Story Behind the Artist - Kiah Smith
You never know what curiosity will breed. It starts with a dim light as though a match is about to burn out but, instead, gets bigger and brighter, little by little. Sometimes the light will fade again and go out completely, but other times it grows to be something that cannot be ignored.
This was the case for Kiah Smith with Smithmade Essentials.
Where her story begins...
In early 2018, Kiah discovered a soap maker on YouTube giving tutorials and it intrigued her. Kiah had always had that creative spirit so many artists do, she’s actually been a visual designer for over 10 years now specializing in branding, but never considered soap to be an outlet for creativity until watching these videos. What intrigued her the most was that something as practical as soap could be manipulated, constructed, and turned into something so beautiful, not just for the eyes, but with its smell and feel as well.
Kiah spent the rest of 2018 testing formulas, learning the different techniques, and, when she eventually had more soap than her immediate family and friends needed, she decided to create a business and brand of her own and she launched Smithmade Essentials at the end of the year. At the first event she did, she nearly sold out of everything she’d brought to sell that day. Her passion project had shown her it could be a real business and the flame grew even bigger. Kiah now makes, not only soaps, but candles and wax melts as well.
Before starting Smithmade Essentials, Kiah was working as an independent designer for small business clients looking to launch services, products, and lifestyle brands. Her design company is Kiah Smith Creative.
As Smithmade Essentials became a viable venture, she decided to try and shift it to be her main source of income. Now, Smithmade Essentials is her full-time job but she also reserves time to still work for Kiah Smith Creative. “It's a lot of hours per week which isn't ideal but feels unavoidable at this time since Smithmade Essentials is still young and finding its footing,” Kiah tells us. “However, I enjoy both jobs. They each allow me to be creative in different ways. Being a brand designer is collaborative since I get to work with other small business owners to bring life to their ideas and build brands that are unique to them and their goals. Smithmade Essentials gets me away from the computer and is very hands-on. I get to attend fairs and events and meet other makers. I have full control of the direction I want to take my business and the type of work to run this company is different than what I've done to run my design company.”
Story behind the name...
The name of her business, Smithmade Essentials, comes from her last name “Smith” and also the fact that the word “smith” itself means “denoting a person skilled in creating something with a specified material.” While this definition is very applicable to any maker, Kiah tells us, “when I first started exploring business names I had a whole list with many names including the word ‘handmade’ and ‘soap’. ‘Smithmade’ came to me once I thought about how to relate my business name to myself without it just being my whole name written out which I've done with my other business and grew to not like overtime. At first, I was going to call my business Smithmade Soaps, but as I thought about how I might want to grow and develop my business I realized I didn't want to lock myself into soap alone and might want to expand into other crafts. I choose the word ‘Essentials’ because this love of soap making all started from being impressed with how artistic flair could be applied to a practical item. I wanted to keep practicality at the root of my brand. After much deliberation Smithmade Essentials was the final chosen name.”
Where she creates...
Kiah makes all of her soaps and candles from her own apartment where she lives; half of it has been converted to be a manufacturing space. At the start of 2022, she spent a month reorganizing her work space, built new shelves for her supplies and products, got bins for storage, and upgrading some equipment. Now that her business has grown, she didn’t want it taking over her entire home which, as we know, can easily happen when we work and live in the same space.
So far in Kiah’s career, her Garden Collection feels like her “most crowning achievement” she tells us, with inspiration from specific plants like Honeysuckle and the rain that allows flowers to grow in the first place; “Fox Tears” is one of her more abstract soaps and Kiah tells us it’s her personal term for when it rains when the sun is shining, aka sun showers. “This collection features soap with piped top designs. I've been able to use this collection to push the artistic side of soap making. I usually start with an idea and sketch it out to determine the design and color scheme. I'll then match a scent blend to the design and get to work making the soap. Most times when I add a new soap to this collection I'm challenging myself to use new techniques. This doesn't always work out and I've definitely had some design failures, but I always learn something from it. Sometimes I might learn the limit of what can be done with soap and other times I'll go back to the drawing board and research a new tool that can help me accomplish the design I want to do. I enjoy learning through exploration and I love tackling challenges.
When she’s not working…
When we asked Kiah what she did in her time not working, this is what she had to say, “the beauty about being self-employed is that I command my time. Although I work many hours each week I can insert leisure whenever I feel I need to. My spare time is spent with family. My mom is also an entrepreneur and we enjoy comparing notes and troubleshooting areas of our business together even though we're in totally different fields. Whenever my sister visits I'm happy to clear my day to spend time with her, whether that be shopping or just hanging out and catching up. I spend many evenings winding down with creative writing. Plotting stories, character arcs, and researching history has been a great way to take put my mind off of work and relax. This year a big goal of mine is to travel, which would completely remove me from my workspace and force me to enjoy more leisure while exploring new places.”
**Editor’s note: This article was composed as a joint effort between the Made By Her staff and Kiah herself. You can find her products in her online booth Smithmade Essentials in our Bath & Body collection.