Shawna Villalvazo has been in the soap business for a long time — in part, to meet her own skincare needs.
“In 1994, I started formulating natural body care products in my kitchen, after being shown how to do basic formulations from a local herbalist,” she said. “In the early ’90s there weren’t a lot of options for people with sensitive skin and I’ve always struggled with that.”
Now, as owner and founder of The Bubblery in Leavenworth, Villalvazo brings naturally formulated soaps, shampoos, lotions and more to locals and visitors alike. The Leavenworth location is the flagship store, with two other locations in Nashville and Pittsburgh.
“There has been an evolution over the last 20 years in the way people think about taking care of their body and themselves,” she said.
As consumers move away from products containing parabens, sulfates and other non-organic and potentially irritating chemicals, they seek out products like those found at The Bubblery.
“Over the years I’ve kind of kept with our same philosophy,” she said. “I’ve always been against artificial fillers and toxic ingredients.”
Villalvazo and her small team of other cosmetic crafters use natural ingredients sourced locally or in the Pacific Northwest.
“Each of our products are handmade by one of us,” she said, “and there are only three of us that make this entire line of products, so it is truly small-batch.”
Products are made in-house at the 800-square-foot storefront in the Obertal Mall in Leavenworth where The Bubblery opened in 2010.
The store is filled with soap, bath bombs, facial care, perfumes, body scrubs, oils, serums, lotions, hair care products and more.
“We opened it up kind of bakery-style, so what we have out is what we have,” she said. “We don’t store huge amounts of inventory.”
The shop resembles a bakery in other ways, specifically the colorful and even tasty-looking products on the shelves.
“Our specialty is the gourmet-style bath fizzies and the artisanal soaps,” Villalvazo said. “They actually do look like a treat that you could eat. We use actual sugar sprinkles and rose petals and different types of sea salts on top of the fizzy.”
The goal, she said, is to make self-care and good hygiene “a more joyous experience.”
In addition to the rotating supply of pre-made items, there is also a design-it-yourself station repurposed out of an old ice cream counter where customers can create customized lotions, perfumes and scrubs.
“It’s very tactile. You can come up with your own fragrance and make something truly your own,” she said. “As far as I know we are one of the only places that does that.”
Customers pick from dozens of ingredients and scents to create a unique product. They take it home in a glass jar and are able to return and refill their container with their next concoction. Sustainability has always been a part of Villalvazo’s philosophy.
“We’ve always been into eco-friendly packaging, and we refill jars to keep the waste down,” she said.
She sources most of her ingredients and supplies from Washington state to keep the cost and environmental impacts of shipping low. Even the products that ship out to customers are packaged sustainably.
“We don’t buy shipping supplies, we’ve never bought fluff or stuff or anything from boxes. We reuse everything,” she said. “We are always trying to be better and progress in response to the needs of our environment.”
Villalvazo said she also wants to respond to the needs of her community.
“Every October, we would try to get together and raise money for breast cancer awareness and one day it dawned on me that our local community could use help with this,” she said, “so we started the Think Pink fund for Cascade Medical. It provides mammograms for underinsured women.”
This year, the businesses in the Obertal Mall raised more than $3,000 for the fund. In addition, Villalvazo partners with other community groups to raise money and gather resources for those in need, including a food drive for the Upper Valley Mend community food bank.
In the shop, Villalvazo supports local artists by carrying their art, stickers, jewelry and more.
Locals and tourists alike visit The Bubblery to admire the edible-looking soaps and bath bombs and to try out new fragrances and products. Villalvazo hopes visitors walk away with a product that helps them enjoy taking care of their bodies.
“We really get behind that philosophy: take time out for yourself, take time for the little things,” she said. “Spreading happiness in a little bar of soap is our philosophy, because you’re treating yourself at the same time. It’s not that expensive, but it does bring satisfaction and joy.”