Retail therapy

Rebecca Mayhew
Rebecca Mayhew sits outside her Edgartown home with the fruits of her labor: packaged finished soap. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Tamar Russell - October 18, 2007

There is a kind of optimism that springs out of a bad situation that can be a sure cause for growth. For Rebecca Mayhew and her husband of 12 years, Mike Hewitt, this has definitely been the case.

Ms. Mayhew is an Islander with busy hands who has always been into arts and crafts. One year for Christmas the couple decided to create gifts instead of buying them. Thus, a mini-candle factory was started. Their candle making went beyond the Christmas season and before long the couple sold to friends, online, and at the Artisans Festival. But then some rough times hit.

Ms. Mayhew tripped and was burned by candle wax. With second and third degree burns all over her neck and face area, her super sensitive skin needed special products and time to heal. The only thing that really worked on her skin was shea butter. The couple did some research and began to make soap using shea butter. The soaps led to a whole line of products built around Ms. Mayhew's sensitive skin, including soaps, lotions, and even some products for animals. With Ms. Mayhew making soap, there wasn't enough time for her to also make candles, so her husband took over the candle business in addition to working as a subcontractor.

The soap is poured into a long wooden form.

Ms. Mayhew also suffers from chromosomal translocation and back problems. Due to operations and spinal infusions of rods and screws, which later led to nerve damage in her right leg, Ms. Mayhew could only sit or stand when making soap for so long. She still needed something versatile to occupy her mind and keep her busy - a sort of therapy for the pain. This need took her back to her past.

Ms. Mayhew's grandfather, E. Elliot Mayhew, was a caretaker for an estate up-Island. As her husband says, her grandfather was, "a colorful character." Like many old-timers, he knew how to do pretty much everything. He could fix boots, saddles, fences, anything at all that needed fixing. He had a leather kit he used just for bridles. When Ms. Mayhew was in fifth grade her grandfather gave her the kit and showed her how to use the tools.

"He gave me his swivel knife, sewing tools, spools of cotton thread and bees wax, with a leather strap to protect your hand, all in a leather cologne box," she said. Working with leather again was just the therapy she needed.

As well as soap and candles, Ms. Mayhew now designs and creates leather bags, belts, and other items. She had no formal training with leather, but found quickly that she had a real knack for it.

"Leather has been a therapy for me. Sometimes Mike has to tell me to stop working," Ms. Mayhew told me with a smile and a glance at Mike. "I get to tapping the leather and I forget where I am."

From candles to soap to leather, Ms. Mayhew continues to create wonderful things no matter what comes her way.

Soaps and candles made by Rebecca Mayhew and Mike Hewitt can be seen online at or at the Artisans Festival.