Kirstin Dana sat on her bathroom floor with a laptop and the contents of her cupboard strewn around her. It was 2012 and her skin was suffering badly from the assault of radiation and chemotherapy fed into her body to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was looking for something gentle to soothe and cleanse her skin and had tried a natural soap. But to her disappointment, she found one of the ingredients was palm oil, the production of which has been reported widely as being linked to deforestation and the destruction of animal habitats.
“I thought, ‘I just can’t support this.’ ”
She already had a love for soaps, hoarding beautiful bars her aunty gifted her and making her own as a teenager. So, she toyed with the idea of making cold-process soap.
“Because I came away from chemo with a brain injury, I wasn’t confident about doing it,” Kirstin says. “A local lady showed me and after that I was away. And I thought, ‘Right, if I am making this it is going to be no additives, no chemicals and no synthetics.’ Our body does not need this kind of stuff.”
Which is how she ended up on the bathroom floor on a Saturday afternoon.
“I needed to be clear about what I had in my own cupboards. I took everything out and I googled all the ingredients I didn’t know and researched them. I was shocked. I was like, ‘Why is all this stuff in soap, lotions and balms?’ ”
And that was the start of Bare Naked Soap in Wanaka. It became a full-time business for her when her brain injury made it difficult for her to continue her work in aviation maintenance.
“My friend said, ‘Right you need do something that gets you out of bed every day. You cannot stay at home hiding from the world.’ And I thought, well, maybe I should get into making more soap,” says Kirstin.
Pushing through nerves and fears she would not be able to support herself, she began creating natural soaps concocted only with the hand of nature. Clays, spices, herbs, seaweed, superfoods, coffee and essential oils are just some of the things she uses to make her colourful soaps with swirls and stripes. They are quite delicious looking, to the point they have disappointed hungry children at markets.
“They go, ‘Look mum, cake!’ ” she laughs. “It is quite funny watching their faces light up at how ‘big’ the cakes are. The poor things, they get so disappointed when they can’t
With her wicked sense of humour, she has even invented a soap made from Speight’s beer.
The Bloke Soap Beer & Mud was born when Kirstin was concerned about the soap her housemate was using because of the ingredients in it.
“He’s your typical southern man. Beer-drinking, number-one-haircut truck driver. I offered him some of my natural soap and he looks at it and says, ‘Put some beer in it and I might consider it.’ ”
Challenged accepted, says Kirstin with a laugh.
She found some beer in the back of the fridge and got to work. Before long she was handing him the first piece of Bloke Soap.
“He just kept using it. He’s realised skin is your biggest organ and you have to look after it,” she says.
Kirstin’s path to finding her passion has not been an easy one, but she wouldn’t want the story to be written any differently.
“I think my life is better now, even with the difficulties from treatment. To do something that I love every day is just so amazing.”