You might wonder what a soap-making business and an RV manufacturing company have in common. But to listen to Aubrey Helmuth Miller, the eco-entrepreneur who founded Redbudsuds, tell the story, it was an obvious match.
“I got connected with nuCamp when I heard they were looking for a customer appreciation gift, so I pitched to them our 4-in-1 bar because it works so well for camping, saves space and smells so good!” says Aubrey, who calls herself the company’s Chief Executive Adventurer. “They loved the idea and since 2016, everyone who purchases a nuCamp camper gets a gift box that includes a bar of Redbudsuds.”
But for Aubrey, the affiliation wasn’t driven just by the opportunity to introduce her product line to a new market. It was also a way to work with a company that shares her business ideals.
“I love that nuCamp is grounded in its values and that the company puts so much care into its manufacturing and customer service,” she explains. “That also reflects our approach to how we do business and the deep care we have for every single customer that uses our product.”
The “product” that Aubrey refers to is the company’s 4-in-1 shower bar that comes in a range of scents and sizes. Eco-minded adventurers approve of the fact that the bars are sustainably-produced, use fair trade ingredients and have no synthetic surfactants. Space-conscious campers like the idea that one bar can serve multiple needs: a shampoo-conditioner for the hair, soap for the body, and a replacement for shave cream.
As she explains, “Our shower bars eliminate preservatives, parabens, phthalates, plastic packaging, trips to the recycling bin, and explosions in your suitcase or backpack. And one percent of every sale goes to conservation.”
Aubrey’s interest in environmental issues goes back to when she was in her twenties, working as a wilderness canoe guide. “I was teaching campers about Leave No Trace ethics and this really got me thinking about my environmental impact,” she recalls. “I started looking for ways to reduce my plastic use to protect streams and oceans and also wanted to help others get excited about solutions. I think a lot of us want to improve our environmental impact but don’t know what our options are. My goal is to help others see that their impact matters and they can do something about it. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to take the next first step.”
That “next step” for Aubrey was to satisfy her own desire for a one-in-four product. “I needed a shampoo, conditioner, body, and shave soap that didn’t come in plastic, had ingredients I could trust, and worked. I couldn’t find anything I liked, so I made one: the Redbudsuds 4-in-1 bar.”
Aubrey founded Redbudsuds in 2014 and notes that her target demographic ranges from teens to older adults. “Our customers are people who want to feel good about what they’re putting on their body and down the drain. They not only enjoy small luxuries, but they also believe it’s worth investing in products and brands that keep Mother Nature clean.”
While many Redbudsuds customers are campers or adventurers—“Our bars are so compact and easy to travel with!” she says—there’s another category of fans who have sensitivities to the chemical scents or ingredients found in conventional products—something not found in Redbudsuds. And once they try it, says Aubrey, they are delighted with the results that the 4-in-1 bars offer their skin, scalp, and hair.
“Over the years we’ve seen a shift from us needing to educate everyone on the benefits of shampoo bars to people coming to us looking for a shampoo bar that works…and being delighted that it does so much more,” she says.
Not content with being a soap entrepreneur, Aubrey sees her product as “hope in action.” “Our bars turn an every-day routine into something elevated, whether you’re talking scent, lather, moisturizing qualities, or the nonprofit partners we work with that benefit from a portion of every sale,” she says. “With every shower, you are keeping plastic out of the ocean, protecting the wild places you love to explore, treating your senses, and spreading compassion. Did I mention our soaps lather brilliantly and smell amazing? Check our Facebook reviews! I’m not biased!”
And not content to rest on her laurels—or more appropriately, her redbuds (the company name comes from redbud trees, a nod to her Shenandoah Valley roots)—she’s also made some changes to the line.
“We’re making the bar more ergonomic so it’s easier to hold and lasts longer, improving the quality of our ingredients by switching to all organic and/or local, and lowering the price to make our bars more accessible to more people,” she explains. “Our shift was inspired by what we’ve learned over the past six years: Listen to your customers, and do what you can with what you’ve got. Plus, as we’re growing, we’ve invested in time-saving equipment and are able to order in larger quantities, bringing the production cost down. And we’ve built a larger network of folks who can help us spread the word and sell more bars!”
The company has also launched a new bar called “Hydration Station,” found only on the website in response to the coronavirus outbreak. “The bar has extra moisture and conditioning for hands that are helplessly dry due to all the handwashing the pandemic has caused,” explains Aubrey, adding, “If you can’t give a hug, give suds!”
She also started a short video series on YouTube called Camper Conversations. “In the series, we explore how to #SpreadCompassionNotGerms in playful, useful ways. It has been a great way for us to connect more closely with customers about the struggles and solutions we face in this pandemic. It all goes back to our values: that living thoughtfully is an adventure, and we’re here to help you find that adventure every day with joy and kindness — even if it’s from our camper, parked in the yard.”
With the stay-at-home order still in place as of this writing, Aubrey admits that she and her husband Clinton miss their days on the open road, something they’d been doing since 2012. But with the positive attitude that is the hallmark of every successful entrepreneur, Aubrey says, “Let’s keep spreading compassion, not germs, and before we know it we’ll be out in the great outdoors again.”