When Dirk Combs, Amber Combs-Perkins’ father, passed away, she took a step back to reevaluate what was important in her life.
She had had the success with the pay to match at her upper-level job at Pottery Barn.
But, as parents know their children, Amber’s mother and father had been asking her when she was going to go work on her creative side. “I was always like, ‘I am successful, I’m making a lot of money,’” she explained.
Her father would tell her that she wasn’t happy though.
“Losing my dad was probably the first step in me taking a step back and saying okay you know what, life is short and I need to figure out what my passion is,” Amber said.
After staying with her family watching her father die over 40 days, she returned to her job at Pottery Barn in Atlanta, but she found that her heart wasn’t in it anymore. The lifestyle had lost its allure.
The Washington native decided to return to the area. She moved to Newburgh and took a job with Columbia Sports Apparel but at the same time, she began to make soap.
It soon became an obsession as she developed different recipes. At 3 p.m., she would get off work from her job at Columbia — still upper-level management as she was leading a global upgrade for the company — and come directly home to make soap until 2 in the morning. She’d get up at 5 a.m. and go do it again.
“It was ridiculous,” she said. “It (soap) was an outlet.”
Amber found fulfillment in making soaps that she had never had when she was chasing the corporate dream.
The hundreds of different recipes she concocted for different types of soap filled Amber’s townhome kitchen walls as the post-it notes they were written on multiplied.
“It was kind of like a mixture of art and science,” she said. “Kinda like a mad scientist.”
People would come over to her house and laugh at all the stuff scattered around but many of her friends were asking for stuff to help with different soaps and lotions to help with dry skin, allergies or eczema. She kept coming up with new recipes to help.
Finally, someone mentioned she should start selling the soap and she began considering a new business venture. Then her boss at Columbia met with her and asked her bluntly, “am I investing in furthering your career or am I investing in this soap because it’s pretty damn good.”
She opened Sweet Emotions Soaptions and Potions in Newburgh about six years ago. As her brand expanded, she started to take on bigger contracts and even ended up on the home shopping network, Evine. As a result, Sweet Emotions’ wholesale production exploded to the point that the Newburgh store had to close for sixteen months.
Fortunately, before Evine took off for her, she had recruited Josh Perkins, a childhood friend, who came aboard to help manufacture the soaps and lotions. At first, he started to help out his old friend, but soon became enamored with the process and picked up Amber’s infectious passion for the artisan craft.
“It blew my mind, going through her recipes, being like, how did you come up with this,” he said. “Where do you even begin to put that stuff together?”
While Amber had created all of these recipes and soaptions, her manufacturing process was lacking the finesse necessary to fulfill some of the large wholesale contracts she had landed. During the soapmaking process, the warm, liquid is poured into molds to dry and then cut from the resulting hardened loaves like bread slices.
Amber used Triscuit boxes and Pringles cans as molds for her pours which slowed the process down considerably due to the small batches of soap she could make. Josh had a special mold created that allowed them to cook much larger batches for the square bars of soap. However, the round bars still require Pringle cans – sometimes, Amber will ask for cans from customers.
Expanding on her ideas, Josh was able to take Amber’s recipes and through experimentation, create processes to produce more product in less of the time. “Instead of spending the whole day making 15 soaps, I could spend half the day making 50,” he explained.
Additionally, the hundreds of post-it notes and disorganized notebooks weren’t conducive to running an expanding business. So Josh created a filing system for Amber’s stacks of notebooks and post-it notes of formulas. He has them all stored electronically on a note on his phone.
Josh’s experimentation has led to some great recipes as well. Once, while making a certain flavor, he didn’t have all the right ingredients so he threw together what he did have. The resulting soap, now called ‘First and 10’, features a distinct leather smell that’s only missing the scratchy whiskers of a lazy Saturday watching college football. It is one of their bestsellers.
Josh and Amber have been working together for about four years but the two longtime friends tied the knot about a year ago.
The move to Huntingburg was largely precipitated by that knowledge of her customers as well as a bit of serendipity. She happened to be perusing social media early one morning when she saw space was opening up in a Huntingburg building. With many of her customers at the Newburgh store coming from Dubois County, she decided to explore the idea. She sent her mother-in-law on a quick expedition to check out the space and after receiving a video of the interior, Amber decided it was a great place to open her second location.
In addition to bringing their full line of handmade soaps, lotions and skincare products into the new retail establishment, they have also moved the manufacturing process up to Huntingburg as well. The new location features a glass partition that allows customers to see Josh manufacture the soaps and lotions. He can even take personal requests and have it fulfilled while you are there or in the case of soap, by the next day.
Sweet Emotions Soaptions & Potions offers all-natural skin care products. Lines include Naked Baby for infants as well as the Mancave collection for men. They also make candles seasonally and specialty cleaning supplies. Among the personal pampering products are bath bombs and specialty lotions as well as herbal baths.
The motto “Life is short: Go Naked”, is derived from her own epiphany ten years ago as well as her commitment to all natural products. The couple guarantee their products don’t have artificial or non-naturally occurring ingredients; just the bare necessities.
Amber and Josh also host events such as bridal showers, parties, and they offer classes that teach kids and adults alike about the soapmaking process. At the end of the class, students walk away with their own personalized soap. “Everyone walks away with two pounds of soap that they created,” she explained adding that being in front of people and teaching is her favorite part of the business.
Being in Newburgh and Huntingburg puts Amber exactly where she loves to be these days, in front of her customers. “It’s different when you’re on the phone with buyers and you’re dealing with people via the phone and computer. They aren’t excited about the brand,” she said. “It’s not the same as getting to be in the store in front of people, in the community, seeing and talking to people. It’s just not the same.”
For more information about parties and events, you can visit their website here.
The company’s Facebook Page is a great place to stay updated with new products and special events.
In Huntingburg, Sweet Emotions Soaptions & Potions is located at 404 E. Fourth Street, in the former Disinger & Kruger Jewelers building. They are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.