The Soap Co. Bringing Together A Social Enterprise and Ethical Luxury

The Soap Co. is an incredible ethical luxury brand that employs people who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged. This brand was launched in 2015 under the parent company CLARITY, a registered charity and “the UK’s oldest social enterprise”, that has been employing, training, and supporting people with disabilities since 1854. As a social enterprise, all of The Soap Co.‘s profits go back into the business in order to create more such jobs.

The company has created a good and safe environment for their staff, where everyone has opportunities to work based on their skills and abilities. More than 70% of the team have some form of disability or come from a disadvantaged background. The company mission is “to provide a stepping stone into other employment for those who can achieve it, whilst providing a real, long-term job for those for whom this goal is less likely”. Currently, The Soap Co. employs more than 100 people and aims to generate 60 new job opportunities annually.

Based in East London, and with a second workshop in the Lake District, the Soap Co. does not manufacture its products with huge machinery pumping out several million bottles per month but rather uses a semi-automated production line run by passionate people. I visited the workshop in East London earlier this month and was taken by the lovely atmosphere among the staff. Not being one used to factories (I hadn’t visited one in a long time) I was perhaps expecting a dark industrial space with massive and loud machinery. Instead, I stepped into a bright and airy space, full of life and banter, with natural light beaming through the glass roof.

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At the reception I met a man who has worked for the CLARITY group since the 1990’s, and told me that back then they were bedding manufacturers, personalising their products to different shapes and sizes! The enterprise was actually founded in 1854 by Elizabeth Gilbert following her loss of sight at the age of 3 due to scarlet fever and her belief in enabling visually impaired people to provide for themselves. This mission began with a small basket making workshop with merely 7 employees. It soon grew and after two years, in 1856 received a £50 donation (approximately £5,000 today) from Queen Victoria who became their first patron. It is absolutely astonishing to see the journey of CLARITY since 1854, from basket making, to bedding manufacturing, and now soap. It’s an intriguing business model through social enterprise that I hope to see more of!

Prior to touring the workshop, as part of the company’s health and safety considerations a message was played to let staff know that there were visitors in the building about to go on a tour. As I was guided around the workshop I was always introduced so the presence of a visitor was known. 

It was interesting to hear that it takes 6 weeks to produce a bar of soap, with the drying process alone taking 3 weeks! When I asked about the challenges of finding eco-friendly and sustainably sourced material, I was told that finding sources in the UK is difficult and when one does find them the prices are much higher. Nonetheless, the Soap Co. prefers to keep things local and is therefore willing to pay the higher price. The company strives to reduce its impact on the environment by using packaging that is made from recycled materials and which can be recycled again or composted. All of their products are made in the UK with natural extracts, added vitamins, and are colour and paraben (a preservative) free.

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The Soap Co. is also adamantly against animals testing and shares its offices and workshop with three extremely adorable guide dogs! (One gracefully pictured above with a member of staff).

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The Soap Co. has specified its sustainable commitment as follows:

Bottles: Made in the UK of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) with 25% post consumer regrind HDPE. The post consumer regrind (PCR) for the bottles is sourced from old milk bottles. When compared with widely used PET bottles, HDPE bottles release 37% less carbon and, in addition, using PCR reduces carbon by 10% – this means that their bottles have around a 45% lower environmental impact!

Biofilms: The soaps are laid on a UK made bio-film for wrapping. They are made from renewable sources (wood-pulp from managed plantations) and are certified as compostable to European Industrial Compostable Standard (EN13432). This makes the biofilms suitable for anaerobic digestion (this is a series of biological processes of which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen). They are also proven to biodegrade in a waste water environment.

Soap Stickers: Made in the UK by a market leader in sustainability – BioTAK, developed by Berkshire Labels. The self-adhesive labels are made from sustainable resources and are fully certified to EN13432.

Soap Wraps: Made in the UK from 100% recycled paper.

Gift Boxes: Made from 100% recycled paper with vegetable based ink for printing. These gift boxes are designed to be re-useable and are also 100% recyclable.

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The soap is gentle on the skin and smells HEAVENLY – their “White Tea” fragrance is absolutely magical!

The Soap Co. formulation has outperformed other luxury brands in consumer testing, and they have recently re-formulated with the assistance of volunteer chemists from Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield to make it even better!

I love the minimalist chic bottle design and extra touch with the Braille writing system. This brand has really won over my heart in every aspect, from their incredible social mission, to the amazing staff, and of course the sensational fragrances!

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You can check out their wonderful soap collection in the link below. Also look out for 2 new rumoured soap fragrances inspired by “British scents” – I cannot wait to find out what they are!

www.thesoapco.org

*All photos except from photo of member of staff and dog are my own.

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Sustainable fashion, ethical luxury, and lifestyle blog by Nataly Elbaz Björklund. Creating awareness on sustainability issues and introducing ethical, sustainable, eco-friendly, slow fashion & lifestyle brands.

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