The other day I was at the mall, checking out the competition. I know I shouldn’t, after all, my products are good in their own right regardless of what everyone else is doing. Still, I thought it worthwhile to make a list of things I don’t do:
1. There are no preservatives in any of my products. The closest I get is rosemary essential oil, it is full of antioxidants and so will help to keep the product fresher for longer. This also makes for very interesting effects on the skin, rosemary has for centuries been used in cosmetics for its anti-aging qualities. I, of course, would never make such a claim for my products, personally I quite like aging. This applies to what I consume as well. I once bought tomatoes that remained still fresh-looking in the fridge three weeks after I had bought them. I found this quite frightening. Well, be that as it may, no preservatives in my products means that you won’t get any preservatives on your skin and absorbed by your body. It also ensures that you get your soap and oils fresh. I keep short production lines and quick distribution, so you should get your products within a few weeks of them being made. Soap requires about six weeks to cure, so you will find each bar that leaves my kitchen is dated. You should use the soap within about six months of that date. I have never known an oil of mine to not be consumed within three months (that is how nice they are). So I cannot tell you how long they will last. On the whole I think that is a good thing.
2. I do not use alcohol in any of my products. Alcohol can be used to make a transparent soap and is quite fun in that way. But alcohol also has a drying effect on the skin, and in that sense it is not very helpful in the long run. Many people also tend to develop allergies against products with alcohol in. So why on earth anybody should want to put alcohol in a body butter is beyond me. I guess it helps to stabilize the mixture and create a steady consistency, it can be quite a challenge to create body butters that are soft in winter but still hard enough not to melt in summer. I would rather take on this challenge then muck around with stabilizers, emulsifiers and alcohol. In my products there will be nothing but the best of pure oils and organic fragrances.
On a lighter note, I guess it is also my cultural background that makes me do this. Alcohol is for drinking, preferably in the form of a brandy and coke on a nice sunny afternoon watching the sugarbird drink nectar from the red hot pokers. Alternatively a nice port in front of the fire in winter is also a most excellent use of alcohol. It makes absolutely no sense to be wasting good booze by putting it on the skin. Ja nee…
3. My liquid soaps are really soaps and not detergents. This means that they are not made from petroleum by-products and will not dry out your skin. They are also fully biodegradable, and this is a function I have well and truly tested. Traditional Khoesan waxberry soap is a dark soap, it makes your skin blacker and your hair curlier. This happens to be very useful when you need to protect yourself from the hot sun, but I have had absolutely no success in marketing it. Strange that! So, slowly drowning in soap, and having given away all I could sucker my friends and family into taking, I have fertilized my olive trees with the rest. It is raining in nicely now and I reckon there will be a bumper olive harvest next year.
On to a more positive note: what do I do that keeps my oils and soaps special?
4. I keep on innovating. For the past few months I have dreamt of soap at night and woken up in the morning eager to try new recipes. Seeing as it’s just past winter solstice and very cold this side, that is quite helpful in getting me up in the morning. For you, this means that from time to time I will post on this blog about a new recipe, or a specialty soap I will have made on request. I love any soap but it is really nice to play around sometimes and just have fun.
5. I also bite the bullet and ensure that I blend the best possible combination of oils. It would be possible to make a cheaper soap using only the cheapest organic oil. I know of one manufacturer who tries to do that, and I sorely understand the temptation. We all dream of producing an organic soap that is price competitive with soap made from fossil fuels. It can’t be done. As any soap-maker worth their salt will tell you, natural oils need to be blended in various proportions since each one brings different qualities to the soap: hardness, cleansing, conditioning, lather, and so on. Trying to use only the cheapest oil makes an awful soap that leaves your skin feeling like sawdust. So I mix various oils based on the qualities they bring to the product rather than the price, and hope I find customers who understand their skin’s needs. Look at it from the bright side, at least my oils and soaps will not contribute to climate change. In the long run I reckon this will work out cheaper for all of us.
6. All the ingredients, with the exception of two for which I am seeking organic suppliers but which fortunately I use in very minor quantities (less than five percent), are organically certified. I will gladly provide copies of certificates on request.
7. Oh, and all the soaps and oils are made by hand. I spent a lot of time working out how to deliver on the claim “carbon neutral”, and one of the ways is to not use machinery for anything that can be done by people. After all, if you look at what our real, renewable energy asset here in South Africa is, it is people. With the unemployment rate so high, it would seem that we have more people than we know what to do with. So I don’t see the point in using coal-fired electricity when a person can do the job just as well. People contribute nicely to the biogas digester too, making for a lovely, full-service, ecological solution to the problem of energy.
I must confess to a lifelong obsession with crafts – things where beauty and use are combined. I suspect this is why I have an ongoing love affair with soap, it successfully combines the need to be useful with the desire for beauty. Like the best of art, making soap by hand is something I have to do just to show that it is possible. It broadens the horizons of the thinkable.
What this means for you is that most of the soap bars you buy will be cast in big molds and hand-cut when hard. I like to do this, it makes each soap different and adds to the hand-made, artisan feel of my soaps. So each one will be hand weighed and priced before it comes to you. It is a lovely equation: love your skin, get clean, create jobs and save the planet, all in one handy-sized bar. This is as good as it gets.