A brave and bubbly retailer shares a lesson in soap making and self-love
To Five Points regulars, Sunrise Artisan Bath & Body might have seemed like a sunflower that bloomed overnight when it sprung up on Saluda Avenue in the summer of 2019. Really more a repotting than a planting, Sunrise had been tucked away for three years on a side street so close to its current location that they walked all the soaps over when they moved. Tzima Brown, owner of Sunrise, powered this transformation for a foothold in what she calls “the Mecca of Five Points,” where her sales, her inventory, and her brand boomed. Change, Brown says, feeds her need for variety, and it’s what drew her to making soap in the first place.
In the beginning
Brown got into soap making on a whim. She bought a kit during a 50% off post-Christmas sale at Hobby Lobby. “It was like bathing with a brick,” she says. “It was very hard, it didn’t bubble up, it didn’t suds up.” The odd creation flooded her with questions: Why didn’t that work? How can I make it better? How might these ingredients mix instead? Brown had dabbled in all kinds of creative endeavors before, teaching herself how to make Rastafarian crowns, how to sew dashikis, and how to play guitar. But making soap seemed to fulfill a long-held creative restlessness.
“When you make soap, you never know what it’s going to look like when you cut it,” she says. Watching a new streak of color emerge and testing materials against each other excite Brown’s love for change. “People tease me and say they don’t know anyone who reinvents themselves as often as I do,” she says. In her craft, the reinventing happens each time she starts to make a new product. “I hope people recognize that—every single bar of soap, every single bath bomb she makes—no two are exactly alike,” says Keven Cohen, Brown’s friend and owner of The Point radio station. Brown moonlights as the host of the Saturday night radio show, “Evolve with Tzima.”
“As I always joke, it’s a full moon every Saturday night at 8 o’clock, no matter what,” Cohen says.
Hard work, creativity and a positive attitude result in success
First, Brown gave her soap to friends, then she started selling it to market goers at Soda City. In 2016, Brown opened the brick and mortar store in Five Points. “I remember when I first told someone that I was going to open up a soap store… they laughed,” she says.
Making skincare products by hand means handling volatile substances, exerting intense physical labor, and dipping into an endless well of creative energy. Making these products as a business doubles the burden. Brown knows what she does is serious and requires honed skills, and she chooses to remember this when faced with disrespect. “If you let the naysayers control that space in your head, most of us wouldn’t do anything,” she says.
It’s easier to turn off the internal No voice if you love what you do. Brown loves what she does so well that she’s been known to spend 16 hours at the store inventing new products and still be excited to come back early the next day and do the same thing. She hopes customers feel her goodwill as an ingredient, the only unchanged material during the soap’s chemical reaction. As a rule, Brown refuses to lay her hands on her materials if she’s angry or upset.
“I will never make a bar of soap, I won’t make a tube of lotion, I won’t make a bath bomb if I’m having a bad day,” she says. “If I did, then you may purchase a product I made when I was upset, and that could result in you bathing and getting into an argument right after you get out of the shower.” Brown just wants people to enjoy her products as much as she enjoys making them.
The product, the business and the owner
The skincare industry depends on a market obsessed with imperfection, in search for a cure to aging, to acne, to eczema. Brown’s product is radical in its humanity. Plants flounce between piles of marbled soap, stacked on deep wooden shelves that Brown built and installed herself. Rose and citrus notes hum quietly in the air, nudging customers to be present (not giving them headaches). Against sunflower walls, signs hang with reminders like “Take Care of Your Face” and “Love Your Body!”
Brown knows that shame and obsession have no place in her products, that loving yourself means loving your body as it is, and that loving your body means washing it — a simple, daily rite of self-respect. “It’s all you’ve got until you leave, so you might as well treat it right,” she says, seeing the body also as a home. “Take care of yourself.”