sweet SMELL of SUCCESS
Store owner Francia Fortune turns soap-making hobby into a new thriving business in New HavenBy Chatwan Mongkol
NEW HAVEN — Julia Lewler has been a loyal customer of Soap-edi since the day it opened in Milford last year. Now, she said she kind of turned into an “adopted daughter” of the store owner.
“The products really helped people and I witnessed it myself through my friends that I have referred to the company,” Lewler said.
“People have diseases like eczema and they tried a lot of traditional medicine that has a lot of harsh chemicals, and you tried her soap, the eczema started to get cleared up within a couple days or weeks,” she added.
Soap-edi joined a growing list of new businesses opening their doors in downtown New Haven, offering soaps and skin care products. What’s unique about the new beauty store is that all products are handmade by owner Francia Fortune.
“I have a huge garden, so I take all the vegetables and make soaps,” Fortune said, noting her love for gardening and studying the benefits of nature.
Fortune, Haiti-born and Venezuela-raised, was a nurse who took classes about cosmetology and decided to turn that into a business in 2013 at flea markets. The ingredients, she said, also come from farmers and organic vendors in Connecticut.
Soap-making long has been a hobby of Fortune. It started simply because she was trying to keep herself busy with something outside of work.
“When we were little, when we had a vacation, my mother always paid somebody to teach us a lot of stuff, so that’s why I tried to keep my mind busy during my free time,” she recalled.
And the store’s name, in fact, is a way to remember her mother.
The store first opened in Milford’s Connecticut Post Mall, and the New Haven store at 1022 Chapel St. is the latest expansion.
“I feel very good,” Fortune said. “I hope it’s doing well, I really like the people.”
Soap-edi features all kinds of skin and body products from soaps, bath bombs, skin creams, oil and masks for “all skin types, packed with vitamins, fresh organic fruits and vegetables.”
Lucy Ballester, Fortune’s daughter, said she’s happy for her mother and hopes she continues expanding. She wants people to know that “nature is better than chemicals,” so they should come in to at least try.
Lewler said she likes Soapedi’s soaps, sugar scrubs, citrus spray and rose spray because they smell “really good.”
“Francia and her daughter really personalize the service so if anyone has any kind of skin conditions or extra needs for their skin care, just tell her what you’re struggling with, and she can tell you exactly which products could be tailored for what you need,” Lewler said.
The store recently held its grand opening along with Uni-Life next door. Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, said it was an important moment for minority, women-owned businesses in the city.
“Soap making actually started as a hobby for Francia and she quickly turned into a successful business,” she said at the grand opening. “So if any of you out there have other hobbies and want to open a storefront, come talk to us afterwards.”
Zucker said she spoke with Fortune before the ribbon-cutting and learned that Fortune speaks five languages — English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Peul.
“So she welcomes all of those customers and more into her store,” Zucker said.
Mayor Justin Elicker said since it’s a holiday season, the new businesses in the city are the way residents can “indulge ourselves a little bit” when he said many people have been through tense situations in their lives.
“It’s up to, not only the communities that they come from, but all of our communities help support businesses,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity to do so, and I think I’m going to be doing so as well.”
“I have a huge garden, so I take all the vegetables and make soaps.”
Francia Fortune, noting her love for gardening and studying the benefits of nature