The Oakland Post

Just add a little soap

OUCARES alum creates staggeringly successful company

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Just add a little soap

Laurel Kraus, Life Editor

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Spencer Kelly has been thrown a few curveballs in life, there’s no doubt about that. But both despite and because of these obstacles, the 16-year-old OUCARES alum has proven that life is exactly what you make it.

On Aug. 12, 2001, Spencer was born with Asperger’s syndrome, and a chain of events began that would lead to the theft of his candy-red bike 16 years later.

It was a bleak day when the $300 Trek disappeared from outside of the McDonalds on Squirrel Rd., but it turned into so much more when in an attempt to further instill responsibility in his son, Steve Kelly agreed to purchase a new bike. But only is his son would pay him back.

And thus, The Expedition Soap Company was born.

“About a week later, when I was just sort of figuring out ideas on how to pay him back, it just clicked for me, luxury handmade soap,” Spencer said. “I started working on the idea immediately and on Sept. 1, [2016], I launched the company.”

In the beginning, the company offered around 12 scents but it has now grown to more than 65 within a variety of products including handmade soaps, lotions, body butters and bath bombs.

The growing success is perhaps in part due to the complete lack of harsh chemicals. Each bar of soap contains a very select grouping of ingredients: five natural oils, organic grade A shea butter, the scent and the coloring. The only exceptions exist in a few bars which additionally hold activated black charcoal or clay for detox.

“My mother has always been, to put it bluntly, a bit of a health nut and it’s always stuck with me, just the importance of natural ingredients,” Spencer said.

While it is up to local artisans to mix the soap together, the young entrepreneur handles every other aspect of the business from marketing, packaging and sales to dreaming up the ingredients and naming the products.

“It’s sort of throwing darts at a wall and seeing which ones stick really, just sort of think like ‘I want a floral scent, maybe something a bit more sweet, I got it, I’ll make this soap, I’ll call it Rose Gold, and it’ll be a mixture of honeysuckle and rose,” Spencer said. “I don’t use it personally, for obvious reasons, but hey, it’s a good bar.”

When he made $457.40 on the first day of sales, which was more than enough to pay his father back, Spencer soon moved on to bigger and better ways of applying his newfound income.

Beginning last April, he decided to donate a percentage of the company’s proceedings every Autism Awareness Month to the US Autism & Asperger Association (USAAA).

“I donate to [the USAAA] because it’s not just for young kids, they also help older teens going into college,” Spencer said. “Not a lot of people really focus on that, but a lot of people really need help at that age because, as everyone knows, you’re being thrust into the world kicking and screaming, and unfortunately, some of us just need a bit more help while we’re kicking and screaming.”

During that time, the Kelly family had written to the USAAA to inform them of the donation and send along a few soaps as well. The response they received was rather unexpected.

Not only did the president of the USAAA offer to send out a promotional email for The Expedition Soap Company to 30,000 members, but he also mentioned his personal enjoyment in utilizing the soap for shaving.

And then, just a short time later, Spencer received an invitation to be a panelist at the World Autism Conference, to which he will be returning this year, and sit next to Temple Grandin, an internationally-known autism spokesperson.

“It was a self-advocacy panel for essentially those who could advocate for themselves and for the autism community at large, as it is quite well known many of them cannot speak the same way you and I can,” Spencer said. “It’s an issue I had growing up. We don’t get conversational rules all that well. You have to understand, I got lucky.”

And the chain reaction did not end there.

Just this year, Spencer took the company to around 50 vendor shows where he personally aids the customers, which has been crucial in helping him overcome social anxiety.

“It’s one of the most amazing yet one of the most odd feelings when someone walks up to me and says ‘your story is so inspiring’ because I say ‘what story? It’s my life.’” he said.

Looking toward the future, the creator of The Expedition Soap Company, although already dual-enrolled at Oakland University, is interested in going to college for business operations.

“He’s always loved business,” said Tracie Kelly, Spencer’s mom. “He’s our avid reader so he’s been reading books, like serious books that you and I would read, at three. When he started reading business books, he was so motivated, inspired and excited.”

To date, The Expedition Soap Company has served over 2,000 people, and Spencer has goals of taking the business international through Canada and Britain.

“I never thought I would have a company at such a young age,” he said. “It’s the center of my life now. I never thought that so much would happen because of something I did, I guess no one does.”

The Expedition Soap Company products can be found at ExpeditionSoaps.com.

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