By Gabrielle Garay | email@example.com
In the upstairs room of a church, a group of people are working. Grinding cinnamon sticks down in a mortar in pestle, mixing lye and soap, churching the concoctions, while sweet aromas fill the air. Stacks of colorful soaps sit completed in a pile in another room.
The workers craft their artisan soap a world away, creating them for Dominican Wave Soaps.
Esterlin. Chelsea. Lourdes. Jorge. Nayely. Each handmade soap has its own story, and is named after the person who created the scent.
“It’s not really about soap, a bar of soap is not a bar of soap, it’s an opportunity,” Flagler alumna Chelsea Reppin said.
Dominican Wave Soaps creates job opportunity and employment for people in San Marcos, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. The line adds $6,000 monthly to the local economy where the residents live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the Dominican Wave website. The business was created in an area where most students drop out at a young age, and students at elementary and university level have to leave school in order to help financially support their family.
Dominican Wave Soaps is a beacon of hope to its eight employees.
The money they earn helps them pay for their children for school, get them through university themselves, and put food on the table for their family. The soap is also donated a part of a hygiene program that teaches locals about the benefits of washing hands. The hygiene program includes 106 locations in episcopal churches and schools around the island.
Seeing and visiting the factory is an optional excursion for three cruise lines: Carnival Cruise lines, Holland America, and the Princess. Cruise goers can visit the factory, see the process, and have the option of viewing other social impact excursions.
The soap, though its made a world way, has a little red string bringing it back to St. Augustine. It can be found in the Flagler’s Legacy store on St. George Street, the Flagler College bookstore, through the college’s Enatcus team, multiple other stores throughout the country, and soon through their own online store. The red string ends in the halls of Markland House on the Flagler College campus, where the idea of Dominican Wave was conceived with some help from the Flagler College Enactus team.
Two suitcases and a church floor
In June 2016 Chelsea Reppin, Flagler College faculty and staff, and members of Enactus USA arrived to the Dominican Republic on a Fathom Travel cruise ship, which was a member of the Carnival Cruise line. It was through collaboration with and the Dominican Development Group and Fathom Travel that the Enactus team decided to bring their first international project to the Dominican Republic. Fathom Travel was the first of its kind, a social impact cruise that allows passengers to focus on volunteering and cultural exchange through “impact tourism.”
It was through Fathom Travel that visiting Dominican Wave Soap became an excursion for cruise goers.
“When you’re in the communities, you’re in the Dominican Republic you’re doing social impact work and you get to meet the locals,” Reppin said. “You get to really immerse yourself in the culture and you get to really experience the country while you’re visiting.”
Reppin was a senior at Flagler College studying graphic design at the time. She was the president of the Flagler College Enactus team and project manager for the Soapy Tales program, another program Enactus ran which involved teaching local boys in the St. John’s County foster care system how to make soap.
The group enjoyed seven days on the beautiful island, and when the cruise finished Reppin lugged her luggage off and watched as her family and friends on the boat sailed away. As the CEO of Dominican Wave Soaps, she spent a year living in the Dominican Republic, setting up the company to ensure smooth sailing.
Among the barriers Reppin faced setting up the business, language was the hardest to overcome.
“It was just not being able to communicate what I needed to communicate. Its starting a business by myself, being responsible for it in the U.S. would have been hard enough,” Reppin said. “But there I couldn’t really communicate with the people very well, I don’t have access to nearly as much resources, and I don’t know how to access resources that are there because of the communication.”
She spent the first month setting up the business with the Vice President of Enactus at the time Eric Crosby, and after that was alone setting everything up.
“At that point all I had was like two suitcases of material and an empty floor on a church building and one kid who I knew was going to help me … and I just figured it out,” she said.
The kid there to help her through setting up was a local named Esterlin, who has taken over as Supervisor of Dominican Wave Soaps.
What is now Dominican Wave started as Soapy Tales, a program created by Flagler College Enactus member that had a passion for the youth in the St. Johns County foster system.
Soapy Tales works with the young men of the St. Augustine Youth Services which is a foster care home. The young men are required to leave at 18 and are expected to care for themselves, feed themselves, and complete school as necessary. Through working with the soap business the young men generate an income and are better equipped to transition from the group home to independence.
“We wanted to go and see what project would make most sense there, we looked back at our projects that we’ve done here in St. Augustine and tried to figure out which one made sense for that area,” Reppin said. “Soapy Tales going down to the D.R. isn’t because we were trying to intentionally make another soapy tales but we were trying to do something in the D.R. and Soapy Tales was the best fit.”
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