Tyler Robinson and Preston Tillotson
Tyler Robinson (left) and Preston Tillotson.
Tyler Robinson and Preston Tillotson each bring something special to their soap business, Sudz by Studz. Robinson, with a long history in music (you might recognize him from the first season of The Voice), infuses a mean streak of creativity to each batch that he makes, while Tillotson, with a philosophy and chemistry background, navigates much of the company's business. But don't take that the wrong way: Both of these guys wear the gloves and goggles in this endeavor, which the 22- and 24-year-old run out of their Midtown apartment. Recently, the partners took a break from their work to talk shop with SN&R about the ethics, chemistry, colors and smells behind running their own soap business.
You run this entire operation out of your kitchen. Do you cook anymore?
Preston Tillotson: We're lucky to cook in the oven, but most of the time we're supporting local businesses by eating their food.
Tyler Robinson: Or just dealing with the fact that we have to live with cereal.
What do you mean when you say you’re buying a pound of “monkey farts”?
Robinson: Well, monkey farts is actually a scent. It's a fragrance, which is supposed to smell like a big ol' fruity explosion. Kind of like a monkey fart would smell, I guess.
Tillotson: Bananas, guava, papaya, pineapple—
Robinson: And a little bit of bubble gum.
How many different kinds of soaps do you have?
Tillotson: Probably around 20 different varieties. We've made a litany of them, about 50 different brands you could buy, but as far as core fragrances—about 20.
Soapmaking seems to be this complex amalgamation of art and science. How do you know what you know so early in the game?
Tillotson: I learned it from Tyler. Tyler is kind of a sponge. He got in front of YouTube and used the wealth of tutorials available online. I have a chemistry background, so that helps me with the more data-relevant features of soapmaking, which is the chemistry aspect. Then, there is the art, which is what Tyler does. He finds how the colors blend with the oils right, and how that's going to look once it's actually in the soap. A fragrance can change the color. Different heats can change the color.
Robinson: A color can change its own color. You will throw a color in there, and say, “That's gonna turn out blue,” and when it dries, it comes out green or brown or—
Tillotson: They're temperamental. One thing we learned was to get into the right carrier, which is typically castor oil in this case. Or add moisture to our soaps with castor oil. We take the added luxury of just adding color to it, and it's worked really well. Our soapmaster can't get other people to use color chips like we do, so a lot of people buy their color premade. We make our color here.
You have a Fight Club bar—you’re not making your soaps with human fat, are you?
Tillotson: No, and not even animal fat. A lot of our friends are vegans or vegetarians, and a lot of the skin care that's out there is as well. We don't think it's a hard shoot to get to that standard. It's just the fair-trade part that's difficult. All of our soaps have not harmed anyone in the making.
Our products are nearly all vegan. The only vegetarian item that's contained in some of the soaps is the beeswax from the local bee store, or goat's milk from Lodi. Everything else is completely vegan, and even the vegetarian items are cruelty-free. We are pushing to make a vegan line, and it's only an ingredient away, really.
Some of these bars look good enough to eat.
Tillotson: And they have been bitten into every time we've had a major event thus far. The lemon biscotti's been bitten twice and the plumeria once.
Robinson: We also had an older gentleman at a wedding event [who took a bite out of a one]. … [He] had a bit of an excuse, because he didn't have his hearing aid in.
Tillotson: I was serving these platters of, you know, soap novelties. Little shapes. And I said, “Don't eat this, sir.” So he pulls out a fish that smells like lemon biscotti, took the whole thing in his mouth, and his friend says, “Didn't you hear him, stupid? He said don't eat it.”
Now, you are not only business partners—
Tillotson: We are partner partners.
How often are you at each other’s throats?
Tillotson: At least once a week. I think that happens with regular partners, but the business-partner aspect requires a partitioning of who you are. I can't hold him accountable as a business partner as I would as a lover, and I try not to bring a love or hate from one realm into the other.
Robinson: The thing that we're constantly fighting over is just expressing our ideas correctly. That goes along with balancing how you're saying it depending upon when you're saying it. Sometimes you're in business mode.
Tillotson: We don't talk to each other about business in the first hour upon waking or the hour before going to bed, because you have to have partner time.