Khoelife Entry into the Soap Challenge Club

The soap I made is named “Power of Love”, something my nation desperately needs at the moment.

The challenge was to design a soap using an impression mat. But I couldn’t find one that I liked, so in the end I made my own. I found some rhinestones that did the job perfectly!

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

Then I cast the silicone mould.

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey


Now my problem is that I am always tempted to colour outside the lines. Though I dutifully read through all the instructions,  no sooner did I hear that it was impossible to paint a wet mica then I had to try it. I guess that is one way to keep growing and learning! I should mention that I have only used botanical colours, this was my first mica ever. But I thought it is festive season and we can afford to indulge ourselves in some sparkle.  I mixed the mica in oil and applied it with a dropper. I then let it dry for a few hours.

Phote E Davey

Phote E Davey

Thinking through the design was the tricky part. The instructions were to focus on the texture created by the impression mat.  So to think of something that enhanced the pattern without overshadowing it took some effort. In the end I decided to go with my favourite tilted wall pour in these adorable heart popsicle moulds.


Now to assemble it all! Being very careful not to disturb the mica, I decided to apply the first layer with a bottle.

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

Then I added another layer with a spoon and added my embeds.

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

I let it stand for a few days without gelling. And here’s the  loaf!!

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey




The final cut.

final cut


Learning to think differently – or is it going back to what we know?

Photo Ethne Davey

Photo Ethne Davey

photo Ethne Davey

photo Ethne Davey


How do we know what we know? Or do we not really know and are only too happy to take somebody else’s word for the truth?



Soap-making is equal parts arts and science. It helps me a lot in thinking around what science can and cannot do. Of course working my day job in climate change has focused the mind powerfully around the limits of science. There is a sense in which the current crisis constitutes a huge ‘Ooops’ on the part of Cartesian science.  It works very well when there is a single cause for a single effect – like combustion engines. But when we are confronted with a single cause which has multiple effects (like pesticide endocrine disruptors ) then science is stumped because the problem does not lend itself to the experimental method. Or when we see multiple causes having a single outcome (gender based violence, say, or global warming) then again the positivistic approach we have all been taught to revere as the fount of truth fails to provide answers. In fact, if anything the crisis teaches us to be open to humility. You don’t know what you don’t know and life has a way of rubbing your nose in it. Or, as at present, the entire planetary ecosystem…

But then again, this only confirms what organic farmers and indigenous peoples (or those of us who are mad enough to be both) have been saying for a long time. So where do we go from here? Do we look for other gods in human guise to provide the ultimate answers? Or do we – finally – learn to think for ourselves? I have attached a new paper: Epistemology of Intersectionality, where I try to go deep about these things.



Khoelife has a standing offer for any NGO, CBO or individual: if you sign up as a distributor and build up your turn-over to the point where you have created one or more jobs in production – we have been making soap for a long time so we can tell you exactly where this point is – then we will train someone from your organization to make soap. As long as you can feed and transport your trainee to our soap workshop, it will not cost you a cent. Once we feel that the trainee is able to make soap with renewable energy to Khoelife’s exacting quality standards, which could be anything from three months to a year or two depending on what type of soap you are wanting to make, we will assist you to set up your own workshop. Personally I feel at least a year is best because the thing with renewable energy is that it puts you back in touch with natural cycles. The soap and your energy source really behave differently depending on temperature, humidity, etc. So I don’t feel I have properly trained someone until they have been with me for a full year. However some of the simpler soaps can probably be taught a little faster than that. Be that as it may, when Khoelife feels you are trained then you can produce soap under licence and pay us a royalty fee of a few cents per bar produced.

Now we really like this approach. For one, it makes more sense for a social entrepreneur to first build marketing and distribution, so they know what size production unit to set up. This way you can produce to an existing market where you are familiar with demand.There is nothing worse for a small business than to sit with excess capacity, where all your money is tied up in production while your stock is not moving. Of course our production method: making soap one pot at a time using very basic energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, is much cheaper to set up (and more adaptable to scale)  then the fossil-fuel ‘make it big’ approach. It is like the difference between organic farming and chemical farming. The first allows you to choose your scale while the second imposes scale. Still,  I have researched entrepreneurship for a good decade and a half and spent the last three years trying to run a soap business, so I know whereof I speak. I have never met a small business owner who does not complain of stranded assets in the context of an unexpected fall in demand. We constructed a business precisely to address this problem. To begin with marketing and distribution means we carry the production overhead for you until you are strong enough to stand on your own.

