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Can You Learn to Be a Great Teacher? An Interview with Lori of The Nova Studio

soapmaker success stories starting a soap business
Lori with a Mortar and Pestle

The Nova Studio is celebrating 15 years of being a trusted source of education and information for those interested in making their own soap and bath and body products. Kenna (the owner of first partnered with The Nova Studio in 2014 and continues to do so today. We wanted to share Lori's story with you!

Back in 2014, Lori Nova Endres reached out to Kenna to ask if she'd be interested in teaching at The Nova Studio in San Francisco, California. By this point, Kenna had already gotten to speak at The Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild and had been hosting her own conference, Central Soaper's Workshop, for two years. But to have someone like Lori, who had a well-established studio and teaching repertoire down pat, ask her to teach... well, suffice to say she was thrilled and excited.

 Kenna & Lori at The Nova Studio

That was the beginning of our wonderful relationship with The Nova Studio (and Lori, Cassie, and Ruth!) that we're super proud of. Since then, so much has changed both here at Modern Soapmaking and at The Nova Studio. But our partnership has only grown.

To this day, The Nova Studio is the only place you'll find a slew of Kenna's resources and workshops that we no longer offer here on Modern Soapmaking. That's how much we adore the team behind the studio and their passion for this craft!

The Nova Studio is celebrating FIFTEEN amazing years of existence, so we decided to catch up with Lori and ask her to share her passion for soapmaking, teaching, and making The Nova Studio a success.

Modern Soapmaking: How long have you been making soap?

Lori: I’ve been making soap for 18 years now. I was first introduced to the world of soapmaking through a co-worker who suggested I take a soap class, way back in 2000. From our chats, she knew I was looking for a new hobby. I had been taking ceramics classes, but it took months to get a finished piece. And my pieces weren’t that good!

Modern Soapmaking: How were you introduced to handcrafted soapmaking? Tell us about your first batch of soap.

Lori: My friend found a soapmaking class for me in San Francisco. It was at a woman’s home and advertised on Craigslist. We helped her make a very large batch of soap (about 25 pounds) that was poured into several copier paper box tops lined with freezer paper. She made soap twice a year and used it for herself, her family of four, and gifts for friends. She even sold some to a bed and breakfast in Vermont. Looking back, I think she had soap classes so that she could get help stirring. Because she didn’t use a stick blender!

We took turns stirring this huge batch of raw soap in a 5-gallon bucket, for HOURS. And we never even got to see trace! She showed us pictures the next day.  I had written down in my notes, “Never… EVER… make less than a 25lb batch!” *LOL*. I guess, to her, it was just too much work to make less than that.

It was a 2-part class, and the next day we came back to help cut the soap into bars. We got to take some home to cure. I’ll never forget that soap. It was plain, uncolored, no additives, scented with lavender essential oil, and simply wonderful. (Prior to that, I couldn’t even tell you what kind of soap I preferred… soap was soap).

So, I guess that’s when my love affair with handcrafted soap started!

Modern Soapmaking: Are you a by the book soaper or do you wing it?

Lori: I tend to stick with my favorite soap base recipe, but have fun varying the essential oil combinations, colors, and designs. I like to put my own spin on things rather than copying someone else’s soap from top to bottom. It’s hard for me not to make at least a few tweaks. When I make it my own, it feels more satisfying.

Modern Soapmaking: Do you have any soapy friends locally? If so, do you make soap together?

Lori: One of the hardest things about moving away from California 3 years ago was leaving all my soapy friends and The Nova Studio! It was the ultimate gathering place for 13 years - for teachers and students alike to partake in a shared passion. When I think about people I know will be lifelong friends, many of those I met through The Nova Studio or the Handmade Soap and Cosmetic Guild conferences.

For me, making soap is always better with friends. I have wonderful memories of very late nights, making soap and prepping for classes together.

Once I moved to Louisiana, I didn't have as much time to make soap. Locals didn't seem as interested in making their own natural products. Most of my friends there were busy working moms and already juggling a lot. But, I did befriend my neighborhood mail carrier and taught her how to make soap!

Now that I've moved to the Dayton, Ohio area, I'm excited to see what new adventures and friendships await me!

Modern Soapmaking: What inspired you to start The Nova Studio?

Lori: Immediately after taking that first soapmaking class, I began researching like crazy. But, I couldn’t find any other local classes. So, I got some books and started ordering big boxes of ingredients to make all the recipes I could find. I started doing melt and pour because I was too impatient to cure cold-process soap. Also, I learned to make lip balm and bath salts to be companion gifts alongside my soap.

I was hooked on DIY soap and bath and body products as my new hobby. At the time, I was working a temp job while looking for a more permanent teaching job at a local college. I'd just gotten my masters degree and knew I wanted to be a college-level teacher.

Since I couldn’t find anyone else teaching soap or product making classes in my area, teaching my hobby just seemed to make sense. After a lot of experimentation and self-education, I simply started teaching the classes I would have wanted to take.

