When it comes to standing up for what she believes in, Rachel Winard does not just “talk the talk.” And that goes for everything: from well-made, natural skincare, all the way to social issues of acceptance and equality. Through her brand Soapwalla, Rachel makes her beliefs a reality.
“I’m political by virtue of my existence,” Rachel Winard says. “I’m a queer woman, I’m a Jewish woman, I’m a woman with a chronic illness, and I’m a woman of business. All of these things are just not the norm so I embrace that as my identity and part of the business’s identity.”
Rachel’s existence permeates her natural, vegan skincare line, Soapwalla. A classical violinist-turned-lawyer-turned-skincare entrepreneur, Rachel taught herself how to formulate beauty products after being diagnosed with systemic lupus.
“Literally overnight, my skin went from hyper-sensitive and by hypersensitive I mean full-body breakouts, blisters, hives, scarlet fever-like rashes, you name it I’ve had it,” she says. Though it has now turned into a career, Rachel’s interest in skincare really started out as a necessity for better products more than anything else.
“I dove in head first and taught myself basic chemistry and taught myself formulations, herbs, aromatherapy, and I was particularly interested in the model that if I’m feeding my body good, nutritious food to make myself better, then that’s how I would like to approach skincare.”
Eventually, Rachel’s homemade skincare products led her to found Soapwalla, ensuring that the brand stood on the principles that are most near and dear to her heart—health, equality, and ethicality. “One of the things I feel absolutely strong about is skin is skin and it’s genderless. Hormones, specifically can affect particular kinds of skin issues, but that’s not unique to one particular gender,” Rachel says, “So we are a gender neutral brand and the way that we market is specifically skin-health above anything else. Not age, not gender.”
Before launching Soapwalla, Rachel didn’t feel that she had a place in the beauty industry, not as a consumer, and definitely not as a producer. She saw the industry as overly polarized in its marketing—brands had product offerings targeted towards the “hyper-feminized, ideal straight woman,” or towards the “straight mountain man with a beard who wants to smell like a forest and camp smoke.” She didn’t see a place for anyone who fell outside of these two categories.
“Being a queer woman, that first floor of a department store was always my worst nightmare,” Rachel shares. “I really just avoided that whole [beauty] field because it didn’t feel particularly welcoming for somebody like me.”
Rachel saw the solution to this problem as a neutral ground within the beauty industry—a niche in the market where skincare products are targeted towards skin rather than specific demographics of consumers. Soapwalla doesn’t use models in their ecommerce or social media imagery because, as Rachel says, “I don’t want to tell you who I think our customers should be. If I don’t use humans, you can envision yourself using the product; you don’t see whatever my ideal of the person is.”
This approach has given Soapwalla a very even customer base, just about split 50-50 between men and women, according to Rachel. “It makes me very, very happy,” she says. “The age range is really impressive, cultural and ethnic background are really diverse, and I’m really proud of that because that’s what I set out to do.”
Rachel has ensured that Soapwalla gives back to the community, as well. Her customer-base is broad and diverse, so she promotes equality and acceptance. The brand is donating 10% of its net proceeds for the year to the Astraea Foundation, the Ali Forney Center, and SAGE, three charitable organizations that give back to the LGBTQ community. “We have a lot of core customers who value the what we do and they know that their hard-earned consumer dollars are supporting a business that really stand by its principles.”
Rachel and Soapwalla typically celebrate Pride Month through participating in the NYC Dyke March, which started at Bryant Park and went down to Washington Square Park, ending in a big party. “One of the reasons why I really, really love it is that it’s a march, not a parade, so we purposefully don’t get a permit so we sort of take back the streets,” Rachel says. “It’s for the fact that we do not have equal rights, we are still fighting very fundamentally for the right to live. For quite a few people in our community, it brings that back to the floor.”
“These are issues that we feel strongly about and we don’t shy away from them,” Rachel continues. “There’s a lot of concern from business owners mostly that if you take a stance, that’s not good for business, and I think that is totally valid for many businesses, but for us it’s just not.”
Soapwalla is a company that walks the walk and marches the march. It’s not a brand that will just talk the talk. Rachel’s values go deeper than a quality skincare product, and she has made that clear throughout her brand mission.