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
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.
52 WINTER 2020 | WWW.SHAKER .LIFE