Wainiha Rainwater In Every Bar

I meet Carmen Durney at the Waipa Farmers Market. It’s a blistering afternoon, and she sits in the shade of a tent, a youthful smile spread across her slender face. Rounds of handmade soap, tubs of body butter and signs reading “Pamper Your Skin” are displayed in a delightful array of colors and scents.

“Getting soap out of plastic has been my nemesis for ages,” Durney says to a customer. “That’s why I package my soap in coffee filters or bamboo.”

Wainiha rainwater is a key ingredient in Wai Iti Soap. According to Durney, its natural structure hasn’t coursed through pipes and become compressed. The structured water lends a “higher vibration” to her line of all natural, biodegradable body products.

“Wai iti is that little drop of water in all of us,” says Durney, explaining the inspiration for her company name. “We are 98 percent water and alone we are small, but as a collective we make a bigger drop.”

I take my products home and have a Wai Iti shower. Cream Dream, made with olive oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, avocado oil, castor oil, lavender, eucalyptus and spearmint, produces a rich lather. I even shave with it, as Durney advised, and I am pleased with the result.

Next, I use the loofa. Durney instructed me to use it after my skin is wet, so dead skin cells would slough off easily. I’d never tried one before because they always seemed so hard and alien-looking. But with a good drenching, the loofa softens up, and my skin tingles in its wake.

Clean and exfoliated, I dry off and rub Grounding Body Butter onto my skin. I drink up the scent of earth, pine trees and citrus, and watch the lotion melt into my skin. I feel like I’ve had a day at the spa in the comfort of my own home.

“We don’t think about ourselves,” says Durney, “but I feel like people cultivate a relationship with themselves when they use good soap.”

A week later, I visit her workshop and see new formulas at different stages of production. Camelina Kukui Decadence has been cured in bamboo and sliced, Hemp Soap is curing in molds, and Poi Soap is waiting to be cut into bars.

Cubes of “Warmth,” a macadamia nut soap infused with essential oils of lemongrass, clove and fennel, are tucked next to rounds of “Inspired,” a shea butter-based soap with lavender and spearmint. Durney notes that “Indulge,” a creamy blend of coconut oil, shea butter and jojoba oil, also is good for shaving.

Water clings to thick ovals of Salt Soap because it’s loaded with chunky Hawaiian sea salt.

“Salt is like a polishing stone,” Durney explains. “It will exfoliate, and if you’re acne-prone, Salt Soap will balance out the oils in your skin without drying it.”

Loofa plants grow in terraced gardens at Durney’s North Shore home. On Kaua’i, the plant flourishes in April, but there are still a few of the squash-like vegetables dangling from vines. She sells the dried, natural sponge at the market and puts it in soap for exfoliation.

Durney is a Johnny Appleseed of sorts with a vision of sustainable development for people, the economy and the environment. You can buy her soap at Hawaiian Beach and Body Shop in Hanalei, but at the market she will give you loofa seeds. If you bring the vegetables back, she’ll buy them from you.

“People look at a loofa and say, ‘What is this? Why would I want to grow it?'” Durney says. “I tell them because it’s a lovely plant and you’ll never have to buy sponges again.”

I experiment with Durney’s idea. I take the hard, dry loofa the size of a fat cucumber and slice it into four rounds. I put three away for later use and set about washing dishes. It’s a little awkward at first, because I’m not used to it. But as the soft fibers deftly clean my pans, I decide I like the idea of free, earth-friendly sponges growing in my yard.

I hate to gush, but I’m wild about Wai Iti Soap. I plan to give the luxurious bars and lotions as Christmas gifts, because as Durney says, “Life is one luxury, so you gotta use good soap!”

Wai Iti Soaps 639-6956 wai_iti_soaps@hotmail.com

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.