Christine Bukruian, owner of Potager Soap Co. in Concord, credits her parents for giving her the confidence to dream big and chart her own course.
“My mom was my inspiration for setting out and trying new things and in some ways my dad, who has an art studio [in Concord], served as a huge inspiration to let me know I could do this. Because in his late 50s he reestablished a whole new business and built a successful spring water bottling business. So I had great role models,” Bukruian said.
It was that confidence that led her to start her own soap-making business, sail across the ocean and then later to reestablish that same soap-making business.
She began making her own soap after she discovered that many of the ingredients found in store-bought soaps were best handled with masks on.
“I was fascinated with plants and botanicals since I was a child. As a young girl I would experiment with perfume making,” she said.
That skill came in handy as she blended essential oils to create her hand-crafted soaps.
Potager was launched in 1999 at the old Bradford Mill in Concord, and by 2002, the company had a national following.
Adventures at sea
Things changed when her mother died.
“I went through a personal crisis and felt that you’ve got to do the things you dream about while you have a chance because you never know when it’s your time,” she said.
This time, her dreams took her out to sea, captaining an old 36-foot sailboat, renamed Gypsy Spirit. Ed, a South African sailor, taught her how to sail and she set out for the Bahamas, sailing in tandem with Ed, and her first mate, Kia, a 50-pound Labrador/golden Retriever, by her side.
She sailed and lived on her boat for about 10 years, filling soap orders whenever she came to port.
When her granddaughter, Eloise, was born in 2013, she returned to Concord, filling soap orders from home for a time.
She also refocused her energy into making sure Potager was creating the cleanest, gentlest soap possible.
Making soap again
Restarting her business was harder than she had expected.
“So, 1999 was a different environment. Back then there were not a lot of soap makers, so people were receptive to this new thing. When I relaunched in 2019, everybody [made] soap. It was really hard getting back in,” Bukruian said.
To help her products stand out, she decided to become organically certified. Now all her soaps are made with ingredients that are vegan and cruelty free, including organic, food-grade olive oil, coconut oil, RSPO palm oil and shea butter.
The soap is made in small batches inside her Concord store – some 1,000 to 2,000 bars a day — using a cold process and certified organic ingredients. The heady aroma one immediately notices when entering the store comes from the essential oils that she blends and personally smell tests.
Bukruian is especially particular about the essential oils, noting that scents can vary from batch to batch. To ensure consistency in her soaps, she smell-tests a tiny sample of each oil before purchasing a batch.
Today, business is thriving. Soap is shipped around the world and can be found in stores around the country, including Whole Foods Markets and Roche Bros., farm stands, gift shops, museums and botanical gardens.
Potager is a family business
For Bukruian Potager is “really all about family.”
Her daughter, and son-in-law, Abraham, are helping to grow the business. Even her granddaughters, Eloise, 7, and Estelle, 3, have a role.
“They are a huge part of why I do what I do. They keep me grounded, or else I would be off sailing somewhere,” she said.
She considers her employees to be part of that family.
Three years ago she hired a young mother, Marlucci, who could not speak English. With her baby by her side, she learned how to package soap and speak English. Later Bukruian taught her how to make soap, eventually promoting her to production manager.
She recently hired another young woman who does not speak English.
So Bukruian offered them a challenge.
“[I said] there is no speaking Portuguese here. For each week you don’t speak Portuguese there is a bonus at the end of the week,” she said.
Now her production manager is teaching Carina how to speak English.
“It just blew my mind,” Bukruian said. “I think by the time Christmas comes Carina will be speaking English and that will prepare her to go anywhere.”
Helping her employees is important to Bukruian.
“People that work for you give a lot and care and I like to give back more than monetarily,” she said.
More about Potager
ADDRESS: 152 Commonwealth Ave., Concord
STORE HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday; check the website for updated holiday hours.
DETAILS: Online ordering is available.
INFO: 877-371-0138 https://potagersoap.com