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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Geeky clean

Working as a daily reporter, Western alumna Chrystal Doucette never envisioned a career in soap.

“I thought I was going to be working in newspapers forever, and then on a whim, my entire life changed,” Doucette said.

Doucette was looking online for chocolate shaped like floppy disks, something her father used to buy. Instead, she found a variety of candy molds shaped like cellphones, computer mice and floppy disks.

“I had an idea to make soap, it just came to me,” she said. “I started with things like remote controllers, cell phones, and at the time I was just using candy molds.”

“The best piece of advice I ever got on starting a nerd business was you have to give it five to 10 years. You have to give it time so you know how the market works and you can focus your product down to a niche.”

Wakey Nelson, Chibi-Yeti founder

Initially a hobby, soap-making grew into Doucette’s business, DigitalSoaps, after she began selling her product on Etsy.

Doucette was making the soaps out of her apartment when she received a $40,000 order in 2011. To accommodate the large order, she had to move the business into a small warehouse.

DigitalSoaps owner Chrystal Doucette applies a label to a SEGA Genesis cartridge soap // Photo courtesy of Chrystal Doucette

As the owner, she continues to work in Bellingham with Mark Whitney, the wholesale coordinator and 3-D designer for the company.

The two were friends in high school but lost touch in 1999. In 2011, Doucette contacted Whitney on Facebook and they renewed their friendship.

“At first he was helping me fill orders because I was getting overwhelmed handling the business myself,” Doucette said. “Then I realized he was good at so many other things, and the things he wasn’t good at, he just didn’t know about yet.”

In 2015, DigitalSoaps was contacted by the video game company Sega, who at the time  was sending out cease and desist letters to those violating their copyright.

“They thought [the soaps] looked really cool, so instead of shutting me down, they offered me licensing,” Doucette said. “They basically said, ‘It’s not cool what you’re doing, but on the other hand it’s really cool what you’re doing.’”

Through SEGA, they learned about a licensing expo in Las Vegas where they made more licensing contacts.

DigitalSoaps used to sell parody fan-art soaps, which they weren’t licensed to make. When they received their first license, they stopped doing parody soaps entirely and started using their own original designs.

Doucette buys her soap-making supplies from Otion: The Soap Bar in Bellingham, where Samantha Saddler works.

“[Otion: The Soap Bar primarily supplies to] resellers—people that come and buy our products and then go make soap themselves,” Saddler said.

Doucette’s soaps are made with the melt-and-pour process.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

“Take a clear or white melt-and-pour base, you chop it up, melt it down, [and] add your color and fragrance into a mold. That then solidifies quick and it is ready within 20 to 30 minutes,” Saddler said.

Rhiannon Kemp, president of Western’s Aiya! Anime Club, has purchased a variety of fan merchandise.

“As long as it has my favorite shows in it I’ll probably buy it,” Kemp said.

Bellingham is home to other businesses aspiring to find success among fan communities.

Chibi Yeti is a Bellingham-based business self-described as, ‘nerd themed,’ run by Maegen Peeples and Wakey Nelson. They sell original art T-shirts, patches, buttons and coloring books of “male superheroes in sexy pin-up poses.”

Chibi Yeti is a smaller business than DigitalSoaps, but also runs their shop on Etsy. Currently, they are earning more at fan conventions than online.

“I think it’s a lot harder to be visible on Etsy, because there’s so much content,” Peeples said.

“The best piece of advice I ever got on starting a nerd business was you have to give it five to 10 years,” Nelson said. “You have to give it time so you know how the market works and you can focus your product down to a niche.”

Doucette has gone from writing the news to being the news.

“I’m having meetings this year at the licensing expo, with companies that own characters that are not [from] videogames or anime,” Doucette said. “I’m interested to see where it goes.”


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