For two this has the added advantage for the start-up business that we do not charge you for training. We make our money back from licence fees over time. So if we teach you to make soap it means we believe in you enough to invest our time and knowledge without asking any up-front payment.

For three, this means that you are on your own but not alone. The trainee in a social franchise system is a way of making sure that you have somebody to call at any time. I have been making soap for 19 years and I still get horribly failed batches. One of my most comforting things to do at that moment is to watch Youtube where friendly and courageous soap-makers actually post their soap failures. It makes me realize I am not alone. Natural cold-process soap can be easy, but it can also go horribly wrong. So it makes sense for everybody to work with a consistent approach over a period of time.

For four, from our side it is advantageous because we do not want to grow too big. To expand horizontally rather than vertically makes sense to us. Having lots of co-ops producing under licence while we can focus on supply issues and quality control, works.  Not least because it would give me more time to relax and produce hand-made specialty soaps or work on new recipes 🙂

This approach allows us to really get to know an organization or individual. When you have been a distributor for a couple of years, it means we have worked with you long enough to know that you can be trusted to produce under the Khoelife label. Quality control is a BIG issue with us. We do not let a product go out with our name on it unless we are 100% happy with it. So it is a huge gesture of trust for us to teach other people to make Khoelife soap and it is not unreasonable of us to want to do so in a system with checks and balances.

The interesting thing, though, is that lately we have been getting lots of enquiries from people who want to learn to make soap. When we present our standard offer,  they tend to want to enter into long negotiations with us.  When we explain politely that we are in the business of selling soap, not training the competition and that no, we are really not going to close our workshop down for the day to come teach you to make soap unless you fulfill the terms and conditions required to make soap under licence and even then we expect you to come to us, people can get quite intense. When we then  even more politely explain that if you did not call us to buy soap then we really don’t know why we are having this conversation, people can get quite excited.   Now this astounds me. Is it because we are small? Is it because we are female? Is it because we are Black?

I mean, who phones Unilever and says ‘can you teach me how to make soap’? If Toyota refused to close down their plant for the day in order to teach Volkswagen to make cars, nobody would be surprised. So why do people expect us to want to teach them to make soap? It baffles me. I would love to hear your comments about what this is about…

And it is worth repeating that we are committed to training. We do not believe it is right to keep knowledge to yourself. All we are saying is that there is a system and we will train people who adhere to the system.

I am pleased for the compliment. Every one of the people who have come asking for soap workshops have prefaced their request with: “I really love your soap”. Great! Then buy it! And if you love it enough to want to sell to your networks then go for it. When we can see tangible results we will be only too happy to offer training. But we do not offer once-off workshops and no, wanting to pay us for it is not going to make us want to do it.

Now, some natural soap-makers do offer workshops.  Often this occurs when they are in the business of selling soap-making supplies. It makes sense for them to teach people to make soap so people can order more stuff from them. Or just possibly they are not selling enough soap and so teaching other people becomes a necessary source of income for them.  It is not for us to speculate. Nor are we going to comment on the approach that says it is possible to teach people to make soap in a day or two. That may do very well for some, and if that is what you want, then we suggest you approach   or

There is Bev Missing’s The rain book of natural soapmaking Bev used to run rain soap company but has since sold it to American interests and retired. So of course she would write a book. Which is a fantastic read and available at Exclusive Books.

The Queen of Soap, Anne Marie Fabiola of Brambleberry fame, has a new book also at Exclusive. Brambleberry are the people from whom I order some of my natural soap colorants, and have so far found them of a high quality.  The Soap Queen blog has lots of tutorials and you can also order their e-books online:

I love the wonderful world of internet! When I started making colour soaps Youtube came to my assistance and there are any number of videos on any kind of soap from the basic to the most complex.  Big ups to the kind and sharing soap-making community!! There are also innumerable blogs, Facebook pages and online soap-maker’s forums.

