Going for a clean slate: Sophomore sells home-made soap to pay off fines for losing school textbooks

Suh+Lin+Hong+sits+in+front+of+the+cabinet+of+her+Fullerton+home%2C+where+she+has+stored+the+soap+she+has+made+after+the+spread+of+the+novel+coronavirus+forced+Sunny+Hills+High+School+to+close+down+in+mid-March.+Before+school+closure%2C+she+had+made+%2480+selling+her+Bunny+Bars+on+campus+through+word+of+mouth+and+through+her+Instagram+story+page+%28%40bunny.bars%29.+Image+used+with+permission+from+Woojin+Hong.

Suh Lin Hong sits in front of the cabinet of her Fullerton home, where she has stored the soap she has made after the spread of the novel coronavirus forced Sunny Hills High School to close down in mid-March. Before school closure, she had made $80 selling her Bunny Bars on campus through word of mouth and through her Instagram story page (@bunny.bars). Image used with permission from Woojin Hong.

Yeihn Lee

$180.

That’s how much money in school fines sophomore Suh Lin Hong had accrued since her freshman year.

“The truth is, I lost all my textbooks and my chromebook charger both my freshman and sophomore year,” said Hong, who chose not to pay the PTSA $25 for a locker to store her school supplies this year because she didn’t use her locker very often last year.

She wanted to pay off the $180 on her own without help from her parents. So rather than to find a part-time job, Hong said she decided to do the next classic American thing — she started her own business. 

Since Hong’s freshman year, Hong and her mom always had the idea of producing handcrafted soap and selling the product to others. So with her mom’s suggestion and approval, she set up an Instagram account.

She decided to name her shop Bunny Bars because she always thought rabbits were cute; Dope Soap was another name she had in mind, but that username was already taken by someone else on Instagram, Hong said. 

Hong’s friend, Rebekah, made the shop and Instagram account logo with a bunny on it when Hong first opened her shop, and she has several soap bars molded like bunnies, though she does offer other shapes as well, she said.

On Feb. 28, Hong set up an Instagram account on her own, @bunny.bars, with 11 items available for purchase ranging from $5-$7. All purchases also include an extra mini soap, confetti and a handwritten card — all packaged in a six-inch-by-four-inch brown box.

Hong promoted her business on campus, telling her friends about it during break and lunch.

So far, she said all of her sales have come from online Instagram orders, and she delivers her products to her customers on campus.

However, since the COVID-19 outbreak that led to school closure in mid-March, she has shut down her business temporarily, opting not to ship her products.

Before the March 16 school closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong had up to 10 customers a week with 10 new followers a day on her soap Instagram account. Hong said she has since made $80 selling 13 bars of soap so far with a total of 77 followers on her Instagram account. Many of her followers who buy her products have posted pictures of their orders to help promote her Instagram account.

“I found out about this soap shop through Hong’s stories while scrolling through Instagram,” junior Yerin Cho said. “I have been friends with her since her freshman year, so I wanted to support her.” 

Cho’s $13 purchase included the ombre bunny trio set, which includes one big soap bar with a bunny carved in the middle and two smaller bunny-shaped ones, all in orange. She also bought the ombre rose, a pink oval-shaped soap bar with a rose carved in the middle.

Hong said she promotes her business by giving out one lavender scented mini soap shaped like an ice cream to people who buy from her or to those who shout out her page on their Instagram story pages. The extra is an eraser-sized mini soap that comes in different shapes such as an ice cream cone, bar or swirl. 

Her account is always tagged on her customers’ Instagram story pages, so she is able to find the people who shouted her out.

Another happy customer has been senior Brian Jang, who purchased the lavender bunny soap for a total of $7.50 around the beginning of March.

“[Hong] and I went to the same after school [SAT tutoring center], so I knew her, and she told me about her soap account,” Jang said. “When I purchased a soap from her, I was surprised at first that I got the soap in person, and when I saw the extras, I was thankful about it.”

Jang was referring to how he met her in Korean teacher Esther Lee’s class after school to receive his product because he is in Korean Culture Club, and Hong has Lee for Korean class.

Another one of Hong’s customers, sophomore Kaylee Rivas, found out about the business through Hong because they have been friends since freshman year.  

“I was very satisfied with her product because the smell was amazing,” said Rivas of her $5 ombre rose purchase. “She’s very sweet and had my order finished right away.”

Hong does not plan to ship her products at the moment to any future online customers because she has stopped making soaps during quarantine. For now, her products have been stored away in her cabinet. 

The process of making her soap products is more difficult and complicated than it seems as Hong spends four hours every Saturday making 10 soaps at a time for her customers.

To create her 18 different kinds of soaps, she uses lavender, orange, lemon, pomegranate and grapefruit essential oils and sometimes mixes them together to make other scents, Hong said.

Her favorite is her $5 clear-yellow and hibiscus flower scented “bee” soap.

To make her products, she cuts the soap bases she makes herself with a soap knife, fills honeycomb molds, adds essential oils and food coloring and then sprays alcohol on top of them to get rid of air bubbles.

Hong said she buys her soap bases from Michaels for around $66 along with her other soap products, which she pays around $150 to purchase — the money coming from her savings account.

Hong always makes sure to take pictures of her soap products to post on her Instagram page and packages them in brown colored cake boxes with small hand-made thank you notes written on a white index card, a layer of confetti and an extra mini soap.

She includes discounts on the note such as 50 percent off next purchase or a free soap included with the next order.

Hong gets her boxes from Amazon, notes from Daiso and confetti from Michaels for a total of around $50, again the source of money being from her savings account.

“My goal for the shop is to gain more followers on Instagram, including people outside of school, so that I can open an online Etsy shop,” she said.

And once that happens, not only would Hong be able to pay off the $180 fine for her lost school supplies, but she could also raise enough money to take care of her college tuition costs.

“I want to go to UCLA and major in medicine because I like biology and crafts, and I want to become a pharmacist who makes medicine,” Hong said. “I plan on continuing to make soap, even when I go to college.”