Tilly, Esme and Cooper are three key names in Bianca Ward’s adventure with milk-based soaps – a journey that’s taken her from the paddock to caring for her son and the creation of Nicholson River Soaps.
Tilly and Esme were the first Nubiancross goats that Bianca purchased for the family farm. “These girls were primarily our pets and then once they were bred and kidded, I started milking them and using their milk in our soaps.” Bianca is now a registered breeder of Australian miniature and pygmy goats.
Cooper, Bianca’s son, was born in 2009 and as a youngster, he suffered from eczema. “I had heard [of] so many positive results about using goat’s milk in soap for sensitive skin, so I decided to try making it myself. Cooper’s inflamed skin started to improve within the first few days of using the soap I made. His skin continued to improve and now he very rarely has any outbreaks of eczema.”
“I don’t like doing what everybody else is doing.
Hence why I use different milks in our soaps."
Bianca admits that at the beginning she really didn’t know much about soapmaking, but a mother’s love is an incredible catalyst to deep dive into any topic – especially when it comes to addressing a child’s discomfort.
After many months of research, Bianca purchased a basic soapmaking kit online and started experimenting with different recipes: adding in milk from her goats, dried flowers and natural clays. As she explains, “There was a lot of trial and error [in] finding the right percentage of oils and butters in a recipe that produced a lovely bar of soap.”
For the uninitiated, making soap involves combining hard oils – like coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter or lard – that have been melted with soft oils – like olive oil, hemp seed oil, rice bran oil, castor oil, etc. – and mixing these with a lye solution (sodium hydroxide).
Bianca shares that, “There are different ways when incorporating goat’s milk to a soap recipe, but I usually decrease the water content the recipe calls for and swap it out for goat milk.
“All of this is blended together and then the clays are added in for colour, essential oils for scent and even dried botanicals, fruit, ground coffee or oatmeal. There are so many different combinations of ingredients that can be used in soapmaking.”
The blended recipe is then poured into a slab mould and left to sit overnight, saponify and set. The following day, the slab of soap is cut into bars, and these are left to cure for a minimum of four to six weeks before they’re ready for use.
In 2010, Nicholson River Soaps was established after family and friends encouraged Bianca to sell her soaps at local markets – they began moving like hot (soap) cakes.
Now, Bianca’s mastery as a soaper sees her make products that utilise a variety of kinds of milk.
“There’s a big difference between the milks I use in our soaps. The higher the milk’s butterfat content, the more nourishing and moisturising we find it is on our skin.
“Goat’s milk ranges from 4–6%, sometimes higher depending on the breed of the goat. Buffalo milk has been averaging 9–10% and makes the creamiest moisturising bar of soap. Camel milk does not have high butterfat, but it is amazing for helping to reduce inflammation in your skin caused by eczema or psoriasis.
“The properties of the milk from the different animals vary due to their diets and digestion systems.”
A pertinent observation for Bianca in operating Nicholson River Soaps over the past 12 years has been to always have a point of difference. “I don’t like doing what everybody else is doing. Hence why I use different milks in our soaps.
“When I started making camel milk soaps it was very much unheard of and then when I introduced buffalo milk soaps to our range, I learnt I was one of only two people in Australia at the time making them, and possibly still am.”
Currently, the products that excite Bianca are her hemp moisturiser and shower steamers. At a strategic level, the Nicholson River Soap team is focused on increasing their wholesale and private label customers, as well as collaborating with some amazing local businesses that enable Bianca to create soaps and other items from the business’s own products.
The future feels and smells good!
Nicholson River Soaps are available at their store, located at 174 Main Street, Bairnsdale, and online at nicholsonriversoaps.com. You can sniff out outlets across East Gippsland and Australia-wide.