So we appreciate the people wanting to learn to make soap and are only too happy that they are so enthusiastic about the virtues of natural soap.  We hope they have found this blog helpful. But if all you are wanting is a workshop or two, please don’t call us! Should you want to become a serious distributor with an eye to becoming a social franchisee one day, do please contact us at




You can now go to our new website: It is lovely website, user-friendly and interactive. But this blog will continue for those who like to go deep 🙂

Caring for the Ecosystem on Global Wellness Day

Saturday June 13:th is Global Wellness Day. We thought we should celebrate wellness by honouring the bee. The bee symbolizes for us the fact that we humans exist in an ecosystem. If some part of the ecosystem is not well, we humans will suffer too. The bee is an excellent teacher of this principle. Without this humble creature, we humans would be very challenged to survive. Think of all the things you eat in a day which have been pollinated by bees! Everything from apples and all other deciduous fruits, to tomatoes, pumpkins or brazil nuts. In fact, 80 % of the world’s pollination is performed by bees. The bees perform this service for us without charging us anything. It is a free gift, given as they seek nectar to turn into delicious honey which is also a skin softener of note and an ancient beauty aid. Honey is technically known as a humectant, meaning it attracts moisture from the air. So it is great to put on skin since it will aid the skin to naturally moisturize and is wellknown for its therapeutic qualities on dry skin or aged skin. Honey lotions are especially useful for diabetics since it is also a traditional anti-septic which helps to heal cuts and wounds in difficult places like toes. Beeswax is an ancient Khoesan cosmetic, still in use for everything from body butters to lipsticks. Bees also produce propolis, a sap they collect from tree buds to fix their hives with which has for centuries been lauded as a healing substance. They are truly an example of a gift economy which becomes the richer for sharing.

In light of the essential services performed by bees, it is very worrying that the world is confronting a bee crisis. Pesticides, herbicides, GMO’s and the disappearance of habitat is slowly causing the collapse of entire bee colonies. For instance, in the US it is calculated that some 60 % of bees are dying in winter, as opposed to a normal winter loss of 10%-15 %. ( ) In South Africa weakened bee colonies are falling victim to a viral infection called the Foul Brood disease, which is estimated to have killed off some 40 % of bees. If it doesn’t come under control this disease will threaten a R 20 billion agricultural industry. ( ) You can imagine if we had to hand pollinate our fruit and vegetables, food would rapidly become too expensive to eat. So the bee crisis is our crisis. It is a wake-up call to humans to say if we do not take care of our ecology we will not be well.

In the western Cape the bee crisis became particularly noticeable when the recent veld fires made many bees homeless. On the Khoelife farm they came right into the workshop, asking us to provide them with a home. So we are very proud and happy to say that we have found a beekeeper who has placed six hives in a corner of the place. If all goes well he will try to fit in more. The bees have settled in nicely, and because our garden is fully organic and – most importantly – flowers every month of the year, we are sure that they will be very happy here. For bees the important thing is not just how much food they have in the aggregate, but that there is food during the lean season. This stops them from having to eat their stored honey and means there is more for us. Right now the Elephant’s food is blooming (fittingly one of the most carbon-storing plants in existence) and the first of the aloes.


Next month it will be the turn of  the very aptly named honey euryops, which does us nobly right through the time of the winter solstice, and indeed I appreciate its golden flowers which remind me that the sun will be coming back, almost as much as the bees! During its flowering season the bushes are so packed with bees that they positively hum.

And soon of course there will be the winter flowering buddleia (Buddleia auriculata) whose sweet smell haunts the garden, floating behind you as you pass. It is rare that the bees like fragrant plants but the buddleias are certainly an exception to this rule.


So at Khoelife we would like to honour the bee by launching our Shea Butter, Goat’s Milk and Honey Soap. All the expert soapmaker blogs will tell you that there is no such thing as the perfect soap, that different oils produce different outcomes and itr all depends on what you want from the final soap. It is of course one of the challenges which keep soapmaking interesting as one selects the one oil for bar hardness, the other one for lather, the third one for moisturizing and so on. Normally I am a slut for soap. My favourite one tends to be the one I am making at the moment. But the  Shea Butter, Goat’s Milk and Honey Soap! Oh my word!! It was love at first sight, or should I say at first wash… It is so soft and gentle on the skin, almost as if one was washing with a lotion. But the combination of shea butter and beeswax makes for a nice hard bar which lasts forever, even though it is hard to stop washing with this soap.

In honour of the bee our Shea Butter, Goat’s Milk and Honey Soap is organic. We have not provided certified shea. This is a wild-harvested oil. The trees are never farmed since a Shea tree takes about fifty years to begin fruiting, so nobody could make money farming it. Since this is the case, we thought it very unlikely that anybody would ever take chemicals to a Shea tree and felt that it made no sense to make you pay double for the certified oil. But the soap is 80 % certified organic, containing certified coconut, olive and palm oils.


