Story by David Thompson
Photo by Chris McDonough
Two women shopping for gifts at Maku‘u Farmers Market on the Big Island stand at a table heaped with Filthy Farmgirl soaps. They sniff, read, laugh. A tall young man with a pencil-thin mustache and a straw fedora singles out soaps for the women to smell and, by memory, recites blurbs from the soaps’ labels. He is Devin Asch, who, along with his partner, Gretchen Wetzel, cooks up big batches of Filthy Farmgirl soaps in a Kalapana greenhouse converted into a soap-making factory. Asch designs the labels, Wetzel concocts the recipes.
The women at the market start to look a little overwhelmed by the choices. Their task would have been easier five years ago when there were just eight soaps to choose from. In those days all of the soaps featured the Filthy Farmgirl character, a sultry beauty in pigtails who evoked the mid-twentieth-century aesthetic of the fruit crate label—all of the soaps except for the Filthy Farmdog Muddy Puppy, created for dogs. Now there are more than seventy varieties to choose from, and the original Filthy Farmgirl has been joined by a host of new characters, including the Filthy Lumberjack, the Filthy Fireman and the Filthy Flight Attendant.
“Just ’cause you’ve got a hankering for vanilla bean and ylang-ylang don’t mean you can’t shoot straight,” declares Devin, handing the women a bar of Filthy Cowboy Delicate Dude. The women laugh. “When my tail is all clean and bushy, who can resist my nutty charm?” he says, holding forth a bar of Filthy Squirrel Chipper Woodland Pine. The answer to that question, apparently, is not these women, who between them spend $50 on soap.
Many of the ingredients in Filthy Farmgirl’s all-natural soaps grow locally, some right on Asch and Wetzel’s Kalapana spread. And while the pair do describe their soaps in terms of flavor and aroma, it’s good to keep in mind that these are bath products. Asch was once tempted to taste the Raw Chocolate Rascal, which contains cocoa nibs and cocoa powder along with more sudsy ingredients like kosher vegetable glycerin and saponified castor oil. “It’s definitely soap,” he concluded.