Meet the Maker
Every bar of PennyBella soap is lovingly hand-made by Josh Harris, 30, of Anna, TX, who, as a child, loved to make “potions” by combining things he found under the bathroom sink, much to his parents’ dismay. He also learned his way around the kitchen from his beloved grandmother, Doris. These childhood experiences instilled in Josh a lifelong love of creating and experimenting, and have contributed to his love of soapmaking. He and his husband, Greg, are originally from central Arkansas and lived in Boston, MA before making their way to the Dallas area in 2019. They have two spoiled princesses, a Blue Merle Cardigan Corgi named Bella Grace (one of the company’s namesakes) and a Siberian Husky named Nala Shakala. Josh graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, AR in 2013. While a student there, he worked as a research assistant in the chemistry lab, which gave him valuable experience he continues to use while creating his products.
Origins of PennyBella
Ever the entrepreneur, Josh has tossed around business ideas with his friends for years. When he finally got serious about starting his own business, his love of Lush stores and products and luxurious bubble baths led him to research natural soap making. “I like to make things. I’ve always really liked to cook, and I feel like these are very similar, though I guess with soapmaking you could melt your face off, but you can do that with cooking too,” Josh says. After three or four months of research, Josh made his first loaf, The Pink Lady, a pink Himalayan sea salt unscented soap. “I just wanted to get a feel for making a really basic soap bar. I wanted to see if the ratio of oils felt good on my skin,” Josh says. Using salt in a soap makes it trace, or get thicker, faster, which means the pour has to happen quickly. “In hindsight I should have maybe tried a soap without salt, but it turned out beautifully! I just fell in love with soapmaking,” Josh says. Knowing he had a good, natural, environmentally friendly product helped push Josh to take the leap and start his business. He combined the names of his corgi, Bella, and his friend Amber’s pup, Penny, to create the brand name. Greg and a family friend, Shane, were early investors so Josh could build the foundation of PennyBella. In early 2020, Josh was ready to begin selling his first line of soaps, and was looking into going to fairs and markets to build a client base, though the pandemic put that side of the business on hold for a while. PennyBella’s first sale was in March of 2020, a Mr. Sandman bar scented with lavender essential oils. Both The Pink Lady and Mr. Sandman bars are part of PennyBella’s permanent line and are available online!
The first step in making PennyBella soaps is looking for inspiration from fragrance oils. Josh loves to read through fragrance oil descriptions on his favorite suppliers’ online stores, making note of any scents that interest him. He also reads reviews, and reaches out to his friends. “I call my friends and read them descriptions. They help me figure out what might be a popular scent. I’m a man, but my friends have different perspectives, so that helps,” Josh says. Out of all of his soaps, So Fresh and So Clean, Clean is Josh’s favorite. “I love that crisp, fresh smell,” he says. After choosing fragrance oils or essential oils, he creates a design, considering pour techniques, color combinations, botanicals, and exfoliants he wants to use in each loaf. “One of the things I find most entertaining is that I have drawings of my design idea, but it almost never comes out looking like the drawing. It’s a lot of intuition in the moment,” Josh says. His favorite and most-used design technique is an in-the-pot swirl, where he pours the differently colored batters into one large pot and then pours into the molds. “I love the abstract nature and the color mixing. When you cut the loaf, every bar looks different,” Josh says of the technique. Experimenting with new methods is another enjoyable aspect of soap making for Josh. “You’re always learning new techniques, new ways to pour. And because we’re a newer business, we’re still learning about different products we’d like to add to the store. I’m still learning every day!” he says.
Josh’s vision for PennyBella is to continue to make products that help your skin feel nice, are good for the environment, and make you less stinky. In the short term, he hopes to scale up, grow the customer base, and make more meaningful connections with potential customers. Long term, he hopes to see PennyBella become a major brand in the bath market while also giving back to the community and causes he and his customers care about, primarily LGBTQ+, animal welfare, and sustainability causes. Sustainability is a major focus on PennyBella’s business plan, using organic, fair trade, and cruelty-free ingredients in all bars. Josh has worked diligently to find the most sustainable packaging material, and is thrilled that all packaging material is biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. PennyBella continually strives to evaluate their process to make it as earth-friendly as possible.