DIY soap making is a hobby I’ve always said I wanted to try, but never took action. The high cost of soap making classes and the lack of know-how to do it at home are my main barriers to trying it out as a one-time activity.
Unlike me, a group of doctors enjoyed the activity so much that they started running a social business around it called Smooth Soaperator. Hailing from KL, Selangor and Penang, the full-time doctors work together on this passionate project as a leisure activity.
Company founder Dr Nadia said: “We started making soap as a way to relax and ended up loving how amazing handmade soaps are, compared to commercial soaps. In fact, we had too much soaps at the end, so we decided to sell it for charity! “
People were willing to pay for them
Initially, producing the soaps at a faster rate than they could use, the team started handing out extras. It was well received by the audience who quickly asked to buy the soaps, much to the team’s surprise.
The for-profit social enterprise was launched in April 2020 as part of Autism Awareness Month. Due to the AGC, the usual fundraisers suddenly stopped. This was the trigger for doctors to start selling their products online and channeling the profits into the cause.
Despite raising these funds to sponsor autism programs, charities used the proceeds from Smooth Soaperator as cash donations to poor families during the first MCO.
“We don’t usually dictate the terms of the charity or organizations. They are happy to receive any donation (especially non-tax deductible organizations), but they ask for confidentiality which we respect, ”explained Dr Nadia.
On how the group of 6 doctors find time to make soap, Dr Nadia explained that it can be done with intention. “Work is definitely stressful and can be overwhelming at times, especially during the pandemic, but we’ve always found ways to do things outside of work as a coping mechanism, like soap making. ”
A joke inside for a name
The name Smooth Soaperator doesn’t need much to refer to Sade’s 1984 song, Smooth Operator, which Dr. Nadia confirmed to be true.
Dr Nadia told Vulcan Post that the brand name started as a joke among doctors where they made fun of those who dropped their tools (safely) during surgery by saying ‘smooth movement’.
She added, “Since the art of soap making feels like a stress-relieving operating environment (as we also had to wear gowns and gloves like in surgery), we thought of the song: Smooth Soaperator!”
Handmade soaps in Malaysia are already a saturated industry with brands like LUSH, BUIH, Sluvi and many other small players sharing the space. But the social enterprise doesn’t fight to be the best, and the team’s goal is not to stand out.
That didn’t stop them from finding a niche, however. The team is aware of the public’s penchant for bespoke products, a trend that handcrafted watch and jewelry brands Konnii Watch and Left & Right are also exploiting. Thus, they also offer personalization services for their handmade soaps and bath products.
For example, the team will receive requests to create small bath bombs for baby tubs, so parents can make bath time fun for their toddlers, and other customer suggestions that stimulate the baby’s bathtub. R&D.
A side activity full of dedication
R&D for new products is a vigorous but fun process, the team said. Since inspiration can come from anywhere with creative work, soap makers have their own soap journal that works much like a Pinterest board.
With festive designs and soaps that incorporate crystals, the team needs to make sure their products are both functional and charming. The new soap recipes are made in small quantities to avoid waste as some formulas are difficult to work with.
Although it only takes 2 hours to make the soaps, the curing process still takes a month before they can be used. Before the products hit the market, doctors will test them first with the help of their network.
Because the business is an exciting project for physicians, they have yet to achieve economies of scale. This is where a proportional saving in costs is obtained by an increased level of production. So each batch of soap made by the team only yields about 13 bars of soap.
“Zero waste (of materials) also means lower volume and high unit costs. Thus, our price varies between 13 RM and 25 RM, depending on the size and the ingredients used in the soap. We calculate the charitable contribution straight away, which is from RM2 to RM5 per soap, ”said Dr Nadia.
“It’s a difficult balance that we have to find in terms of price, because we have to have a good amount to give to charity, and at the same time be affordable enough for people to buy.”
For me, paying a bar of soap at this price is actually quite reasonable, especially since we know that part of the profits will go to a good cause. That’s probably a sentiment shared by Smooth Soaperator customers, who are mostly people with sensitive skin, Dr. Nadia reported.
- You can read more about Smooth Soaperator here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Image Credit Featured: Dr Nadia, Founder of Smooth Soaperator
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