Soap Up with Vegan and Organic Bathcare by Made By Justine O
Something about a scent pulls you in and locks you in a moment. Think fresh cut grass, rain on pavement, or damp earth. Scents can bring you back in time, give you confidence, or radically change how you feel. There is power in that, and no one knows that better than Justine Osceola. As the owner of Made By Justine O, she makes and sells Seminole handmade artisan soaps, bath bombs, candles, and hand sanitizer. Providing high quality vegan and organic bath care, Made By Justine O has something for everyone. But, much more impactful than just some soap, Osceola’s message of self-care and self-love shines through the bubbles.
Osceola was gracious enough to sit down with me and talk about her soap, her message, and her hopes for the future. In addition, I was able to purchase four bars of soap for a product review. Make sure to check out the reviews below of the Lavender Bar, the Halpate Bar, the Nokoshe Paw Bar, and the Seminole Pride Sweetgrass Bar.
Made by Justine O started unofficially in 2017 and transitioned to an official business in 2019. Initially, Justine would showcase her new soaps by travelling to tribal fairs and pow wows. Now, she has her own appointment-only shop in Davie, FL as well as a booming online presence. What started as a hobby has bloomed into a strong business that has reached people across the country.
Justine originally attended a school for the culinary arts. “The same skills that apply in the kitchen apply to soap,” says Osceola, “it felt like a natural progression.” The soap making business required a steep learning curve– from fragrances, essential oils, soap bases. She taught herself how to make soap from a lot of trial and error, online resources, and watching other people. As a recent example, she shared that learned how to test essential oils for purity.
Interested in creating more sustainable products, she wanted to try her hand in vegan and organic bath care. She aspired to “push better ingredients towards people, ingredients that are closer to our cultural ways and more of what Mother Earth can provide.” This means many of her soaps are fully vegan, and sourcing materials is a top priority. Soap bases are primarily sustainable palm, although some contain soy, goat milk, and other high-quality ingredients depending on the soap.
Each ingredient needs to have a “good purpose” in the bar, and that intention extends to each final product as well. “My own community, as an Indian people, I see many of us suffer from sensitive skin, can’t have dairy, are sensitive to detergents. A lot of people reach out when they need help, and I love serving my community and putting a product out there that is going to help us,” says Osceola. She is open to custom orders, and makes soaps for people dependent on their needs to help them find relief.
With the pandemic, the past few years have been a lesson of adaptability. While many people began reaching out for soap, sanitizers, and products to wash their hands, it also meant she couldn’t travel. Prior to the pandemic, events and festivals had been her main source of sales, as well as an important social and cultural outlet. “Not being able to go out and dance, not being able to go out and do your cultural stuff. A lot of people have fallen into a little depression,” she says. She looks forward to events starting back up again once the pandemic slows down.
Being stationary presented a challenge; Justine was not able to connect with customers at Tribal events and other pop ups. However, this time allowed her to rethink her business practices. She was able to expand her shipping, open her in-person shop, and grow more wholesale opportunities. Looking to the future, Osceola is excited about how wholesale orders allow her to help more people and tribal communities. “It’s a good sign,” she says, “when people go from ordering one bar to wanting a lot of bars.”
Made by Justine O has grown significantly since it started in 2017, and that growth can be seen through the amount of custom orders, wholesales, and repeat customers. “I’m so happy I didn’t give up,” Osceola says. As of now, she has sold soap in almost 20 states, beyond South Florida and as far as Alaska. International shipping and customs are still a barrier, and she is working to figure out how to expand beyond the US border.
Osceola’s soap serves a purpose of promoting self-love, self-care, and healing. It is a common thread through her branding, social media, and product development. “Taking care of yourself, I truly believe starts in the shower,” states Osceola, “Washing off the day or starting the day, a good bath routine makes you want to take care of yourself, take pride in yourself, and builds your self-confidence.” From the smallest ingredient to the final product, every piece has intention and purpose. Showering may seem like a small thing, but it represents taking pride in yourself, and for her, in her community and culture.
Her soaps are not only for adults. Osceola hopes “for children to be encouraged to seek out a really good bath routine that makes them feel good and healthy.” Some of her more whimsical styles include doughnuts, cake slices, and even cherry scented Cupid poop-emoji shaped ones for this upcoming Valentine’s Day. Holidays are an opportunity for her to go all out and try new, fun things. Osceola wants people to know they can have a better product with more pure ingredients.
I could not write this feature without including a product review, and the experience was truly positive and enjoyable. From the packaging to the products themselves, everything feels luxurious. Each bar is individually packaged and sealed in silver opalescent wrapping, with the name and scent profile labelled on the back.
