An industrial estate in east London isn’t where you would immediately expect to find the home of a luxury beauty brand but The Soap Co. is not like any other luxury beauty brand. The Soap Co. is much more than a brand making beautiful bath and body products, it’s a social enterprise creating jobs for people who are blind or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged.
While beauty brands working with charitable causes is nothing new (just think of the work Estée Lauder has done with Breast Cancer Awareness or The Body Shop’s animal rights campaigning), a social enterprise making beauty products is something rather unique.
When I sit down with The Soap Co.’s zealous founder Camilla Marcus-Dew, she describes how their social ethos sets them apart. “We offer great work and training opportunities for disadvantaged people and all our profits go back into the business.” This means that with every purchase, you are making a clear and significant difference. “Every bottle we sell creates one hour of employment,” Camilla explains.
Although the social mission is at the core of what The Soap Co. do, they strongly believe there is no trade-off between crafting luxury products, beautiful design and social impact. The award-winning monochrome packaging wouldn’t look out of place in a top department store, and is very much in line with the current trend for minimal, effortless design with a nod to Scandinavia.
What’s inside is just as impressive. The collection of bar soap, hand wash and hand lotion is fragranced with sophisticated scents (the standout being the Black Poppy & Fig), and the all-natural formulas are a joy to use. While the range is currently pretty small, there are big plans to expand. In the pipeline this year are unique exfoliating ‘soap pebbles’, bath oils, hair products and a travel-size hotel range.
While The Soap Co. is the brainchild of Camilla, the brand is part of a larger social enterprise, Clarity Employment for Blind People, which has been around since 1854. It’s the oldest social enterprise in the UK and, although it's manufactured a variety of products over time, its ethos has remained very much the same. As I tour the factory in east London (they also have an outpost in Cumbria), I meet a handful of employees, some of whom have been working for Clarity for over 40 years, and wax lyrical about the organisation’s work.
The Soap Co. is Clarity's first venture into the ethical luxury market – a concept in which Camilla was personally interested, and keen to tap into. “I am inspired by the circular economy and positive luxury. The idea about creating a product that is good for society, good for the environment and good to look at. We all want luxury products and it's great not to have to compromise your values. The Soap Co. uniquely fits the bill.”
Although their social mission will always come first, Camilla, who describes herself as an “eco-warrior”, was passionate about finding ways to make The Soap Co.’s products environmentally friendly, too. Not an easy task, but one she knew the customer would appreciate. “I was keen to explore how we could bring something unique to market that aligned to the values of millennials. People really care what is in their products, and want more than just a nice marketing story. As a small company we are pretty nimble, we listen to our customers to refine our products and stay ahead of the curve.”
Whether it’s using recycled milk bottles and non-toxic glue in the packaging or encouraging customers to compost their labels and purchase refills, The Soap Co. have implemented numerous strategies to increase their green credentials, but as Camilla tells me, it’s all about the small steps. “We have made a lot of small changes, 1% improvement here and there add up, and more to come this year. There’s still more we want to do to be even better but we think we’ve done a great job so far. We plan to take over the world, one bar of soap at a time!”
In a world where making a difference often feels like an overwhelming task, making small changes, such as shopping more consciously, can really make an impact. After all, one of the biggest powers we have is choosing how and where to spend our cash.
You can purchase The Soap Co. products via their website and at selected stockists