Essential Journeys Takes Care of What Lies Beneath

Essential Journeys specializes in a wide array of soaps, lotions, bath soaks, lip balms, body salves, body butters, and soy candles.

Exactly 20 years after she bought a “how to” book on soap, Kimberly Masters now stands atop one of the great handmade item success stories of Western North Carolina.

“I started making soap in 1999 because I have sensitive skin, and I was trying to find something that would work for my sensitive skin,” Masters said. “By 2004, I decided to start a full-time business making soap. Essential Journeys has now been in business for 15 years.”

Essential Journeys specializes in a wide array of soaps, lotions, bath soaks, lip balms, body salves, body butters, and soy candles. The company ships its products to over 200 stores and has a worldwide online presence. Masters estimates that the company sells upwards of tens of thousands of bars of soap yearly.

“When I make soap, I love taking it beyond a chemistry project,” Masters said. “At first, you take lye and fats, and you’re coming up with a good formula—everybody has that. But then, you take it to the next level to create designs and colors. These are almost little pieces of art and dioramas.”

Masters grew up in Delaware and was raised in a family that grew their own food, kept bees, and also made their own clothes.

“It’s absolutely a full-circle thing for me to be making my own products,” Masters said. “I really put a lot of value in things that aren’t mass produced somewhere. It’s something that someone put creativity into. [You can tell when someone] has a personal experience in—and a personal passion for—what they do.”

Aside from Essential Journeys, Masters has also spent her life as a travel guide, venturing into far off lands and immersing herself in the cultures of the world.

“I get inspired when I travel to these different destinations, which directly plays into the products we make,” Masters said. “The ‘essential’ can mean a lot of things, like essential oils in our processes or thinking about essential things in life, while ‘journeys’ is about heading to all these incredible places.”

Having circled the globe and lived in a lot of places, Masters eventually found herself in West Asheville, a place she has called home since 1999.

“I love that West Asheville is walking distance to so many things,” Masters said. “This city has such a great sense of community. You know all your neighbors, and you really get to know people who live and visit here.”

In recent years, the historic home of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/poet Carl Sandburg in Flat Rock approached Masters to do a line of soaps using the milk from goats on the property. The line was a success, which led to Masters also launching her own line of similar products: The Appalachian Goat.

“I love being an independent business owner. It’s about the flexibility of the business and being creative in how I use my time during the day,” Masters said. “It’s about the idea to never stop creating, to always be thinking about the next thing. For me, it’s how do I push the limits of soap, the limits of body care?”

This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to order your own free copy.

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