10 QS WITH CAMILLA MARCUS-DEW, CO-FOUNDER OF ETHICAL, LUXURY BRAND: THE SOAP CO.
1.) Hello Camilla, welcome to The London Musings! Ever since I discovered The Soap Co. Geranium & Rhubarb Hand Wash and Hand Lotion, I have been hooked. What inspired you to bring The Soap Co. to life?
I have always had a keen interest in ingredients, mostly from an environmental perspective, but also based on what is function and what is fashion. More and more consumers are questioning what exactly goes into the products they put on their skin. I think greater transparency of what goes in, where it comes from, and who makes it is a wonderful thing.
I was inspired to tell the story of a luxury bath and beauty range made by people with varying degrees of disability, that operates as a competitive business, with all the protocols, acumen and attention to detail you would expect from industry stalwarts.
Above all, I wanted to change the status quo and at the same time, change the way people perceive ‘giving’. It’s not about asking for donations, but more about making great products that people want to buy to create more jobs for people who really need them. The reason we exist is to be able to employ blind, visually impaired and otherwise disabled people in a supportive environment.
I only had six months to develop the brand concept and it was a tough job to launch a product in that time! But we managed to get a prototype in front of a luxury buyer within seven weeks with a concept design very similar to what we have now. We got some amazing feedback and we were sure we were on the right track, and so, The Soap Co. was born.
We also love Geranium & Rhubarb! It was launched as part of our latest eco and bee friendly collection. Crafted with natural bee friendly botanicals, vegan, biodegradable and eco-certified ingredients, every bottle sold helps 10 – 20 bees. We made a conscious effort to ensure that no compromises were made – adding in antioxidants and organic cocoa butter whilst taking out sulphates, PEGs, parabens, petrochemicals, silicones and EDTA.
Retailers like John Lewis & Partners and Fortnum & Mason have embraced The Soap Co., taking many of our gift sets and our 100% natural bath oils and body oils. We believe we’re at the beginning of a really exciting journey, proving that products designed for good have just as much right to sit on premium retailer shelves.
2.) One of the first things I noticed about the packaging of The Soap Co. products is that there was braille on the packaging - the first clue that this The Soap Co. is a brand that is doing something wonderful to inspire positive change. Can you tell us about The Soap Co.'s commitment to people who are blind, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged?
The braille in our logo represents our staff, 80% of whom have a disability or long-term health condition. It brings to life our reason for being - and that is to craft luxury, cruelty-free, eco-friendly bath and beauty products with a conscience.
The Soap Co. is designed for good – good for skin, good for environment, good for everyone. Vegan by default, its beautiful design aesthetic has won praise across the board and our products have won many awards. But what truly makes us unique is that many of our products – for example our popular soap pebble - are hand-crafted in small batches by people with a range of disabilities. They also have the personal touch, like our cold processed soaps that are cut by hand, individually wrapped by hand and hand-stamped with the name of its maker.
3.) The Soap Co. branding is eye-catching, stylish and minimal (they look great in my bathroom/kitchen)! What made you go for this look and feel?
We’re so glad you like it. It’s a great introduction to our brand. We wanted an iconic design that captured the essence of who we are and what makes us unique. We worked with the brilliant Paul Belford design agency to hone and realise this vision. It won a prestigious D&AD Pencil for Design in 2016 and we love it because it is confident, elegant and stylish. I felt that the ultra-clean and streamlined bottle shape would work well with simple bold branding.
We employ people with a wide range of disabilities from physical to mental, including those with learning differences, so you might be surprised to hear that a small minority of people think our soap is made only by blind people for blind people. I can assure you it isn’t – The Soap Co. is widely enjoyed by everyone.
4.) Why do The Soap Co. products smell so good? Unlike other soaps and lotions, yours emit a beautifully strong and long-lasting scent...
This was one of the biggest challenges we came across when developing the eco and bee friendly collection. Did you know that most fragrances are not environmentally friendly - and if you’re seeking fragrances that are also biodegradable and not harmful to aquatic life, the fragrance profiles to work with are extremely limited?
This was a revelation to us and we spent many months trying to find the perfect fragrance. To our delight, our perseverance paid off with two amazing fragrances, including our 100% Wild Nettle & Sage, made up of 13 different essential oils including sage, thyme and rosemary.
And because we never compromise on quality, we choose beautiful naturally derived, vegan and eco-certified ingredients in our oils and eco collection. All our fragrances contain natural oils, such as our Rose Body Oil - naturally scented by the petals of the rare Damask rose. And we think that has been the secret to our success. It typifies the lengths we go to too ensure our customers come back to us time after time.
