Whenever the couple creates new scents for their online homemade soap brand Soap Lush, the first thing they do is put the product through a “self-test”.
“We don’t believe in creating soaps that both of us wouldn’t use on ourselves,” said Mint, as she uses a chef’s knife to deftly slice a freshly made block of soap into thin, measured pieces.
When they decided to launch a lemon barley soap bar, a scent inspired by one of their favourite local refreshments, it seemed like a great idea. Barley contains properties to brighten skin tone, and smells good when paired with lemon essential oil.
But their first attempt did not go well. The raw barley grains gave the soap a coarse and unpleasant texture.
Next, they tried to soften the grains by cooking them. But the soap ended up having a significantly shorter shelf life. They even tried pounding the grains into a fine powder, but that failed too.
After months of experiment, the couple decided to remove the barley grains entirely and just create soap with a refreshing lemon scent instead.
This proved to be a masterstroke as they created “Refreshing Lemon” – a zesty, citrus scented soap in a cheery yellow shade that is a firm favourite among customers.
Homemade soaps that work
Growing up with sensitive skin, both Mint and Jonathan understand the struggles of living with severe eczema and dry skin.
Jonathan recalls the early years of his working life, where the skin on his hands would chap after a long day in an air-conditioned office. “I kept looking for solutions but nothing really worked for me,” he said.
The couple then turned to clinically approved soaps. While such soaps relieved their dry skin, they were much more expensive than normal soaps. They also had a sterile, antiseptic scent, which the couple found off-putting.
“It’s the kind of scent that immediately reminds you of the hospital,” Mint recalled with a grin.
So they searched online for alternatives, and discovered a thriving community of DIY enthusiasts overseas who were making soaps from fresh, natural ingredients. The soaps were affordable, suitable for people with sensitive skin, and smelt great.
The duo looked around in Singapore and found a local farm conducting soap-making workshops, and promptly signed up to learn.
As they made soaps for themselves, Mint and Jonathan realised there was a potential business opportunity – selling all-natural soaps they could make in the comfort of their home, which could help others afflicted with similar skin-related problems.
Both kept their full-time jobs as a civil servant and finance professional, but started a home business selling their hand-made soaps in 2011.
Finding the right ecommerce platform
Initially, they sold to close family and friends largely through word-of-mouth referrals. After a few years, they thought of taking their business online to reach out to more customers.
“With ecommerce technology, it means that it is possible to do business online and at home,” Jonathan noted.
But they faced one problem: They had no clue how to start.
They started looking for an easy-to-use platform early last year and found Shoptiq. Its user-friendly features meant the couple could get the online store up and running quickly.
“Shoptiq helped a lot because we don’t have to build a website from scratch. That is something both of us don’t have knowledge about,” noted Mint.
“The platform allowed us to customise how we want our website to look like. There is also a helpdesk that is quick to respond when we face technical issues.”
Making an impact
Juggling full-time careers and this online business, as well as taking care of two young children is not easy, but what motivates them is being able to help others with their soaps.
A most memorable feedback was from a young mother who had purchased a blue-coloured peppermint soap bar for her toddler son who disliked bathing.
Everything changed the moment she introduced him to the new soap, which he instantly liked. Not only did he start enjoying his baths, he now insists on showering at least three times a day.
It gives the couple immense satisfaction knowing that people enjoy their soap creations.
“We’ve heard plenty of positive feedback, but this is probably the most heartening of the lot,” said Jonathan.
It also shows that the internet and platforms such as Shoptiq have given small businesses like Soap Lush room to grow. They are, in a way, taking on the big retail chains and the bevy of beauty brands that are also selling soaps.
But for Mint and Jonathan, they have a niche focus of selling the benefits of handmade soaps that are not only gentle on the skin but also good for the environment.
There is still a misconception that soap bars are less effective than bottled liquid soaps, observed Mint, who assured that soapsuds cleanse as well as foaming liquid wash.
“It is going to be a tough journey. So at the moment, the plan is to stay online and raise awareness,” she said, as she hopes more Singaporeans will warm up to the idea of buying handcrafted soaps.