Local soapmaker captures Santa Barbara moments in products
At Rafael Adón, the handcrafted garments and goods are more than just stylish and fragrant — they tell a Santa Barbara story.
Founded in 1999, the family-owned company specializes in artisanal soaps, perfume oils, leather bags and garments.
Its meticulous, homemade nature stems from the founders’ ancestors’ histories of creating and practicing ethnobotany.
Each $12 bar of artisanal soap aims to use the sense of smell to create a mental image for the user.
“Los Olivos,” for example, is made with California organic black olives, and “the notes of amber, cardamom and musk warm the senses like witnessing a warm Santa Barbara sunset.”
“Marinero” is inspired by sailing adventures in the Santa Barbara Channel, bringing “the invigorating brininess of the Pacific Ocean with an aquatic undercurrent.”
Ralph Cordova, who lives in Santa Barbara, is the founder of Rafael Adón, and he, along with his mother, stepfather and husband, run the company. His personal favorite soap is simply called “Santa Barbara,” emitting the “scent of petrichor, the smell of rain, released from its slumber to mingle with the scent of night blooming jasmine.”
“I was able to bring the sentiment of a Santa Barbara evening when it rains, and the smell of the wet soil and jasmine and the wetness and saltiness of the breeze in the evening,” he told the News-Press. “That’s one of my latest addictions.”
Mr. Cordova said he was inspired to start the company while living on an 800-acre avocado ranch on the Gaviota coast. Botanical creations and bespoke leather goods are traced back to his grandmothers in the 1800s, which led him to create the first soaps made with indigenous botanicals.
The company’s “Story & Stitch” feature allows for customizable leather bags, where the creators meet the customers and learn about their lifestyles and desires for a handbag. Then they build a luxury bag according to individual characteristics.
Mr. Cordova added that he recently teamed up with two brothers in Mexico who own a cactus farm and began making bags out of cactus plant material, a vegan alternative to an animal skin bag.
“I like to think that whenever someone gets one of our products, they get something that was made with a very good spirit in mind,” the founder continued. “I think one of the biggest things I enjoy is that I make things with my family being together, making something beautiful and just connecting and laughing and telling stories.”
The soaps are made with saponified organic oils olive, coconut and soy, along with salt and lye. Their emollience comes from naturally occurring glycerine from the creation process.
“The thing about our business is our formulations can actually trace back to my great-grandmother who was a healer of the earth and botanicals,” Mr. Cordova said.
“Growing up in her family that practiced ethanol botany is the core of our company. In that way, these family traditions look forward to others being able to benefit from its important message.”