During the 18-month period of her life that was characterized by an abusive relationship, Chartel Findlater found an inviolate sanctuary in the small bathroom of her West Philadelphia home.
A single gray rug sat at the foot of the sink. A translucent shower curtain hung from a metal rod that was attached to the ceiling and curved around the bathtub, whose rusted bottom was concealed by a plastic shower mat. And there was one window that offered an uninspiring view.
Albeit dreary and sparsely decorated, “the bathroom was the only place where I could think or pray or cry,” Findlater, 33, said. “That was the one place where I felt like I wouldn’t be intruded on or experience abuse.” It was also in this bathroom that Findlater leaned into her love for skin and body care: butters and creams, oils and hair conditioners, toners and scrubs.
In August 2018, while watching inspirational videos on YouTube to alleviate stress, Findlater came across a soap-making tutorial by Texas-based artisan Katie Carson. Later that year she decided to try her hand at making soap and body butter.
“When the relationship ended, I had a gift card to Bath & Body Works,” Findlater said. “It was just $100 and it was the only extra money I had, but I used it to buy my first [set of] supplies.”
In March 2019, following the positive reactions and encouragement from loved ones and the women at her church, Findlater launched Gold + Water Co. (formerly Toasted), a line of handmade body products. The line includes body butter, beard balm, and soaps that resemble small slabs of Italian marble with accents of gold mica — a natural shimmering pigment.
Today Findlater produces up to 500 bars of soap and fulfills about 75 orders every month from the basement of her Port Richmond home. Those numbers are steadily increasing.
Gold + Water soaps cost $8.50 for a four-ounce size. Other products range from $15 to $30. All are available online and at the Occasionette boutique in Collingswood.
Findlater named her business Gold + Water as a nod to the biblical scripture 1 Peter 1:6 and her experiences with domestic abuse. The scripture “talks about being refined and coming out like gold,” she said. “No matter what elements you have to withstand, you can become better than you were. And water is cleansing and reminds me of rest.”
The soaps have become Findlater’s flagship product. Typically, her process of creating a soap is first inspired by a fragrance or scent. She then creates a color story and design, like the teal, mustard, and coral colors that are layered in Gold + Water’s Orange Moon soap, named after an album cut by Erykah Badu.
She measures out oils, butters, creams, and lye water, mixes until they emulsify, then leaves the soaps to cure.
The citrus-scented Revolver, the fruity Pink Lady, and the unscented Coconut-Oat soaps are mainstays in the Gold + Water’s lineup. And on the first Monday of every month, up to five new seasonal soaps are released on the company’s website.
The Peach Bottom soap (made with coconut, olive, and sunflower oils) and the Watering Melon soap (made with poppy seeds and cocoa butter) were the most popular of the bunch this summer. And for autumn, Findlater said the seasonal selection that she’s most excited about is the We Three soap, which has notes of sandalwood and patchouli.
Erica McElveen of Mayfair has dry skin and searched for an agreeable body moisturizer for years. Gold + Water’s body butter made with shea and mango butters is now her go-to. She uses the body butter not only to moisturize but also to relax.
McElveen is a music teacher at The Philadelphia Charter School for Arts and Sciences. At the end of her workday, before driving home, she sits in her car in silence as she works the butter into her hands. “Sometimes you just need to take a minute to get yourself together,” she said.
Taking even a little time out for that kind of self-care can increase your sense of self-worth and value, according to Kyle Holsinger, a Delaware County-based clinical psychologist. “Doing self-care can help physically, it can help with our cardiac health, reduce stress levels, impact our level of drive and motivation” he said.
Findlater’s next milestone is to grow the business “to a point where I can’t handle it by myself anymore.”
Currently, she also works as a music teacher, and having an assistant, “would help me increase my production,” she said. This month, she began selling scented wax melts that are used in candle warmers.
Findlater regularly donates soaps to organizations that help women in abusive relationships, such as the Open Door Abuse Awareness Program.
“Soap is a vehicle to deliver the message that you are luxury,” Findlater said. “Your well-being is what’s most important. I just hope that people really get the sense that it’s bigger than just soap.”