Community Spotlight: Simon's Soapbox

How soap solidifies connections for a New West brother and sister duo

L to R: Caroline Short and Simon Vanderloo pose with soap they've made, sold under the 'Simon's Soapbox' banner. Supplied.

As Simon Vanderloo and his sister, Caroline Short sit down to chat with The Anchor, you can see how much love there is between them: Short and I can’t help but laugh as Vanderloo, from time to time, will pull bunny ears over Short’s head, while showing off a positively infectious smile.

There is nothing but joy while speaking with this soap-making duo, as they celebrate milestone after milestone in Simon’s Soapbox. Vanderloo has lived in New Westminster his entire life; Short also grew up in New West, but now lives in Burnaby.

The premise behind Simon’s Soapbox is simple: Vanderloo takes much of the lead in creating colourful bars. The bright and bubbly works of art are sold to friends, family, and at artisan fairs—and, of course, are used for washing. Simon’s Soapbox also sells dish soap and bath bombs.

Since turning their hobby into a business—which embraces natural ingredients like salt over palm oil—it has garnered awards, including first place in the 2021 BCITSA Entrepreneurship 2021 contest.

“[W]ith the free time brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic, Simon (who has Down Syndrome) and his sister Caroline (who is unusually tall) decided to build a soap making business. This was something they could do together, not only to generate a little money, but to give Simon [a] sense of purpose and dignity,” explains a write-up on the pair’s website.

Vanderloo excitedly shares with The Anchor the exact year they first started. “2021!” he says, with Short chiming in to say that as someone who loves do-it-yourself projects, making soap was her idea.

“Simon is a really careful worker, and when he learns a task, he can do it really well. Soap making requires a lot of careful measurement of weight and temperature,” explains Short, adding that because of her brother’s care and attention to detail, it only made sense to give soap-making a try.

When The Anchor asked Vanderloo what his favourite part about making soap was, he didn’t waste any time responding. “Mixing!”

“We use both a spatula and an immersion blender to do the mixing, and that’s Simon’s department,” Short elaborates; Vanderloo’s eyes light up when she mentions the swirls in the soap. In fact, he loves the swirls so much, they call them “Swirls by Simon.”

“[And] cut the soap!” Vanderloo adds.

“[He’s referring to what we do] on Fridays. We cut the soap,” says Short. Vanderloo follows up to explain that the soap is in one big slab, and that it has to be cut down into appropriately sized bars that they can sell.

There are some challenges that come with the soap-making territory, though. “Hardest job?” asks Vanderloo, who takes a moment to ponder the question. As they have a back and forth discussion, Vanderloo pipes up, '“selling [soap].”

“If we have an outdoor market, when it rains, that's quite hard because it's very slow and it's cold,” says Short. “I think that that might be the hardest part.”

Prompted by the follow-up note about selling, Vanderloo wants to remind everyone of an important date. “Thursday, June 15,” he says, referring to the date you’ll be able to find them at the New West Farmers Market in Tipperary Park. If you aren’t able to check out their soap sale then, you’ll be able to catch them about once every five weeks or so—bookmark the Farmers Market schedule as well as the Simon’s Soapbox website for updates.

“Last year we were all over the place,” recalls Short, adding that they’ve been to markets in Vancouver and Surrey, as they tried to find their footing in sales. Noting their love for the city they grew up in, they wanted to try putting New West at the forefront of their efforts: along with also making appearances at New West Craft—the market that takes place at River Market every first and third Saturday of the month—they’re continuing to hone in on local partnerships.

As an example, Simon’s Soapbox sells dish soap, and the ramekins they’re held in come from Pottery Works, which has a location in New West. Pottery Works’ goal is to highlight work created by local talented painters, potters, and jewelers who showcase their work across the Lower Mainland. Vanderloo and Short first encountered Pottery Works when Vanderloo went to make pottery there.

While explaining the dish soap and holding a ramekin, I notice Short is holding a dish brush. When asked where the brush is from, she grins.

“This is a great New West story, too. We’re getting pretty New West,” Short says, turning to Vanderloo to ask where they got the dish soap brush from.

“Jessica and Mark!” Vanderloo says, referring to Jessica Brown, who owns The Refill Stop in Downtown New West. Mark and Vanderloo met through swimming at the Special Olympics. Short says the brushes are made through fair-trade practices, with stops in Mexico and Montreal.

As for Vanderloo’s favourite part about New West: we alluded to it, but he does love to swim locally, noting that he misses the Canada Games Pool. He’s excited for the new pool, təməsew̓txʷ, to open, though.

And—of course—he likes hanging out with his sister.

“I like you,” he says, leaning on her shoulder.

“I like you too,” Short responds with a proud smile.

To learn more about Simon’s Soapbox, and to keep up with Short and Vanderloo’s bubbling adventures, give them a follow on Instagram here.