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Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Early Girl, Soap Factory Cleaning Up Memorial

RETAIL: Soap-Making Anchor Tenant Revitalizes Former PacBell Building

Early Girl Creations, a natural soap and beauty products company that started in 2013 in Imperial Valley, is now helping San Diegans clean up naturally.

Early Girl proprietors Chris and Karen Sanchez since 2021 have been growing ingredients for and manufacturing their soaps and skincare products from an indoor/outdoor 40,000-square foot site at the corner of Commercial Street and 30th Street in the Memorial area just north of Logan Heights.

The Sanchezes are the anchor tenants at the aptly named The Soap Factory Event Center, where they are also the operating hosts of the events-side of the venue.

Since relocating to San Diego, their sudsy business has been gaining a new set of customers because The Soap Factory Event Center – with its eclectic mix of vintage kitsch items, antiques, eclectic furniture (including a circa 1970s television) and diverse offerings from local artists – hosts art shows, concerts, pop up marketplaces featuring local vendors and other soirees.

Marc Berkowitz

The Soap Factory’s landlords, CoPlace, have turned the former Pacific Bell Telephone Company training building and one-time auto parts/car dismantling business into a go-to hotspot for the community.

CoPlace co-founder Marc Berkowitz fondly calls Early Girl Creations a “‘farm-to-shower’ business” – a tweak on the “farm-to-table” concept of freshly grown, locally sourced food sold to local people and companies.

The couple create soaps and more from scratch, using a wide variety of ingredients from their onsite outdoor garden where herbs, spices and luffa gourds (what loofah sponges are made from) grow in beds and along trellises outside, and an indoor distilling area where the couple make essential oils and natural fragrances that go into their product line.

Founded on a Wellness Journey

Berkowitz said he and CoPlace cofounder Sasha Favelukis were moved by the Sanchez family’s health and wellness journey.

The Sanchezes got into the soapmaking business when their son was diagnosed with a serious case of eczema more than 10 years ago. They tried traditional methods to ease his inflamed skin, including topical ointments that worked temporarily, but none had a lasting effect.

The couple befriended a local Imperial Valley pharmacist, Philip Carrico, well versed in nutrition and a believer in the healing power of natural products. The knowledge and guidance offered by Carrico, who passed away in 2019, and a 16th-generation soap maker Karen Sanchez met, paved the way for the couple to learn to craft soaps infused with essential oils and fragrances sans synthetic ingredients.

As they healed their son’s rash naturally in 2012, the couple exited their jobs – Chris Sanchez a correctional officer, and Karen Sanchez a social worker and schoolteacher – to take on full-time work creating environmentally safe soaps which later expanded to include skin creams, body oils, lip balms, rubs, serums, facial scrubs, hand sanitizers (when the pandemic hit) and other health and beauty products.

“We never thought of it as a business until I had an episode of Bell’s palsy,” Chris Sanchez said. “I was on disability from that in 2015 and I started educating myself and growing my own food. We were raising two kids and living on a ranch and we were selling our products at farmers markets, but my disability was going to expire. So Karen and I talked about it and we were like, ‘How much do we believe in this?’ So we decided to sell our ranch and take whatever equity we had, to go all in.”

Growing Into a ‘Placemaking Spot’

Berkowitz said CoPlace wanted to offer the Sanchez family “a place they could call home, where they could continue to make their soaps.

“We believe in them, and we believe the sky’s the limit for them,” he said. “Early Girl as sole proprietors here have grown 20+%. In 2024, I’m expecting to see greater increases for their businesses than in previous years.”

CoPlace, an investment and advisory firm with a consortium of experts in real estate, finance, analytics, architecture and creatives who revitalize communities and business ecosystems, is the group behind Quartyard on Market Street in East Village.

Quartyard has transformed a blighted area of downtown San Diego into a prized community asset, with a dog park, beer garden and event space.

CoPlace is looking to The Soap Factory Event Center to bring a similar vibe to the region, with a team of event production specialists with full-scale production services plus an on-site kitchen with food service and catering. Its personnel include restaurateur Chip Schloss, who created the hip bar/restaurant Atomic Cowboy in St. Louis.

Berkowitz said the current setup will change over time to become a “placemaking spot in the city.” Although Early Girl Creations will stay, The Soap Factory aims to grow exponentially as a community gathering space. Two bars are also coming.

The site will also be home to an offshoot of Chris Sanchez’s side gig that he picked up during the pandemic – helping people build gardens.

“Early Girl Gardens” in January will hold its first cohort at The Soap Factory as part of a program with Urban Corps called GROW, funded through a California Conservation Corps grant.

Early Girl Creations

FOUNDERS: Karen and Chris Sanchez
HEADQUARTERS: The Soap Factory Event Center, 2995 Commercial St.
BUSINESS: Natural skin care
WEBSITE: earlygirlcreations.com or thesoapfactoryevents.com
CONTACT: info@soapfactoryevents.com or
SOCIAL IMPACT: Monthly soapmaking and gardening workshops are ongoing.
NOTABLE: Chris Sanchez is president of Cuerpo Diplomatico de Derechos Humanos, a diplomatic body of human rights and indigenous groups, for the Tecate Baja California Mexico region.


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