By Nathan Wright
San Clemente Times
Susan Garcia, local artisan and regular at the San Clemente Village Art Fair, blends her love of the ocean into her craft of making homemade soaps and candles
There’s something cooking in Susan Garcia’s kitchen. Coconut shells line her sink, and a flakey substance is slowly bubbling down to a smooth consistency in her melting pot. She scoops a ladle of hot liquid and pours it into a coconut shell, filling it nearly to the top before moving on to the next. While the process may sound a bit like preparing cupcakes for the oven, she’s not baking. As the soy wax dries she adds cotton wicks, and soon her candles are ready to be lit.
Garcia, 32, is a soap and candle artisan, and her kitchen doubles as her workshop. On Sunday she will be one of 60 vendors peddling their wares at the San Clemente Village Art Fair, a sidewalk event on Avenida Del Mar held on the first Sunday of every month. The fair features craftsman who work with their hands, an activity Garcia loves. “All of the products there are hand-made,” she says. “It’s a unique venue, and my favorite.”
Just one year ago Garcia worked full-time in corporate America, relocating employees of major companies to Southern California. Now she spends her time working from her San Clemente condo, a dwelling covered in surf art and guarded passionately by Sophia, a 3-year-old Papillon with endless energy. Her new vocation is a seven-day-a-week commitment, but it affords her the surfing lifestyle she enjoys and the ability to do something that is entirely her own. “It’s mine,” she says. “It’s me. I came up with the whole concept. When I got the labels I had tears in my eyes.”
The concept is quite simple. Garcia uses all-natural ingredients to make candles, soaps, body scrubs, dog shampoos (developed for Sophia) and dog treats. She calls her business Natural Paradise, a name that reflects her commitment to natural products and the coastal paradise she calls home. Her products follow coastal themes, including coconut and citrus scents and the coconut shells for her candles. Her soaps, made from natural vegetable products, come in more than a dozen scents, each with its own name. One scent, Life’s a Beach, smells of coconut, while Sue’s Mimosa smells of chamomile. “I try to offer an array of different soaps because everyone’s different,” she says.
The business requires much of Garcia’s time, but not so much to stop her from being a regular in the surf community. Garcia is an avid surfer who spends many of her mornings at Trestles and other surf breaks before putting in her day at work. The waves and the weather sometimes dictate her work schedule. “I’ve gone out to the beach, saw that the waves were flat and decided I had more important things to do,” she says. “There are Sundays when I’m working and my friends will call to tell me that the surf is good, and I say, ‘No, I’m making some money.’”
Garcia sells her wares at fairs and in local shops, including San Clemente’s Auntie Dee’s Jerky Shop and the Three Dog Bakery, San Juan Capistrano’s Island Clothing and Laguna Beach’s Bubbles. She also has a Web site and says that often her neighbors will just drop by to pick up a quick birthday gift. “They know I’m always around,” she says. Garcia is pleased with her business’s growth in the past year and hopes to continue adding local shops as her customers. As for future products, she invents when it suits her. “I’m satisfied with my product lines, but there’s always something going on in the back of my mind,” she says. “There are so many things you can do, but you need to stay focused on what’s selling well and make it the best it can be.”
The quality of her product is easily measured. “Regular customers are the best,” she says. “When you finally put your products out there and there’s a positive response from the public, it’s awesome.”
San Clemente Village Art Fair, Sunday, July 1, 10 a.m.–4p.m., Avenida Del Mar