This S’porean turns soap bars into functional art pieces

When Miya Chong went on an overseas business trip in 2017, she stumbled upon a soap making boutique and was immediately intrigued by the scents and designs.

As someone who has worked in the beauty and wellness industry for four years, she feels like she has a deep appreciation for the art and science behind the craft.

She was also driven to transform the mundane activity of showering into something more “conscious and holistic”. In addition, she had just given birth to her first child and was looking for a new hobby to indulge herself.

“I bought a mini soap making kit and started exploring from there when I (returned to) Singapore,” said Miya, who is now a mother of three.

“It was with this kit that I started to self-experiment and explore with this medium, drawing inspiration from Pinterest and other soap makers. I was fascinated (by) how customizable soap (can be) – it was instant magic to create these usable works of art. “

A month later, she created an Instagram page (@saltwateratelier) to document her soap creations and share the soap-making process. Today, the page has nearly 5,000 subscribers.

The struggles of soap making

Miya finds it very important to show the person behind the work and to be in contact with the audience. Moreover, by sharing the thought process and ideas, it allows him to gather feedback for improvements.

“By forming this personal brand relationship with your audience, the product naturally becomes linked to them,” she said.

Barely two months after the creation of her Instagram page, she received an order for her very first commissioned work.

“It was for a wedding of 200 people and it suited their budget of S $ 3.80 per room. It is always a very rewarding experience to work with caring couples and businesses to help them personalize unique gifts to suit their theme and budget, ”said Miya.

The 30-year-old had invested S $ 500 to get all the basic materials and quickly broke even with this very first commissioned job – it was barely two months after he got into the business of soap making.

saltwater workshop soaps
Some soap creations from Saltwater Atelier / Image credit: Saltwater Atelier

Despite the rapid break-even rate, Miya pointed out that making soap is labor-intensive, which involves a lot of late nights and hours of work. Also, it is not something easy to understand as it is difficult to get the techniques and consistency in the early stages.

“I burned many jars of soap before making the drawings I am doing today. Plus, at the same time, I was juggling motherhood and my day job while trying to keep having more designs and content on my Instagram page, ”Miya said.

She currently works full time for an American cruise line that deals with regional business development, marketing and public relations.

Since this is a labor intensive profession that requires a lot of planning, she unfortunately had to reject opportunities with large orders in the early days.

As a one-man business, it is very important to prioritize and plan your work. I have also learned that it is very important to say “no” to certain business opportunities that are not worth your time and effort.

It might sound bad from a business standpoint, but with limited resources, it’s only the right thing to do to avoid burnout. Especially when you are in a passionate craft business.

– Miya Chong, founder of Saltwater Atelier

It may take up to six weeks

saltwater workshop soaps
Soap Making Process / Image Credit: Saltwater Atelier

Depending on the design and techniques used, the soap making process can take up to two hours or up to six weeks.

“Different techniques have different formulation, aesthetics, and drying / drying times,” she explained.

For example, the hot process as well as the melting and casting technique dries in two to four hours. The latter is widely used in soap making, but both techniques have the highest translucency, which is suitable for glass-looking soap designs.

On the other hand, the cold process technique takes six weeks to harden and it becomes softer as it “ages” and has a creamy finish.

Saltwater Atelier bar soaps are priced between S $ 12 and S $ 18. Its most expensive product to date, however, is a limited launch of Everyday Day Oil (can be used for face, body and hair. ), priced at S $ 22 per bottle.

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Collection of Reiki soap bars / Image credit: Saltwater Atelier

All (my) designs are unique in their own way as they require a different technique and process to have them in a certain way. However, in comparison to the usual soap bars, I would say the most unique collection would have to be the Reiki soap bars as it includes real crystals inside the soap.

Users can keep this piece of crystal as a keepsake, making it a meaningful gift for a friend. In addition, each piece of crystal is different and no two crystals are the same.

– Miya Chong, founder of Saltwater Atelier

In addition to selling her soaps online, Miya also runs crystal soap making workshops. Many “influencers” who joined his workshops shared it on their Instagram Stories, which helped spark interest.

While Covid-19 reportedly held back the attendance rate at its workshops, Miya said that on the contrary, there was demand as there was an influx of people learning new skills and joining workshops amid the pandemic.

Despite Covid-19’s restrictions on the number of people, this allowed her to lead small group sessions to better guide them.

Artisanal soaps versus commercial soaps

Most households in Singapore use commercial liquid soaps, so why should customers change their shopping habits to go for handmade soaps instead?

For all handmade soaps, the ingredients and designs are carefully selected, formulated and planned by the manufacturer in small batches. It encompasses the artist’s labor of love for health, wellness and an eco-sustainable lifestyle.

Therefore, soap makers will opt for better ingredients such as oils, clays, and plants – no synthetic chemicals (involved), which are widely used in commercial soaps due to their affordability.

– Miya Chong, founder of Saltwater Atelier

Bar soaps also reduce the need for plastic bottles. According to Miya, the carbon footprint of a bar of soap is 25% less than that of liquid soap.

“For a typical wash, we use almost seven times more liquid soap (2.3g) than bar soap (0.35g). Bar soap also requires less energy in packaging and disposal. “

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Unique Soap Bar Designs / Image Credit: Saltwater Atelier

What sets Saltwater Atelier bars of soap apart from other existing brands are their unique designs.

“I believe we’re all visual creatures, and if we’re going to get a message or initiative across, the first approach is to grab attention through design.”

Over the years, Saltwater Atelier has received extensive media coverage in local and international publications such as the New York Times Singapore and Harper’s Bazaar, which has helped increase brand awareness. Lifestyle stores such as LUMINE have also consigned its products to their store.

To date, Miya has also wholesaled her work to Oman, Australia, the United States, and France, and has taught over 200 students.

Commenting on future business plans, Miya said she wanted to “spread the magic of soap making” to more people through workshops. She also hopes to encourage more soap makers locally and abroad, and stressed that there is no better time to start than now.

“The mantra that I have always lived is, ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to start is now. It’s never too late to start something.

Featured Image Credit: Miya Chong / Saltwater Atelier

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