Union Street Soap brings back real soap

By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added October 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm

When you think of the thousands of products made in Michigan, you probably think about crisp, fresh apples in the fall; plump, red strawberries in the spring and some of the best automobiles in the world.

I would bet you don’t think about soap, but you probably should.

Union Street Soapworks is a company that has decided it’s high time to bring back real soap.

It might seem trivial, but soap is a big part of our daily lives. In America, most people cleanse their skin every single day, yet take little care in how it’s done. The soap most of us have grown up with is really a detergent, similar to what we use to clean our laundry and clothes.

Michigan native Nate Whaley, founder and soap master of Union Street Soapworks, is questioning the practice and offering up his artisan soaps as a solution.

“I was fed up with all the chemicals,” Whaley says. “I wanted to create a good, natural product that would be good for all skin types.”

With close to 30 available options in the online store, not including their seasonal offerings and the option for custom orders, Union Street Soapworks is bound to have something to fit your needs. There is even a bar made specifically for shaving and another that can be used as shampoo.

Each and every batch of Nate’s all-natural soap is lovingly handcrafted at his home in Taylor. He makes them with the oils and fats best for our skin such as olive oil, shea butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter and goat milk. He uses natural, non-irritant fragrances as well as natural exfoliates like crushed apricot seeds, oatmeal and pumice. Together, these ingredients make for a uniquely refreshing bathing experience.

It’s not just the soap setting Union Street Soapworks apart from larger detergent bar makers; it’s also the drive behind it. Rather, the driver.

Whaley epitomizes the classic, all-American work ethic our culture used to be able to support. He had an idea, a purpose and a drive that he made into a successful business. Rather than outsource his work to others, he still continues to make the same great quality soap that he’s been making since he was 17.

It’s rare to find that sort of passionate idealism and success in today’s more corporate capitalist economy. Yet here he is, in Michigan, working diligently to make sure your skin is cleansed and your spirits refreshed every time you lather up with one of his bars.

Not only has he remained the driving force of production, but he’s also the face at the front of Union Street Soapworks.

“I like to stand behind my product,” Whaley says. “There’s a look in a person’s eye when you tell them that you’re the one who made it.”

He’s right; I had that very same look in my eye the first time I met him. Not only was I impressed by the quality of his products, but there’s also something so genuine about a man who puts in an honest day’s work and comes out with something useful and beneficial to so many people.

In the five months since I stumbled upon Nate and Union Street Soap Works, I have become accustomed to seeing his face every week at the Ypsilanti Farmer’s Market.

You can get acquainted with his handsome, smiling face and his ever-present, safari-inspired hat 2-6 p.m. every Tuesday, when the market pops up in the Key Bank Building’s parking lot.

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