Good, Clean Fun In The Cliff

Hi, I’m Melody… and I’m a soapaholic. Seriously. I’ve never met a bucket of suds I didn’t like. I know how sad it sounds, but there’s nothing more thrilling to me than a fancy-schmantzy brick of handmade soap. Or a shiny squeeze tube of shower gel scented by some toney essential oils. Or a pricey bottle of minty or fruity or ”perfumey” body wash. In my single-mommy world, great soap — like a well-blended cup of coffee — is one of life’s affordable luxuries.

When money is tight, lingering in the shower with a fantastic-smelling bar of something fabulous can feel as good as a weekend away. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Imagine this soapaholic’s joy, then, when I was tooling around with my small person one recent First Thursday evening in the Bishop Arts District, and the unmistakable smell of fragrance oil hit me in the face as I turned the corner. Handmade soap in the Cliff? Dare I hope?

We followed our noses down the street to Shambhala Body Gallery, and were instantly awash in almost too much of a good thing. The progeny and I stood outside the shop, sniffing the soap samples to a degree lesser women might deem humiliating. As we opened the door, I half expected to be greeted with a blinding white light and an angelic chorus.

Our first visit, we were there a solid hour. I started on the right side, Sadie started on the left, and we sniffed and sampled everything in the store. We had never smelled anything like the scents they whip up from scratch at Shambhala because, quite literally, everything the shop’s two owners, Keith Emmons and Robert Ungemach, whip up is an original.

Like the name of one of the store’s hand-mixed scents, Carpe Diem, we seized the sweet-smelling day, leaving with six bars of soap and three lotion sticks,” a signature Shambhala item. And, as the two partners packed up our purchases, they told me about how they stumbled — literally — into the craft and business of soap-making. Emmons pegs the start of this already successful retail establishment to the holiday season of 2005. “We didn’t know what to get people for Christmas that year, so we decided we were going to make something,” he recalls. “We headed to Michael’s and found a basic soap-making kit for 20 bucks, and that turned out to be the best 20 bucks we’ve ever spent.”

Ungemach took to soap-making like a duck takes to water. “I kept making trips back to Michael’s,” he relates. “By January, people had used all the soap we gave them and were asking where they could get more. We knew Valentine’s Day was approaching, and we thought, ‘You know, we might be able to turn this into a business.’”

In late January of 2006, the two made up 30 gift baskets — and sold them all in a single day. They used their initial proceeds to rent a space at Canton First Monday, and a business was born. By the spring, the two had expanded from bars of scented soap to baths salts, from essential-oil-only products to fragrance oils. “Our first month at Canton, we cleared $600,” Keith states. “We would have been happy to break even.”

When the two opened Shambhala in the Bishop Arts District in May, their product line had swelled to include lip balm and an original creation, their “lotion on a stick,” a sort of cross between lotion and perfume. Their scents range from some zippy mints to leather to more exotic offerings like Indonesian Teak and Nefertiti. They’ve even designed a scent specifically for the Cliff. Their original scent, “Desire,” is both the kick-off scent for their new Essential Woman line of fragrances and, cleverly, a fundraising initiative for the Oak Cliff Transit Authority and its push to bring the trolleys back to the ‘hood.

Sadie and I are working our way through their entire fragrance line, one limited-edition bar at a time. (The two work in small batches to ensure quality on the shelf and to allow them to experiment with fragrance blends to meet customer demands.) We’re smelling better than we ever have. And, as we lather up, we know we’ve found another good, clean reason to never leave the Cliff. 


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