What drove you to start your first business at the young age of 24?
As a child I was always creative, exploring different ideas in my mind. I studied business at university because I knew it would give me a solid foundation for any career, but my creativity and new found knowledge of business developed into a true entrepreneurial spirit. I knew quite quickly into my degree that I wanted to be my own boss, allowing me to make my ideas a reality. Having identified a gap in the market, and being a good networker, I decided I had a good chance of making an events business with a twist, a success.
You then sold your events business and launched Soapsmith in 2010 - why the change in direction?
I was approached by Thorntons Chocolatier who wanted to buy the chocolate fountain arm of my business. It was by no means an easy decision given 10 years of my soul had been poured into making the business a success. However the offer also presented an opportunity- for me to turn my real passion from hobby into a business… scent & soap!
What have been your most important lessons learnt during your 10 years in this industry?
It’s ok to say no…. in fact, it’s a good thing. For years I would break my back to do and deliver everything asked of me. But in the end I realised it’s a) not sustainable, especially with a young family at home! And b) it doesn’t actually lead to business success. Being selective and measuring every opportunity against the question “is it right for my brand,” and then fulfilling those opportunities really, really well- that drives results.
What’s the benefit to consumers when buying soaps and personal care products from a small, artisanal brand, compared with a multinational manufacturer like Dove or The Body Shop?
Great question, and I would say uncompromising quality. Nothing leaves my unit unless it is absolutely perfect, and that’s hard to do when you’re using big machinery, making hundreds of thousands of the same product a day.
You say smell is your strongest sense - what are your favourite scent memories?
Oh always the toughest question, and to be honest it depends on my mood. Hackney and Bloomsbury are pure childhood nostalgia for me. I was born in Hackney, and I spent hours on end hanging out on the marshes as a teenager, watching my brother (and his friends) playing football. Bloomsbury was enroute to college, and I was forever late in the summer because I was so distracted by the immaculate private gardens filled with peonies and roses. My 20’s were spent dancing to the early hours on Brick Lane, followed by a big, hearty curry. If I’m in the mood for a boost, I turn to my Brick Lane products to transport me to youthful, happy, carefree moments.
Soapsmith collections are based on London locations - how did you curate each scent for each location?
I love London – it fuels my creativity, with all its heritage, diversity and odd juxtapositions. My first scent, ‘Lavender Hill’ was actually inspired by it’s history; in the 18th century it was where the distilling and creation of the essential oil happened. Others such as Hackney were inspired by my personal memories and experiences. I blend scents based on how I experience a place, and the knowledge I have of them.
Is there a formula to discover one’s ‘signature scent’ for perfumes and personal care products?
Not so much a formula, it’s something you find from your heart and soul - when you know, you know - you know? It’s never good to overthink it; go with the gut.
Soapsmith can be found in luxury retailers such as Selfridges Liberty - what were the challenges in establishing Soapsmith as a luxury brand?
People expect quality from luxury brands - so that’s exactly what we strive to deliver through every touchpoint. At the heart, the product must always be 100% perfection - it needs to feel great, as well as deliver on function. Same with the packaging - it needs to look beautiful, be worthy of someone’s bathroom or dressing table - but it needs to be easy to use. And then everything in between - the website experience, the way you receive the product, our photography, our interaction with customers and consumers - how we show up matters.
What would you say to people who perceive black-owned businesses as ‘cheap’ or ‘discounted’?
This perception is new to me… but if there were people making that assumption I can assure them it’s far from the truth. In fact, many of the black owned businesses I know of, myself included, spend a huge amount on high quality products and ingredients, hence our price points. I wouldn’t say, however, that this has anything to do with race rather the difference between independent/artisanal brands vs mass manufacturing.
Which location is next on the list for a Soapsmith collection?
Oooo I can’t tell you that just yet, but I can tip you off that it’ll be festive!
Shop Soapsmith at https://soapsmith.com/