5.) One of the real USPs for The Soap Co. products is that they are cruelty-free and made with natural ingredients. Can you tell us a little about this?
It was a real turning point for us when The Soap Co. brand began selling its Eco & Bee Friendly Collection and 100% natural oil collection into John Lewis & Partners and Fortnum & Mason. But they didn’t put us on their shelves simply because of our social purpose. They understood that our award-winning, eye catching products were breaking new ground in a number of areas. For instance, our commitment to the environment has no bounds - all our products are handcrafted in a green powered, semi-automated factory in London and our packaging is either recycled, recyclable or compostable.
The Soap Co. is cruelty-free in multiple ways – from the way our ingredients are extracted to how we manufacture, and of course we never test our products on animals. We celebrate the beauty and diversity of the British countryside through our British inspired biodegradable fragrances and the inclusion of bee friendly botanicals. We have also developed and launched a range of stunning and deeply indulgent luxury bath and body oils that are already proving a big hit – free from chemicals and made with 100% natural ingredients as you would expect.
6.) I hear The Soap Co are doing something to help save the bees...
We are committed to protecting and sustaining our planet and bees share the same commitment throughout their lifetime. Did you know that if we lost bees, it will trigger a chain reaction leading to the disappearance of a third of the fruits and vegetables on the planet?
By choosing the skin-soothing and beauty-enhancing botanicals of borage and calendula in our Eco & Bee Friendly collection we are providing a sustainable flower garden for bees. The long flowering season for these flowers reduces the risk of bee colonies starving over the June nectar gap and provides a regular source of forage after August for last minute nectar collection before the cold nights set in.
Borage is one of the star crops in the drive for bee preservation. An ancient species and a much-valued herb, it is traditionally cultivated for pharmaceutical and body care purposes due to the rich oil extracted from its seeds. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder believed that borage was the ‘Nepenthe’ in Homer’s Odyssey, which induced absolute forgetfulness. At The Soap Co. we don’t dare forget how important borage is in attracting bees!
7.) In terms of packaging, we're all aware of the plastic crisis. What is The Soap Co. doing in response to this?
We are always striving to achieve the principles of the Circular Economy, eradicating waste and pollution wherever possible.
The plastics crisis is something that concerns up deeply and has always been on our minds since the launch of The Soap Co. For example, our bar soaps are hand wrapped in a compostable bio-film. It looks and feels just like plastic but we love that it is actually made from wood pulp from sustainable forest sources. And what is even better is that this layer is totally compostable with a lower carbon footprint than typical plastics. We also use compostable labels with non-toxic glue and choose to use minimal black ink to aid composting and recycling and reduce contaminants in the supply chain. All our The Soap Co. bar soaps now carry the Plastic Free Trust Mark.
We carefully selected our bottles with just the right mix of post-consumer regrind material (old milk bottles) to give us a great looking and functioning bottle, but with a lower carbon footprint. We also chose HDPE instead of PET due to its robustness and lower carbon footprint. But the most exciting news is that we are looking to launch an infinitely recyclable bottle before the end of this year.
8.) The Soap Co. is an incredibly compassionate brand producing high quality products. What are some of the overall aims you have for the brand?
We remain committed to doing as little harm to our precious planet as possible and we are really tuned in to a new generation of eco and ethically conscious consumers who demand more and more that the products they buy do as much social and environmental good in the world as is possible.
As mentioned earlier, we have also been focused on recycling and sustainability in our product development, ingredients sourcing and packaging. This focus remains as sharp as ever as we hope to bring our infinitely recyclable plastic free range to market this year.
Above all, the brand was conceived to increase the amount of work for people with disabilities and to be an exemplar to others of best practice – illustrating how a predominantly disabled workforce can create high quality, luxury products that are in demand.
As we penetrate new business and retail markets, we will never compromise and will remain faithful to the idea of the Circular Economy.
9.) How does it feel to be growing a brand that is creating positive change in the world?
It is really rewarding to see The Soap Co. brand gaining a foothold in the premium luxury bath and beauty space. We have worked so hard to ensure we make the very most of our relatively scant resources to make a disproportionately loud splash.
Every time we sell The Soap Co. into a leading business or a new retailer, it will mean more and more people are going to understand our social mission and the real impact we can together make on other people’s lives. And that of course is tremendous source of pride for me.
10.) When you're not busy working, where can you be found?
Well it could be on a beach, maybe playing hockey or entertaining friends – but whatever I am doing - it’s best done with a glass of good red wine.