Austin Living: Pure Strength
Mary Anne Duren creates soap business based on natural living — and goats
It’s a pleasant, sunny morning on the Duren farm in rural Mower County and Mary Anne Duren is leading a line of her goats to pasture.
She baits some of them with freshly pulled pine boughs that send them trotting to where she’s holding them, eagerly devouring them in the middle of the lushly growing pasture.
It’s a rustic setting on gently sloping land that leans toward Wolf Creek running behind the home.
This is the backdrop for Duren’s soap business Ivory Oak Heritage Soap, a business she’s had for a number of years after forming it at the age of 21.
“I grew up in Austin and always knew I wanted a farm business,” she said. “But I didn’t want huge animals like cows and horses.”
This is a good place in the story to reveal that the Duren’s aren’t a farm family. They purchased the land the same year she started Ivory Oak. From the beginning, she was dedicated to what she had created.
She paid her parents rent to use the land and purchased her goat stock from travels all over the country.
“I first started the business in 2012, when I brought the first goats home,” Duren said. “To build up the herd, I was making breeding a quality of the herd and for six years I was focusing on figuring out what kind of goat I wanted to breed.”
Duren knew she wanted a natural approach to her soaps stemming from illnesses she had when she was young. This included being allergic to dairy products from cows.
“When I was little I was sick a lot,” she said. “Conventional medicine wasn’t getting me better.”
Ultimately, organic living and alternative medicines led her to making soap based on goat’s milk. She was familiar with the organic aspect, not to mention how good the soap is for skin.
“Normally, soap is made with water and the water itself is dehydrating,” she explained. “Goats milk has a lot of minerals … minerals that are good for skin health and super moisturizing as well. You don’t need a lot of moisturizer.”
But it’s a process.
The milk is combined with the lye and that gets combined with oils and desired colors. After it’s mixed together, the liquid goes into molds and saponifies, which is the process of processing the oils and milk into soap.
Twenty-four hours later and four weeks more for curing and the soap is ready.
“It’s a bit of a process,” she said. “In the summer you’re already thinking about fall. You have to be on top of things.”
What emerges for sale our lovingly crafted and aromatic to the point of knowing the smell without needing to open the box.
The entire process goes deeper than simply making the soap. It’s about Duren getting back to what worked, to reclaim those natural ideas from the past and back to the basics that were good for the body as well as the environment.
“Working in a way that doesn’t deplete natural resources, but works alongside it,” she said. “Stewardship of the land is very important to me.”
Some of Duren’s values are in the name itself when you break it down. Ivory represents the pureness and the coveted nature of natural soap. Oak represents the strength of the tree with roots that run so deep as to lend it stability.
And heritage — getting back to a past many have forgotten.
“Remembering what worked in the past and not forgetting where we came from,” Duren said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everybody, but Duren does admit that her soap business has been able to grow during that time thanks to a renewed focus on buying local and supporting small businesses. She’s since been able to expand and bring in sales from the metro area as well as other parts of the country and even locations in the world.
“I’ve made some cool connections with family and friends that live in other countries even,” she said.
This has allowed her to think of the future and focus on the business end of things more, including setting up a retail space in Austin in the near future and working with local farmers to create an atmosphere of helping Ivory Oak build.
But it’s also made her realize where she came from and appreciate the strength to create something from nothing.
“It’s an everyday thing, twice a day,” Duren said. “I’m very much tied down to the farm.”
“I kind of look back at how I started at 21 and the naive courage I had just to start,” she continued. “Knowing what I know now about owning and running a business, I don’t know if I would have done it.”
For more information on Ivory Oak Heritage Farm, visit www.facebook.com/IvoryOakHeritageFarm.