By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
She found a way to put fun and nostalgia into washing up.
Bellingham resident Chrystal Doucette makes soap with old video game themes, including Pac-Man shaped soap. She started her company Digital Soaps in 2009.
“On a whim I just decided to make soaps shaped like electronics,” she said. She got inspired when she found candy molds online that were shaped like computer components. Instead of candy, she decided to use the molds to make soap.
“I love handcrafted soap,” she said “No two soaps look exactly alike.”
Soap allows her to unleash her creativity.
“I like being able to think of something and then being able to put in into existence, and soap really lends itself to that,” she said.
So she taught herself to make soap, and started making soaps shapes like cell phones, remotes, calculators, and old PlayStation controllers. She opened up an Etsy shop and started selling them online.
Her shop got mentioned online on PlayStation forum, and soon her PlayStation controller soaps were sold out.
“I knew I was onto something, just because of the enthusiasm for the video game theme,” she said.
She started making her own molds, developing new products and soon had a popular online store stocked with many video game-themed soaps.
She was getting so much business she had to move her soapmaking operation out of her apartment and into a small warehouse on Bakerview Spur.
But she ran into some trouble.
She didn’t have permission from any of those brands to sell versions of their creations.
“Looking back on it, it was sort of reckless,” she said.
She got a cease and desist letter from Namco, the company that own Pac-Man, to stop selling Pac-Man themed soap.
The video game company Sega also reached out to Doucette, but instead of threatening legal action, offered to grant her a license to sell her soaps with the company’s blessing.
She decided to stop selling anything she didn’t have a license for — she had to scrap her entire catalog.
“I had a pretty strong following before this,” she said. “It’s been tough, because a lot of people want the old things I used to make.”
She’s been slowly building it back up again.
She started with a soap that looks almost exactly like a controller from the ’80s console the Sega Genesis and soap replicas of popular Genesis game cartridges, like Sonic the Hedgehog.
She now has gotten an official license from Namco, and earlier this year launched her new, above-board, line of Pac-Man soaps. She sells a soap shaped like the yellow character Pac-Man, plus a ghost that’s been turned blue.
“There’s nostalgia with every generation, it seems, with Pac-Man,” she said.
Younger and older generations alike seem to remember playing the game as children or teenagers.
“It seemed like a safe bet.”
She worked with a Western Washington University student to design the product packaging. She likes working with small, local companies whenever possible, she said. She gets all her soapmaking supplies from Otion in Bellingham.
“When possible i just like helping the little guy,” she said. “It makes me feel good, like we’re helping each other.”
The Pac-Man soaps have been popular, and have been well received. She’s continuing to try to build her product line back up.
Licenses can take a long time to get, and they can be expensive. Now, Doucette’s finding that she has to carefully pick and choose which products she wants to pursue.
She has also branched into anime. She got the license and this spring started selling soap based on the popular anime series “Attack on Titan.” The release coincides with the premiere of the second season of the show.
There’s lots of crossover between video game fans and anime fans, she said.
“I’m basically giving the same customers what they want,” she said.
In addition to expanding her product line, next Doucette is also trying to get her product in more stores.
Her product really shines when customers can actually see it firsthand.
“It really hits home for them how detailed the soap can get when they see it in person,” she said.