St. Louis Character: Jean Scholtes dishes the dirt on Kind Soap Co.
February 1, 2018
Jean Scholtes, founder of the Kind Soap Co., said she became an entrepreneur out of necessity.
Scholtes has a background in design and marketing, spending 10 years as creative director for Sara Lee before joining a local ad agency, doing work mainly focused on packaging design. However, when Anheuser-Busch was acquired by InBev, and took much of the brewery’s marketing work out of St. Louis, Scholtes was one of many working in the local industry who found themselves facing a future with much less demand for their services.
“There were so many creatives out of work, and at my level of creative director, the jobs were going to be very scarce because everyone was going to be competing for the few that were out there, especially in the area that I wanted to stay in, which was consumer goods and package design,” said Scholtes, 46. “So I thought, why don’t I just create my own brand?”
Scholtes had been experimenting with formulating soaps and skin care products from all-natural ingredients, making up batches of products in her basement and selling them at local craft fairs.
“I decided to marry my newfound passion of making my own skin care products with my experience and background in marketing and brand management and package design,” Scholtes said. “I don’t know if I would have done it had I not been faced with the prospect of not being able to find a job that I really liked. So it was partly necessity and it was partly just optimism that was based on nothing. I just thought — I can do this. This will work. I don’t know why not.”
Scholtes registered the Kind trademark and launched the company in 2009, selling her all-natural skin care products online, at farmer’s markets and through other local stores. In 2011, she opened her first brick-and-mortar store in Webster Groves, and five years ago, she moved the store to its current larger location at 20 Allen Ave., in Webster Groves.
“Going from the ad agency world to the retail world is pretty much like going from the frying pan into the fire, but Jean had a plan and a vision, and she’s stuck to it,” said Cordell Jeffries, creative director at Osborn Barr, who previously worked with Scholtes at the former White Space agency. “I’m not sure how someone can go about their business tirelessly and still manage to make it seem effortless, but Jean does exactly that.”
Kind now carries more than 100 products, ranging from soaps and lotions to lip balm and bubble bath. In addition to the Kind boutique, the products are available at Whole Foods stores in St. Louis and Chicago and in a variety of mom-and-pop stores in Missouri and Illinois. The company had about $250,000 in sales last year, with about 75 percent coming from retail and 25 percent from wholesale. Scholtes said the company now is looking to increase production to allow it to expand its wholesale accounts.
Scholtes lives in Webster Groves with her husband, Jeff, and their four teenage children.
What is the Kind Soap Co.? Kind Soap is what I created initially to have products for myself and my family because my son had really bad eczema at the back of his knees and was always clawing at them, and doctors just kept giving him steroid creams. I started researching into what would be a better option than just steroids every day on a 4-year-old. Then I started realizing all these products out in the market that say that they are safe and natural and great for kids have all these ingredients in them that, after you research it, you don’t want to put them on your kids. I started looking into everything we put on our skin, and I saw all these harmful carcinogenic and hormone disrupters and irritants. I thought, I’m just going to make my own products. I threw away all of the our skin care products — all the things that were being absorbed into my family’s skin — and I started making my own.
How did you go about making the products? My husband set me up a little workspace in the basement. I had a little sink, and I had a little hot plate. It was basically cooking. There are ingredients. There are things that you melt. There are things that you boil. You follow recipes. I went on Amazon and bought like 20 books on how to make soap, how to make lotions, natural-this and ingredients-that. This was almost 10 years ago, so YouTube wasn’t really around that much. Now I would have been on YouTube 24/7 just watching tutorials, but back then I was reading books. It was just trial and error. Making up batches, and some things just did not work out and some things did.
Did you go through any training? Being all natural, I didn’t use any synthetic fragrance, and everyone wants things that smell really good. So that’s when I really started looking at essential oils and natural fragrances, and I decided I really needed to get educated on that. I enrolled in courses with an online program through the American College of Healthcare Scientists out of Portland, Oregon, and it took me about three and a half years, but I got my certificate in aromatherapy, which means I am able to safely and effectively manufacture products with essential oils. I would say that was harder than my bachelor’s degree. It was intense. It was all about how the different chemicals affect different systems in your body. It was chemistry; it was physiology. It was a lot of work.
Which Kind product is your favorite? That’s like asking which kid is my favorite. It depends on the day. Honestly, after all this stuff, my favorite is still just a good bar of soap.
You’re a Missouri native? I’m from Ste. Genevieve. I went to college at SIU in Carbondale. My first job out of college was designing bikes in Olney, Illinois, which is a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, and I really needed to get back to civilization, so I applied for jobs in St. Louis and got a job as an art director at a small agency and then from there I went on to Sara Lee.
What do you do when you’re not working? I don’t have time for hobbies. I have four teenage kids, so when I’m not here I’m running them around to different things. I’m active with our trade association here in Webster. The Old Webster Trade Association puts on all kinds of trade events in town, and I do all of the graphics for them. Other than that, I am really kind of a homebody. I like to hang out with my dog. I like to read.
What are you reading? “The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs” by Kevin Johnson.
Where can we find you? My husband and I spend a lot of time over at The Block restaurant. We call it our Cheers — we just go in and sit at the bar. I guess I’m Norm, and he’s Cliff. Sushi Station is another place we like to go and hang out, and Olive & Oak is great.