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Florida Keys Business
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Handmade headquarters

It just made sense.

Jen Leach had been making her own all-natural Key West Soap in whimsical shapes and tropical scents for nearly two years, selling her creations at craft shows, street fairs, flea markets, yard sales and other weekend venues.

"My soaps sell for $7," she said Thursday while wandering through her new shop, Made in Key West, where assorted handmade creations are rapidly filling the walls and shelves. "By the time I spent $40 to $70 to rent vendor space, I had to sell a lot of soap to make a profit."

Many local crafters were in the same boat, Leach said, depending on the prices of their products.

"I started thinking it'd be awesome if we all had a space throughout the week where we could display and sell our stuff," Leach said, adding that most of local craftspeople also have full-time jobs and are limited in the amount of time they can spend creating and selling their handiwork.

When construction on North Roosevelt Boulevard led to a rent reduction at 1700 North Roosevelt Blvd. Suite 2, Leach and her husband made her idea a reality.

Made in Key West, a consignment craft shop, features items handmade by locals, from jewelry and hair accessories to cookbooks, pillow cases, skin care products, paintings, candles, sweets - and of course, soap.

"My mom had given me all-natural, handmade soaps as a gift, and I wanted to make some of my own that looked cool to get younger people into the idea of using organic products," said Leach, who two years ago immersed herself in research, began experimenting and ultimately created Key West Soaps.

She buys large blocks of plain soap made from goat's milk and lye. Leach melts down the basic blocks and adds her own unique and natural ingredients, colors and essential oils before molding the cooling soap into whimsical designs, palm trees, even monogrammed initials.

"One of the soaps is made with ground coffee, which reduces redness in the face. And this one has oatmeal in it," Leach said, holding up an elegant blue square.

One of Leach's most popular products features a bar of handmade soap, imprinted with a palm tree and attached to an all-natural Key West sea sponge.

"As you use the soap, eventually the sponge will separate. Then I use the sponge to remove nail polish, the kids paint with them, and you can put the sponges in the dishwasher and disinfect them."

Key West Soaps are displayed in Made in Key West, along with the creations of about 20 other local artisans whose oil paintings, purses, dolls, silk floral bouquets, customized cases for baby wipes, jewelry, greeting cards and crocheted hats and scarves are also on display.

Participating artisans sign a consignment contract with Leach, who keeps 30 percent of the purchase price for each item sold. Leach and the other resident artists will hold art classes and crafting days each month for local children.

Leach is still accepting handmade items from local crafters, she said.

"I'll keep adding items and artists until I'm out of room."

Made in Key West allows provides display space six days a week, and still allows the vendors to sell their wares at various markets and fairs throughout the year.

Current artisans include: Erica Jimenez, Kimberly Hull, Sylvia Cano, Marley Gibson, Rafael Medina, Tammy Torres, Tiffany King, Kimberly Knight, Dani Rodriguez, Kerensa Baker, Brianna Kissel, Bridge Parsons, Leah Borski, Amber-Lynn LeClerc, Angela Haxby, Tina Walterson, Pierre Angeline, Cecily Means and Arden Berlanga.

Made in Key West is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays til 4 p.m.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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