From Soap Bubbles To Community Building

By Allison Puccetti Adams

A small-town soap-making company that barely survived the devastation of Hurricane Katrina gives back to the beloved city of its origin.

In a small Mississippi town, as Hurricane Katrina brewed, Paula Lindsay was launching a long-awaited dream. With the help of her husband and her mother, she was developing The Pass Christian Soap Co. It was a natural step for a woman whose interests in fragrances went back to her childhood.

“When I was a little girl, I would sit at my grandmother’s bedside dressing table, opening the beautiful bottles and decanters that held lotions and oils, soaps and silver trinkets,” recalls Lindsay. “I would smell them, soaking in memories of times with my grandparents with each scent.”

As she grew older, the smells of her past remained a comfort for her, and she began searching for her own signature fragrances. Lindsay worked in retail as a bathing suit designer, and each time she was at the wholesale markets, she became more familiar with the fragrance products sold nationwide. She also noticed that most of the fine soaps in the specialty shops were imported.

But it wasn’t until her daughter, who was in high school at the time, began shopping for Christmas gifts for all of her friends that Lindsay took on soap-making as a hobby. Originally, it was to save money. “We had found some gifts at a popular bath store, but they were too expensive for a teenager to be distributing to close to a dozen of her friends,” explains Lindsay. “So I purchased a simple soap-making kit from a local craft store and began creating unique-smelling soaps, scrubs, and lotions. I used items that I had on hand in my own kitchen, such as spices, herbs, and oils.” Her husband’s secretary also received a sample of the soaps that were packaged in creative wrapping and then asked for more. And from there, the soap bubbles began flowing as Lindsay took numerous Christmas orders at her husband’s office.

Soon, Lindsay’s kitchen became a full-fledged factory. As the orders poured in, her husband, Bo, who had a background in business, realized the opportunity for Lindsay to slide into a real business venture. So she began product development for her first lines and designed the packaging on her own. Lindsay knew she wanted to create a traditional soap with roots from her home soil of Pass Christian, Mississippi, and she even named the company after the town that she loved so dearly. Her mother, Vera Blackmon, had just retired and agreed to become her business partner. But just as they began the process of moving into a new commercial building, Hurricane Katrina came knocking on the door.

As soon as the evacuations were ordered, Lindsay called off the business move and packed up the car with her family and pets to head for safety. But they could never have imagined just how long that trip away from home would take.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Lindsay learned how bad the devastation was in their hometown. “There was nothing left of Pass Christian. We lost our home, our business, and worst, our community.” And with that, her newfound dream, The Pass Christian Soap Co., seemed to be wiped off the map.

Like most of the 6400 citizens of Pass Christian, Lindsay and her family were forced to relocate. They moved more than 95 miles away to Daphne, Alabama, which is also on the Gulf Coast at the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was here that Lindsay soon found out her dream was not completely lost. Just before the storm had hit, she had received orders from the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss. “I was amazed to hear that after the hurricane, while they were in destruction as well, the buyers for the Beau Rivage were concerned about our business,” she says. “They helped connect us with the MGM Mirage Group, who took us under their wing, telling us, ‘We’ll bring you back, and we’ll bring you back strong!’ ”

Even now, Lindsay’s focus is not just on her business but also on the citizens of the town she loves. She has created a hand soap called Fresh Lemongrass to raise money for the community rebuilding that is taking place. “Everything I do goes back to Pass Christian. I just love that town so much,” she says. In addition, Lindsay sells a special line of soaps called Sugar Blossom, with a fragrance inspired by the scent of flowers in her hometown. “It’s a way of capturing a sweet memory,” she explains.

The company now distributes to the Bellagio in Las Vegas and has even begun selling in the Luxor hotel. Lindsay also sells to vendors across the country that she meets at the Dallas, Atlanta, and Kansas City wholesale markets.

And she continues to keep in touch with her roots in Pass Christian, where great strides are being made. The bridge into town that was washed out was reopened in May 2007. The fishing and shrimping industries are working their way back after heavy dredging. And the city is rebuilding itself slowly, street by street.

The Pass Christian website quotes a motto: “Where tradition meets the future, and water touches the sky.” Those traditions are saved in boxes of photos, in faint reminders of coastal sunsets that linger between the water and the sky, and in memories of fragrances. The future of Pass Christian is in the hands of those who dare to dream . . . once again. [Sb]