Unfortunately we have been unable to find certified organic goat’s milk. But I could not resist adding it since goat’s milk is another classic beauty aid which I felt belonged in this deeply traditional African soap. Goat’s milk has a unique Ph. close to that of human skin so is always useful to add to soap. It also contains oils which help to plump up the skin as well as alpha-hydroxy acids. AHA’s are anti-oxidants which combat free radicals, helping to slough off old skin cells and create beautiful skin. Of course in recent years international cosmetic houses sell you AHA’s at fantastic prices without telling you that it is an ancient beauty aid found in the humble goat’s milk.


In the case of this soap, I felt that it should stand alone and needed no fragrance to set off its excellences. So it is completely fragrance free for the most sensitive skin. I have added some powdered organic vanilla and powdered dried vetiver root from our own garden for a very slight exfoliation. Both vanilla and vetiver are natural emollients, meaning they assist the skin to retain water. So with the honey attracting moisture from the air and vanilla and vetiver keeping it in you can see why I absolutely love this soap.

But, just to add to its feel of luxury and abundance, in the spirit of wellness as our right and what we should expect as the norm is when we live a fulfilling life, I developed an accompanying moisturizer. Our new Shea Butter and Honey Lotion has all the good qualities of the soap, scented with some Rose Geranium, lemongrass, lavender and Neroli for the ultimate self-indulgence. It is equally organic and 80 % certified. So love yourself this weekend, or spoil a loved one, by joining us at Rodger’s Fruiterers in Kommetjie this Saturday and treating yourself to some of this handmade artisan soap made with renewable energy. Come celebrate global wellness with us by supporting the  bee and spoiling your skin at the same time.  Or order from us at enquiries.khoelife@gmail. com


It does not get better than this.

Deep Deep Tradition

Well, I haven’t been blogging lately because it has been an intense few months, creatively. I have been very busy while not blogging.  An incredibly generous client – can’t mention by name yet but hopefully soon I can acknowledge the inspiration – encouraged me to work with colour. I set my own rules, of course, only natural colours, indigenous first, and as far as possible things that could be produced from my garden without any carbon miles. Looked deep into the stuff of life, namely chlorophyll, having long conversations with it persuading it not to turn brown with time.  The worst part of course being that one has to wait for weeks or months before you really know whether your colours stay fast. So a slow process. At one point I was fermenting indigo, and going slowly insane when I discovered that indigo has been fermented since  Babylonian times because, people, my indigo would not ferment.  This was the more embarrassing since indigo dying is an ancient tradition everywhere from Mali to Japan. I could not have it said that the Khoesan were behind, but there, when I finally produced a respectable result the fermentation smelt so bad I could not possibly use it in soap. Picture me tearing my hair out and swearing to become a history teacher and stay away from all this soap stuff. It was hard! In the end I cheated and ordered some from Brambleberry – at which point of course my South African indigo started fermenting nicely. The ancient Murphy’s law as applied to dyes….

Well, here are some of the results.

hennasweet orange

I liked the idea of a HENNA INDIGO AND WAXBERRY shampoo bar, scented with lavender, mint and lots of rosemary for hair and scalp health. This bar brings together great herbal traditions from all over the world grounding them right here in the Cape. These are all well established dyes, so no worries about their safety or staying power.  I don’t dye my hair, but it seems as if this bar will make your dye job last longer and intensify your hair colour.  I like henna for its conditioning qualities, nothing will give your hair new bounce like henna and waxberry. I made this bar with some soap plant to increase rinsability (is that a word?) coconut, palm (supplied by an RSPO member, people!), , olive and pumpkin seed oil. This last is my latest craze. I just love the way it sinks into the skin, moisturizing all the way. Pumpkin seed oil is said to be rich in vitamin E, zinc, omega 3- and 6- fatty acids as well as antioxidants, all of which contributes to helping your skin withstand stress better and regenerate faster. Zinc is also something they put in sunscreen, so here is a natural way to get it.

Making soap means I have to wash my hair every day so I am getting pretty choosy about what I put into my shampoo bars. This one is my best so far, it leaves my hair conditioned and feeling silky soft. Most soap makers will tell you that 25 % pumpkin seed oil is much too much of a good thing, making for much too rich a soap, but I find in a shampoo bar it is just right.  It works beautifully for black, brown and red hair.