It was never my plan to start my own business and make this my career. I just wanted to finance my new hobby. But, I loved teaching DIY classes.

And I realized there was a need in the San Francisco Bay Area for classes like this. In the beginning, it was just small classes (5 students, or so) around my tiny kitchen table. That grew to larger class sizes (about 15 students) after I rented a commercial space for classes. My confidence and skill-set grew as my class sizes grew. So, that's how The Nova Studio came to be!

Modern Soapmaking: If you could offer one piece of advice to a soapmaker starting their business, what would it be?

Lori: Don’t try to go it alone. There are so many makers and teachers you can find who are willing to help you. Why reinvent the wheel if you can learn from a seasoned professional? That’s not to say that what works for one person will work for another...because we all know that’s not true!

But, you can gain valuable information and save a lot of time learning from people who truly have good intentions to help you. Before hiring a consultant or signing up for a class, see what you can find out about the teacher online. See what type of reputation they have and how long they've been in the business before giving them your hard-earned money.

And, of course, if you see a teacher featured on The Nova Studio's website, you know they have my stamp of approval!

Modern Soapmaking: Are you a member of a trade organization and would you recommend it to others?

Lori: I have been a member of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild (HSCG) since 2005, and the Indie Business Network (IBN) since 2006. I wholeheartedly recommend both organizations. I suggest that students and makers spend some time on both websites. Sign-up for their newsletters or public FB pages. Subscribe to the blogs. Give them a test run so you can see what content and services are available. Then decide which one to invest in. I don’t think you can go wrong with either one.

Modern Soapmaking: Several of  The Nova Studio's classes are available on video. Do you have tips for engaging with an audience that isn't in the room with you?

Lori: Since closing our brick and mortar a few years ago, The Nova Studio started doing what we call Video eClasses. I really missed being in the room with students and wanted to offer a more immediate format of teaching to go with our trusted Class Handouts (which are PDF printouts with instructions & recipes).

The Video eClasses allow the teacher to have a more natural discussion about the products being made. Also, they are interactive, answering student questions as they arise, like we did with in-person classes. We’ve done most of these online sessions live, and captured a recording that can be purchased by anyone who wasn’t available for the live session.

I must admit, after teaching in-person classes for almost 15 years, teaching people through on video via a computer was a big adjustment. It felt very awkward at first and didn’t come easily to me. In 2016, to help me get used to this new format and get over my online teaching jitters, I hosted an online, live book club weekly for 12 weeks in a row. It was challenging, but with practice, it got easier.

So, I guess that would be my advice. Put yourself in a situation where you commit to doing it more often than you’re comfortable with, and you’ll get used to it. It worked for me!

Teaching in person will always be my preferred method because I love to connect with people. There is no substitute for being in the same room and feeling the energy of others who share a similar passion. That said, the main benefit of teaching online is that you can reach far more people, specifically those who don’t have the means or the time to travel for an in-person class. No one should be prevented from learning simply because they can’t travel.

We at The Nova Studio are grateful to be able to continue what we started so many years ago, educating and supporting handcrafters, in whatever ways we can.

Modern Soapmaking: Who was your favorite teacher? What wisdom did they share with you? What made them the best?

Lori: Gosh, this is a hard question. I don’t have one favorite teacher.

I have a student perspective from for years of college and grad school.  And I found and helped many teachers for The Nova Studio to develop. To me the best teachers have a combination of four things in common:

  1. Great teachers are passionate about what they teach. And their love and enthusiasm for their topic are contagious.
  2. Great teachers have a natural teaching ability, and an ability to connect with their students. If someone doesn’t have it naturally, I believe it can be taught or developed if their heart is in it. Some people may not know they have this natural talent if they haven’t had teaching experience, so they will need to try it to really know. With experience, you gain confidence.
  3. Great teachers are knowledgeable enough about their chosen subject. They don’t need to know “everything” (who does?), but they can freely acknowledge, if necessary, that they don’t have all the answers. For example, if a student asks a question that you don’t know the answer, a good teacher would simply reply, “That’s a great question, one that I’ve never considered (or been asked before). I’m not sure of the right answer. But, if you leave your email address with me, I’ll research it and get back to you!”
  4. Great teachers are willing to share what they know. Great teachers don’t hold back in sharing for fear that their students will end up competing with them. I understand that this fear can be real for product makers who also teach. If this is an issue, I would suggest picking and choosing what you can teach so you don’t find yourself being hesitant to share information (after all, that’s one huge reason people take classes, to learn things). On the flip side, sharing information and knowledge doesn’t have to mean sharing your secret recipes or your best-selling essential oil blends. (Great teachers also have clear class descriptions, so students know what they can expect!)

Congrats to Lori and the rest of The Nova Studio crew! Here's to the next 15 years and beyond.

Visit The Nova Studio online:

Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter

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