When Led Zeppelin wrote the song Kashmir, the band was on a journey through Morocco. Although it was not their greatest hit, it was a perfect mix of moody rock and emotional harmony, which in itself was somewhat juxtaposed to what they were known for.
It was this juxtaposition that inspired Ayla Batton to name one of her signature soaps after the famous song.
“Kashmir is patchouli scented soap,” she says. “The mix of the soft scent with the hard rock-inspired name just seemed to fit.”
Ayla is the owner of Aylamethyst Soaps & Apothecary, where she produces and sells a collection of hand-crafted soaps, lotion bars and wax tarts, set in the small southwest Michigan town of Three Oaks — a far cry from Morocco, but the concept of the journey is one in the same.
“It all started in college with some friends who invited me to make soap with them one night,” she says. “We were in a kitchen at Western Michigan University.”
That year, Batton ended up gifting her homemade soap to friends and family for Christmas, and what started out as an inexpensive way to celebrate the holiday quickly turned into a tradition.
“My family was excited to receive something so personal, and it smelled good, too,” Ayla says. “Giving a gift that could be used daily and something that is hand crafted was a surprise for friends and family – and a surprise for me as well.”
Ayla reminisces about those first few years, exploring new soap scents and perfecting the process.
“It’s amazing to think about my first soap compared to now,” she says. “It had blue glitter – tossing the whole kitchen sink in there at first.”
Like most artists, Ayla says honing her craft was a journey. In 2014, Batton and her husband moved back to Three Oaks and quickly realized that hand-crafted soaps were there to stay.
“When it became part of my daily communication and a daily practice, that’s when I realized that making soap was a part of my life, that it’s not going anywhere,” Ayla says.
That daily practice has a distinct process.
While the foundation of Aylamethyst Soaps may be a 25-pound, unscented soap bar from her supplier, the birth of a soap is purely about the fragrance.
“When I begin a new soap, I always start with the fragrance because that is the biggest variable,” Ayla says. “The fragrance is what people relate to. It’s what they have an emotional connection to. So if I find a fragrance I love, I build a soap around that.”
It seems that Ayla has perfected the process of developing soaps that customers feel connected to. For example, there is a Lake Michigan inspired soap, which incorporates sand from Weko Beach in Bridgman and a blue color that Ayla describes as “the color of Lake Michigan in June.”
Another best seller is called “Figs and Flowers,” which can only be described as the comfort of Christmas all year ‘round.
Some concoctions come very easily to Ayla, while others take a number of trials to get just right. Take for instance the Tobacco Bay Leaf.
“It’s a unisex scent that took a long time to perfect,” Ayla describes. “First it was purple, and then it was gold, now it’s a creamy green soap with brown walnut shells.”
When it comes down to it, Batton just wants the customer to go on a journey with her.
“Every person has a different past and different scents will jog certain memories, so I try to have a big variety of scents available. I want someone to pick up soap and have it transport them back to their grandmother’s house as a child, to be able to smell the Christmas cookies or her favorite air freshener.”
It’s that consumer-focused mentality that has inspired Ayla from the kitchen of Western Michigan University to whatever her next chapter holds.
“Wherever my soap takes me in 15 to 20 years, the one foundational aspect will be southwest Michigan,” she says.
One thing is for sure, Ayla is on one helluva journey. Maybe Aylamethyst Soaps & Apothecary have more in common with Led Zeppelin after all.