I am curious if there are people interested in a shampoo bar for blondes? Would love to make one so please comment and let me know!

And in the middle of the photo is my new look SHEA BUTTER CITRUS bar. You know, I have so many times met women from West Africa thinking they were in their thirties only to discover they were multiple grandmothers. Well, now I suspect Shea Butter is their secret. A friend from Nigeria turned me on to this oil and now it is my extra special luxury oil.  It’s got vitamins A and E, phytosterols and allantoin and has been called the skin superfood. Allantoin is a substance also found in comfrey and ag-dae-geneesbossie, the famous wound healing herbs from Europe and the Cape respectively. Allantoin speeds up the rate of tissue regeneration which is why shea butter has been considered a healing oil.Best of all, shea butter is a wild harvested oil so you only get organic. I have started to get interested in oils which cannot be grown with petrochemicals (coconut is another one) although only some of them get certified. But a great way to build a bridge from the natural to organic market by using more such oils!


Because a large proportion of Shea butter oils are unsaponifiable (refuse to combine with lye to make soap), it means you cannot make a harsh soap with Shea Butter. Combine it with my base oils and pumpkin seed oil and you have an ultra-nourishing  soap that just goes on and on. I especially love the contrast between the gentle bar and the fresh lemongrass, rosemary and organic orange scent.  Just the bar to use if you are preparing for a night out because it will invigorate your skin and temper at the same time as it refreshes and moisturizes.


I had great fun working on the colours with this one, the combination of waxberry brown, indigo green and red palm oil just gives me pleasure every time. I found that Shea butter tends to absorb a lot of dye so my first versions were a bit washed out. The photo is batch two. Now that I know what I am doing I did a 100 % organic batch that will be ready next month. Watch this space!

growth and change…

Summer is here in earnest and the roses are triumphantly overcoming climate change. In fact they are so abundant this year that we are picking damask roses for the body butter. That’s right, you now not only get waxberry but also roses in your body butter. Only while harvests last so don’t waste time getting your hands on some!!
This weekend at Alive Muizenberg Market or next weekend at The Conscious Living Fayre – or order direct from


IMG_0035 potofroses






Photos by Ethnѐ Davey

more to read…

The full story of Khoelife soap now out! Find
.“Moving Forward To Go Back: Doing Black Feminism In The Time Of Climate Change” in Agenda: Empowering Women For Gender Equity -Special Issue on Gender and Climate Change, July, 2014.

We did say ‘Watch this space!’

SEED 2014

So, for you that did not get up at six last Thursday to catch me on SABC 2, we can finally announce that Khoelife Soap Co-op is a 2014 SEED Award winner!!!! Thank you so much SEED Initiative for the vote of confidence!!! Being a small start-up business is hard enough, but when you are trying to be low-carbon women empowering (and make good soap) all at the same time, there will be many times when you start to suspect you are a little bit crazy. But we are not alone. I had a great time in Kenya representing the team,  meeting all the other SEED Award winners, soaked up knowledge like a sponge and now we are able to bring you an even better service!! Read more at

Most of all the people who deserve gratitude are the support team without which none of this could happen: Ethne, Simone, Made, Bev, Ncedo and Dawn.









Why make it more complicated then it has to be?

By the way, all our soaps are sulphate free!! In fact our lovely organic products are pretty much free of everything. But if your hairdresser has asked you to use a sulphate free shampoo, try our liquid soap. The rumour is going around that they have discovered it makes your treatment last longer and your hair stronger. Well, we have grumbled about sulphates and additives of all sorts on this blog for a long time. So just be kind to yourself and do not cause problems that you then need to solve. We recommend especially the liquid waxberry soap which will give your hair extra shine and bounce. Oh, and save the environment as well as your skin while you are about it…

If you want to know more about preserving our ecosystem, there is a brand new publication available. Country reports from seven countries of the global South by women advocating for and analysing gendered responses to climate change at a national level (including yours truly). Find it at

Khoelife is off travelling for a few days. waxberry soaps Why? Very, very exciting news, in fact very interesting things will be happening over the next few weeks. Like a sweet apple takes all summer long to ripen so we have been working all year on making sure that you can enjoy your daily Buchu soap. Watch this space! All shall be revealed in due course.