STEM’s growing line of soaps, creams and other products is entirely all-natural and entirely handmade.
The Market Hall at Van Aken District (3401 Tuttle Road) is a feast of aromas, a pleasant mix of coffee, spices, baked goods, and savory goodies. But perhaps the best smells of all are at STEM Handmade Soaps, where you can sniff (and buy) soaps and body products in scents from airy lavender to earthy patchouli.
The cozy shop is the second STEM location for founders and owners Steve Meka and Dave Willett. Their first store, which just celebrated its sixth anniversary and is located in their hometown of Lakewood, also houses their soap-making facility.
In light of Steve and Dave’s decades-long careers at American Greetings (Steve) and Famous Footwear (Dave), soap-making is perhaps a bit of a surprising turn. While they were still both working in the corporate world, a visit to a farmer’s market soap stand inspired Steve to try his hand at it. Returning to his roots – he’d earned a degree in biochemistry long before his corporate career – he began to experiment with oils and other ingredients in search of the perfect soap. About 15 lucky friends got these early products and provided feedback.
“After about a year and a half, I felt like I had the perfect bar of soap. And I was done. Kinda scratched that side of my brain, and I was done,” says Steve.
But if Steve was ready to move on from his new hobby, his customers weren’t.
“The people that were getting soap every month said, ‘Hey, I want to give some soap to my friends for holiday; can you make me some?’ And I said sure. Then their friends would call and say, ‘I want some more of that soap.’”
That’s when Steve and Dave decided to start a website. They quickly expanded into more and more products due to customer demand.
“People were extremely passionate about the fact that it was all-natural,” says Steve. “So they said, do you make an all-natural lotion? And we said, no, but we could. So we developed an all-natural lotion.” The product line continued to grow, and Steve and Dave outgrew making products in the basement of their home. They decided to leave behind their corporate jobs and devote themselves full-time to STEM (and to their two basset hounds, who also happen to bathe in STEM products).
Their product line continues to grow and now includes gift sets, bath bombs, shampoo bars, and much more. What hasn’t changed is that
everything is still entirely all-natural and entirely handmade – and while they have employees to help, Dave and Steve still put in many hours making and packaging the products.
If you’ve not yet experienced STEM, stop by the Van Aken store and sniff the soap – still STEM’s bestselling product – and see which scents call to you. Don’t miss the small sink in the center of the store where there are several scented sugar scrubs to try on your hands. (I chose lemon verbena, and I couldn’t help but take a whiff every so often for the next couple of hours.) STEM also runs demonstrations on the Market Hall stage as well as private soap-making classes.