Do you remember what a great time you used to have in school when you got to make chocolate, Christmas decorations or ceramics? Why does it have to be a kids’ game only? Why not make that your job, actually?

soap
Artisanal soaps being sold at a farmer’s market. | Picture: Market Manager, CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)

As the world is growing more and more conscious about the environment, a new generation of artisans is blooming in Europe, with an increasing demand for hand-made products based on natural ingredients. One of the strongest artisanal markets in the continent is based on a centuries-old product: soap. Making soap can be a successful business. Hands on!

Making soap is no big secret: it’s the result of a chemical reaction when you combine fats or oils with lye (sodium hydroxide). The first record of the existence of soap dates from around 2800 BC, in Babylon. The ancient Egyptians used it regularly to bathe themselves and Romans allegedly gave it its name: it is believed that it comes from a legendary Mount Sapo, where animal sacrifices took place.

Soap was mainly a rough product that was used for basic and rudimentary tasks, such as cleaning and bathing. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that the first luxury soaps were created in London.

In the 21st century, artisanal soap has experienced a renaissance. A myriad of local producers sell their hand-made, high quality products based on organic ingredients, combining all kinds of oils, flowers, fruits, perfumes and other secret materials. They can be colourful, grainy, sandy, shiny, and have all kinds of shapes. Imagination is the limit. Some of them even look like expressionist paintings and you might even feel bad for using it for such menial things as washing your hands.

There are basically two processes to make artisanal soap: the cold process and the hot process. It’s vital to be very careful about the proportions of oils and lye before mixing them. This video might be a good to get you started:

SKILLS

Ok, so after some trials, you got some amazing soap that you’re sure would be a hit. Making a business out of your soap depends on much more than just the soap recipe. To become a successful artisan, you will have to be able to joggle with production calculations, distribution logistics, marketing strategies, as well as accounting and client management.

Basically, you will become an entrepreneur, which will require you to be flexible, take quick and risky decisions, combine several tasks at the same time and master networking.

Most of these small businesses make a living thanks to Internet sales, so you will also have to gain experience in online marketing. Since you will probably not be able to manage everything by yourself, you will probably have to search for a partner so teamwork abilities will be key in moving your business forward.

WHERE TO STUDY IT?

Not everything needs to be learned at university. Soap making is an art, and you will learn from your own practice and perfecting. An infinite amount of information on how to make soap is available on the Internet, you can self-teach yourself to become an authentic expert.

But if you still feel like you would profit from some teaching, there are some schools and workshops you can attend, like the Soap School in London or the soap-making workshops on the island of Saaremaa, in Estonia.

Entrepreneurial studies will also help you develop your artisanal business, and make it a job with a future.

Cover photo: Rodion Kovenkin, CC BY-NC 2.0 (Flickr)

  • retro

    Marta Martinez is a journalist and freelance writer currently living in New York, but originally from Barcelona and still with half of her heart in Berlin. She has worked for media such as El País, ARA, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal. She currently works as a communications associate for the non-profit organization International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). Social justice and culture are the main topics of her writing, but she's attracted to any kind of human story. She's a great partisan of long-form, whatever the format is – writing, video, interactive. These are tough times for journalism, but she's optimistic. Who doesn’t want to listen to a good story?

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