Designed for good, The Soap Co.’s products are eco-friendly, cruelty-free and handcrafted in London, UK, by people who are blind, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged. We chatted with founder Camilla Marcus-Dew on creating a brand with a conscience – one that generates social value while striving to reduce environmental impact.
What inspired you to start The Soap Co.?
“I’ve always had a keen interest in ingredients, mostly from an environmental perspective, but also based on what’s function and what’s fashion. Creating a bath and beauty brand that was free from potentially problematic chemicals, planet-friendly and offered consumers an informed choice based on strong ethics was a major driver.”
“True hand-crafting and small batch production is something that is core to what we do. And when I found a social enterprise with such a strong manufacturing capability in London, the brand really came together as something totally unique to the beauty industry.”
What sets The Soap Co.’s products apart from the competition?
“The Soap Co. shows there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between award-winning design, responsible living, and great products. We don’t believe in compromising on the pillars that our brand and social enterprise are built on. Our Eco & Bee Friendly Collection together with our luxurious bath and body oils embrace the power of aromatherapy and botanical oils and are vegan, biodegradable, free from parabens and 100% cruelty-free.”
“We’re also very much focused on the environment, local sourcing, supporting other small social enterprises and much more – there are so many things we do that aren’t simply about disability.”
What’s been your biggest challenge and how did you solve it?
“The fact that we put people over profits creates the backdrop to the challenges we face. We are committed to creating employment and training opportunities – and it’s definitely about the triple bottom line.”
“A larger company may have access to venture capital money or a large R&D budget, so if they want to launch a product and it fails, they just try again with another one. For our product development, we rely on the goodwill of a huge network of volunteers from big corporates, other similar brands and also student chemists, and although more time-consuming, together we’ve co-created some market-leading products.”
“When you’re working with limited budgets, ploughing all profits into employment and operating without investment or favourable economies of scale, you simply can’t take as much risk. You have to really listen to what consumers want, but without trying to please everyone. You really need to get it right the first time, more than other brands, and that adds a lot of pressure.”
“Our strong and uncompromising organisational culture and solid ethics give us a real advantage though – and customers are deciding with their wallets.”
What are you most proud of achieving?
“It’s a great feeling to come to work and see our employees enjoying building their self-confidence, becoming more independent and thriving in a communal, supportive work environment. Some of our colleagues may not have worked for many years – if at all. So knowing that every time we sell a product we’re creating employment hours is both gratifying and motivational at once.”
“Getting into The Conran Shop and John Lewis & Partners just before Christmas was a huge highlight in 2018.”
Which single product would you choose as the hero product of your brand and why?
“I’d pick out our signature Geranium & Rhubarb hand lotion from the Eco & Bee Friendly Collection. It’s enriched with vitamins, geranium oil and natural bee-friendly borage and calendula botanicals, and isn’t harmful to aquatic life.”
“It’s carefully crafted from natural, vegan and eco-certified ingredients and free from SLS/SLES, PEGs, triclosan, synthetic colour, DEA, petrochemicals, silicones, EDTA, parabens, artificial colours, mineral oils, and TEA.”
Why do you think people are becoming more motivated to buy from brands with a conscience?
“Concerns about the integrity, safety and impact of what we consume are on the rise. The next generation is much more clued into issues like carbon footprint and animal welfare, and concerned too about potentially harmful effects of what they put on their skin.”
“Are the ingredients sustainably sourced? Is it truly eco? And is it a product with a purpose, so there are wider benefits to society and the community? We now have access to a wealth of information to answer these questions, and can make better and more informed decisions.”
So what’s next for your business?
“Getting in front of more and more consumers, whether they’re on the high street, kicking back at a bar or being treated to a weekend away. Every bottle sold creates one hour of employment and we want to continue creating employment for people with disabilities, whilst challenging the norms of the prevailing beauty industry.”
“One of the projects we’re working on that’s got me excited is an anti-plastics future for The Soap Co. It’ll be a real game changer that will open new routes to market. These are the sorts of projects that get me out of bed in the morning.”
How do you personally live more sustainably on a daily basis?
“I cycle to work and always choose public transport. Upcycling is the norm and I always seek out the story behind the clothes I wear, the food I eat and the products I use. It can be really empowering to know that the chutney you eat has come from food that would have otherwise been wasted, or that the bar of soap I use daily is creating employment for people with disabilities and not harming aquatic life.”
What daily ritual could you not live without?
“Oh, that has to be dark chocolate, ethically sourced of course. It’s good for the heart and soul!”
What do you think is the secret to a happy life?
“Without a doubt, it’s to always appreciate the small things in life.”
Writer: Kate Johnson