I recently had the chance to get burgers and beer with Greenpoint resident En Tsao, in the backyard of Williamsburg establishment The Meat Hook. En is the brains and the creative force behind Even Keel Soap.
Even Keel’s products, in the face of a market flooded with all kinds of natural, organic, and locally sourced ingredients remain unique and fresh.
Part of it has to do with design, a lot of has to do with the quality, and all of it has to do with En. She utilizes just about every aspect of her experience and past insights to make something very personable and true to her spirit.
Even Keel is a nautical term which means balance. En first started soap making in college, while studying for a degree in graphic design at SVA. After graduating, she worked in advertising, then moved onto editing, and started to work more on her own, freelancing, while continuing to make soap on the side. She always had a knack for branding, and eventually it combined with the soap. She began marketing her own products, instead of other peoples.
While in the back of her head, there was an idea to collaborate with her mother, who lived in Singapore, the logistics of that just proved too difficult.
So when it came time to name the business, Eve + En still pays tribute to it in a way. And now, what about the collection?
“Right now,” she says, “we change our collection of botanicals bi-annually as we depend on the seasons. But all lines specialize in clay-based bars, bath and body products.”
At first, all ingredients were sourced locally. As En traveled more, she start herb sourcing outside the States. One major destination was Vietnam. Her parents, who were retired, played with the idea of starting a farm in Sapa, in the northwest.
The variety of herbs available to her there on a regular basis was far more widespread.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘exotic,’” she says, but she came across Gac Fruit, Gripeweed, Thanaka Root, Hung Cay mint and could also acquire herbs like Green Tea and Gotu Kola fresh, instead of powdered or dried, the way they are imported into the States. Because the cuisine there is more focused on their herbs fresh and uncooked, a large array is found in street markets and grocery stores, way more so than here.”
The only challenge, then, especially for a smaller company, is to get all this back in the States. “Still perfecting that,” she says.
The next trip for ingredients, later in June, has a couple of goals in mind. One is to visit the Red Dao ethnic minority in Sapa to learn more about their foraging techniques and elusive herb bath ingredients. The Red Dao are known for their herb baths, which are bundles of as many as 350 herbs at a time. Each family has their own special recipe or formula. “And they’re all very secretive about it. No one wants to share.”
The idea is to somehow convince someone, anyone, to share.
Then it’s onto Jakarta and India to source more clays and regional herbs directly.
For all her time travelling, En says being in New York for a third of her life now has made it home to her. She is giving Even Keel some breathing room, at least until the end of the year, to see if all the travel and sourcing and shipping back to the states make for a viable business plan.
Though she does retail her products and sell them on her site, she is trying a subscription service, where customers order online in which everything will be made to order, and delivery goes right to the customer’s door.
Follow Even Keel on Instagram.