You’ve seen The Fight Club, right? If you haven’t, please discontinue reading if you think you might in the future and consider this your final SPOILER ALERT.
This isn’t a film review, and I’m not going to cover much of the actual storyline, but how soap-making is portrayed in the film. For the general public, The Fight Club may have been their only exposure to behind-the-scenes soap business, and I hope my observations put a new spin on the small homegrown community of “soapers”. We’ve all heard Fight Club references to our craft, so I revisited the film and scraped a bunch of quotes from the collective knowledge database to allow for our intellectual and sometimes hypothetical analysis. I’m not a scientist or a factory, after all.
Let’s start out by discussing the business plan.
Tyler runs his soap business with all kinds of illegal behavior, which is integral to the film’s development of characters – but not practical at all for real soapers. First off, the Return On Investment potential (ROI) is damaged by the risk for legal penalties, since they are stealing human/animal fats from liposuction clinics. Soaping is one of those tasks that is truly Artisanal [if you take Artisan to mean: noun: a lifelong apprentice to a traditional craft, and Artisanal as adjective: student craft]. So, where did he learn how to make soap?
Tyler lays it down with this gem: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
Seems as though he was inspired completely by the media to take up soaping. But then in practice, his marketing strategy is unsustainable. He approaches department stores with backdoor deals and body language really putting his business in the hands of the receivers’ emotions – bound to change on a daily basis. And, not to mention the fact that he’s selling each bar for $20 wholesale! How are they possibly going to market that to customers without his seduction skills, everyday?
His philosophy of goal structure: “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”
Sure, I spend a lot of time working alone when I’m blending, counting drops of precious essential oil or measuring out caustic lye in order to saponify my chosen base oils – and the power of the aromatherapy is undeniable. I often think how unfair it is to the consumers of my soap that they aren’t there to see and smell the processing bars. Unlike the locker room at the Fight Club. How could one tip the scale at bliss to deduce pain? “Let me pour some caustic solution on your hand to get you to understand…” Non sequitur.
Then, there’s the flawed chemistry in the script. Tyler says, ‘when the tallows harden you skim-off a layer of glycerine, if you were to add nitric acid, you got nitroglycerine, if you were to add sodium nitrol and a dash of sawdust you got dynamite – Yeh, with enough soap we can blow up just about anything’.
Soap is defined by the FDA as “the bulk of the nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the product’s detergent properties are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds“. Why then, does Tyler refer to the saponifying chemical as Nitric Acid, and not Sodium Hydroxide? Nitric Acid is the finished chemical reaction in glycerine, not found in cold-process soap that uses fats such as he is using. Further, non-animal oils/fats with similar saponification values and humectant qualities are plentiful, not to mention you’re only addressing the metabolism of your consumer with your product and not multiple of levels of potential toxicity. Because his quality of chosen fats would be inconsistent at best, longevity was clearly not part of the business plan. Not to mention the unfortunate loss of a spendy jacket every time he jumps a barbed wire fence.
So, my summary is that vegan soap must be superior and more cost-effective to that which is produced by Tyler, whether you know that you’ve been talking to yourself or not.