Ranging from $8-$15 per bar on her website, the soaps are made with two primary methods. Soap loaves, which are then hand cut into bars, take about three days from start to finish. This process includes making the soap, pouring and curing the soap, demolding, cutting, and then packaging. Molded soaps, like the Halpate and Nokoshe Bars take about one day to make. The molded soaps have finer detailing, and the individual soaps are popped out of the mold before packaging. All of her products are handmade on the Seminole Reservation, and a lot of passion and love goes into every bar.
When asked how she comes up with ideas for scents or new products, Osceola feels inspiration by “usually meditating. When I’m in the shop it’s a form of meditation, it’s like an idea just shoots into my head.” She always tries the products on herself and her family, and once it passes the test she will go into production and stock it in the shop.
The Lavender Bar
I will be the first to say, I am always wary of lavender scented items. Too often, it is an astringent and overpowering due to the use of synthetic fragrances. This bar has an attractively pleasant light scent. The essential oil used is not too heavy. Instead of bowling you over, the smell warmly hugs you. This is Osceola’s favorite bar to make. Her soaps are made to heal and nourish, and this is the essence of that message. “The color purple is a healing color, and lavender is a healing essential oil,” she states. “From cutting to packaging, I enjoy the whole process.” This bar is vegan and organic, and this was one of my favorite bars to use from the four I tested. As of 2/3/22 the Lavender bar has just been restocked and is currently for sale here.
The Halpate Bar
- The Seminole word for “Alligator,” the Halpate bar is frankly stunning. A showpiece, the sharp lime scent and impressive molded alligator are nearly too beautiful to use. It is art. The lime makes you almost want to sink your teeth into it, much like the open jawed gator on the face. Sweet and tangy, it truly smells like lime and is slightly reminiscent of key lime pie. Like the lavender, you really can tell that it is made with high quality oils and not a synthetic fragrance. The base suds up grey-black slightly but rinses clean. As of 2/3/22 the Halpate Bar has been restocked and is for sale here.
Part of her series celebrating Big Cypress, Osceola created these bars to share more of her culture, language and everyday life on the reservation. Part of sharing her culture through this series of soap bars included the language. Osceola considers it an important educational opportunity, where she can pass their words on to other people. She feels like she can be more creative, show her culture, and shine a light on native people through her soap. “A lot of people don’t see natives everywhere, they read about us in textbooks,” says Osceola. “By seeing native businesses, it’s time to move into the future. We are here.”
The Nokoshe Paw Bar
Also part of the Big Cypress series, the Nokoshe (Bear) Paw bar is bold, smelling of fresh earth. Slightly spicy and musky, although this is visually a smaller bar the smell packs a punch. The swipe of gold on the paw make it just as visually appealing as the other molded bar. This bar would be good for those who like a slightly stronger scented soap, although it is by no means overpowering. Like the Halpate Bar, it suds up grey-black due the soap color, but that does not stain your hands in any way. Although the gold wears off with use, the bar itself is impressively scented and shaped. As of 2/3/22 the Nokoshe Paw Bar has been restocked and is for sale here.
The Seminole Pride Sweetgrass Bar
A fan favorite, Osceola says she likes to say you’re “showering with pride” when you use it. The colored bands “symbolize the Seminole people, the directions, and the four medicines.” Demand remains high, and it does not sit in her inventory for long. Scented softly of sweetgrass, the colors are bright and vibrant without overpowering each other or being muddy. The sweetgrass is a crisp, clean smell that is almost homey. It stays with you, and it’s easy to see why this is her best-selling bar. As of 2/3/22 the Seminole Pride Sweetgrass Bar has been restocked and is for sale here.
These handmade artisan soaps are high quality, and the dedication to ingredients shines through. Even though the price tag may appear steep, they are long lasting and continue to be beautiful with use. While still making your hands feel clean, they are not overly drying and feels good on your skin. If you have sensitive skin, eczema, or just want to choose better ingredients, there is something for everyone in her shop.
There are only positive things in the path ahead for Made By Justine O. Whether it is more wholesale opportunities, travelling to events again, or helping more people find quality products they love, the potential is without limits. It is impossible to separate the woman from the art, and the love and passion that imparts into every bar shows. Osceola looks forward to more opportunities to share about herself and her culture in her business. It could be through her soap, like the bar series celebrating Big Cypress, her positive affirmations on social media, or through her passion for patchwork that shows in all her promotional photos. “I am a Seminole woman, and take a lot of pride in my dresses,” she says, and wants to show herself “exactly how I am.”
If you are interested in learning more about Justine, her soaps, or just want to reach out and support, I have linked her social media and website below. Additionally, the Seminole Tribune wrote a feature on Justine and her soaps in 2019 that can be accessed here. Currently restocking her inventory, she is available by email and through her website. You can also contact her to make an appointment if you would like to visit her shop in Davie, FL. Soaps are available in store, through local delivery, or by shipping.