today.
Other products in addition to soap include massage oil and lotions. Hames’ younger sister, Ashley Smith, got involved by using Blissology products in her massage practice in Lafayette.
After about six years in business, life once again put the company on hold. Ashley Smith was diagnosed with cancer at 23. Hames went back to school while her mother was looking after Ashley. After a five-year battle, Ashley died in 2016.
Hames lived in Austin, Texas, for about six years before moving to Longmont in 2019. Her husband received a job offer, and Hames wanted to return to Colorado to be close to family.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making Hames feel cooped up, she decided to relaunch the soap business. Plus, soap is a good commodity for the times, she said.
“If you're going to have to wash your hands a million times a day, it might as well be with some nice soap,” Hames said.
Though she works full-time and has two school-aged daughters, Hames wanted to do more with her time. Hames wanted to do something that brought her joy. She launched The Science of Bliss last year, this time on her own.
Hames said she uses many recipes her mother perfected. Her creations benefit from learning the art of soapmaking through her mom.
“I was really lucky that I had her as a mentor,” Hames said. “I didn't have to go through all of those same trials and mistakes. When I started with her, she already had a decent recipe. A lot of people who are just starting out with soapmaking don't have that luxury.”
She said making soap, a chemical process of mixing oils and lye, is like baking: a recipe needs to be followed for a good batch, but there’s room for creativity. The Science of Bliss soaps range from unscented and single-color bars, to swirls of multiple colors, glitter-dusted edges and various scents.
Since launching six months ago, the business has grown. Customers who were once fans of the two previous businesses are buying from The Science of Bliss website, Hames said.
She is finding new customers by selling at Mystic Sisters, a metaphysical store on Main Street. George Perreault, who helps his wife, Eleanor Perreault, who owns the store, said that they were on the hunt for handmade soaps.
“(Hames) came in and introduced herself with some samples and they were perfect for our shop and everybody enjoys them,” he said.
Hames said she’s needed to ramp up production since soaps are selling well in person and online. Since cold-press soaps need weeks to cure, she often makes large batches. Though she’s excited for the growth, she wants to commit to a handmade process and focus on selling locally.
She also sells her product at her father’s coffee shop in Greeley, Continuum Coffee Co., where her mother also works when she’s not teaching.
Hames said her father, a retired teacher, dreamed of opening a coffee shop for years before launching Continuum a few years ago. He was inspired by Ashley.
“She inspired my dad to open a coffee shop. It was kind of a lifelong dream of his and she encouraged him a lot, especially in her last years,” Hames said.
Ashley always encouraged others to follow their bliss and do what makes them happy, she said. Her sister’s legacy led to Hames restarting the soap business.
“When I decided to reopen this business that was kind of in the back of my head, too, was her saying, you know, ‘Do the things that you feel drawn to, that you are inspired to do. Because life, life is short.’”