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The Trouble With Liquid Soap…

liquid and hand-made soaps on wooden table, on green background

Just like most people my age around the globe, I’ve grown up using liquid soap, all throughout my childhood years, into my teens and early twenties. Shampoos, body shower gels were all part of our daily lives. They were fun to pick out on supermarket shelves, each with their own beautiful fragrances, attractive packaging and promises of better hair and skin.

But these days, in my household all of them have been entirely replaced with soap bars. Our own kids find bottled liquid soaps to be a novelty and a luxury treat, rather than a daily feature in everyday life. I am well aware that this is not the case for the average household in Malaysia.

There are a couple of reasons for this switch. The first is that we already make our own soap so I don’t see the need to buy it from supermarkets anymore. Secondly, the formulations of most liquid shampoos on the shelves involve quite a laundry list of synthetic ingredients, which I would like to avoid.

Well, why don’t you just make your own liquid soap then, you might ask? To which I’d say, we have, actually. Made lots and lots of batches, not only to figure out a good formulation for the skin, but also the most energy efficient way to go about making them.

Although we’ve come up with some really nice formulations, I would say that we’ve run into roadblocks to full-on production time and time again. While we acknowledge that liquid soaps are truly terrific cleansers when formulated well, there are three main reasons why we’ve held off on making our own, all this while.

1 – We don’t have the cash to invest in the right equipment for making it.

Can’t you make liquid soap the old fashioned, hot process in a crock pot method? Yes you certainly can. To make it economically viable, however, we’d have to invest in more cooking equipment, and the batch sizes are just too small to justify the cost of getting them. Sure, they could be put to other use as well, but our product range is just too limited for the time being, and we like to keep things simple.

There are also specialised liquid soapmaking equipment, which makes it SUPER easy to make liquid soap – you literally have to just add all the ingredients in, flip a switch, and wait for a few hours. All the stirring, temperature monitoring etc is automatically done for you, and the end product is consistent in quality every time. Again, it’s a hefty investment for a small company like ours, where we have to prioritise meeting regulatory requirements over everything else (or at least, that is my personal perception of how things are…!).

Then there is this next issue that bothers me:

2- Half the weight of liquid soap is purely WATER.

Here’s the traditional method of making liquid soap: we add a certain amount of potassium hydroxide to oil, in order to form a soap paste. After that, almost an equal amount of water is added to the paste in order to dilute it down into the liquid soap consistency that is familiar to customers, before bottling them.

And every time I make a batch of liquid soap this way, I keep wondering to myself – why would I want to ship water to our customers?? Especially since we are specialists at making solid soap bars, when we wait for 4 weeks for our soap bars to cure, in order to dry them out as much as possible, so we end up with harder soap bars that last longer in the shower.

I know, I know, water is of course an integral part of liquid soap, and it lends to its distinctive character of being easy to disperse on the skin and hair.

But really, between sending you a 100g bar of soap that takes up much less space (and weight), and lasts just as long as a 250ml bottle of liquid soap, I would rather do the former. It just makes much more sense in terms of efficiency on so many fronts – how we pack your parcels, handling by the courier companies, and even how you were to store your soap once it reaches you.

Which brings us to my last, and most troublesome point:

3 – Liquid soap = plastic packaging.

This, is the nail in the proverbial coffin for me. You might correctly suggest that there are other packaging options, like aluminium bottles or even glass or ceramic ones. Aluminium bottles are indeed made from recyclable aluminium, but the inner coating that comes into contact with the product, is usually some form of plastic, which is not recoverable nor recyclable.

As for ceramic or glass containers, they definitely can hold liquid soap very well – but transporting them is a delicate affair. And we all know just how “gently” most parcels are handled, especially on longer trips in the post. Not to mention the safety aspect of using these materials in the bathroom, where things get slippery, or knocked off the shelf…

In this respect, plastic is the perfect packaging material, for being able to withstand hard bumps and drops safely, and being so lightweight for efficient transportation. It’s just a pity that it doesn’t degrade safely into the soil, and contributes to so much pollution both on land and at sea.

Here’s another thing – empty packaging takes up waaaaay too much space in our tiny studio. I’d be happy to consider expanding into a larger space, but preferably not to accommodate excessive packaging that will most likely NOT be reused or recycled properly. It’s just how things are – our society is generally not in the mindset of actively taking responsibility of recycling or reducing waste. I’m not free from guilt on that front either – despite our own family’s efforts to reduce waste from our daily purchases as much as possible, sometimes we still do throw away plastic packaging into the bin, knowing full well where they will end up.

So at Kinder Soaps, our way of tackling this issue of packaging waste is to just do away with packaging altogether, as much as we possibly can. If we don’t put our products into plastic containers, then our customers won’t have to take on the responsibility of recycling them either.

So what’s the best alternative to liquid soaps?

This brings us back to the idea of compromise… what is the next best thing to liquid soap that accomplishes the main functions that we desire in a natural skin cleanser: a) to clean, b) nourish, and c) moisturise?

The answer is glaringly obvious – we feel that soap bars do the job just as well, and at a lower cost to the environment.

Other thoughts and possible solutions

Despite my firm stance on not wanting to produce liquid soaps (at least for the time being), I also actively consider other perspectives and points of view that are definitely valid in their own right. So here are a few things that were raised by people I’ve discussed my concerns with, and some thoughts I’ve added to them.

1- Selling ONLY in bulk to address packaging waste issue

This was one route that we were considering, if we were to introduce a liquid soap product. However, hygiene is a valid concern as well, especially since we do not use preservatives or antimicrobials in our products. How willing is the public to bring their own containers to be refilled, and how much responsibility are they willing to take to ensure that their containers are clean enough to prevent bacterial contamination? There is still much to be done in terms of consumer education.

2 – Is there a niche of people who absolutely MUST use liquid soap?

Could there be people whose skins are truly too sensitive to use soap bars? And does liquid soap make for superior shampoos, compared to solid shampoo bars? Perhaps these pain points can be addressed via other means, instead of the liquid soap route – e.g. through medication, dietary considerations, or even adapting usage habits to accommodate existing skincare items.

3 – There are already so many good liquid soaps in the market

This is one question that I have repeatedly asked myself in the past: Does the market need yet another liquid soap? Do I know that our product will be better than them in any way? Right this moment, my answer is “No”.

I personally know of other local Malaysian brands that are already making some really great liquid soaps, so I feel that there is no real need for us to come up with another formulation right now. 🙂

Going Forward

We are keeping our eyes and ears open for news within Malaysia and from abroad, for developments that would make us feel more comfortable with the idea of producing liquid soap for sale. Here are some of the issues that could nudge us in this direction:

  1. Local municipal councils establish compulsory recycling initiatives in residential and commercial areas
  2. Technological advances in truly biodegradable materials that can replace petroleum based plastics, e.g. mushroom plastics, that are available for mainstream use
  3. Advancements in the area of plastics degradation that is environmentally safe

(On a separate note – there is a super exciting story about a pilot project being run in the US by a company called Loop, where consumers are given the opportunity to buy big brand products, and then return their empty product packaging to be cleaned and reused by manufacturers, without any change to their current consumption habits. It is so heartening to know that huge companies are finally flexing their financial muscles and far-ranging influence to work on truly sustainable solutions to reducing single use plastic waste. Read about it here.)

Until then, we feel that the right thing to do is to just give liquid soaps a pass – no matter how much our customers say they want it (sorry!). Plastic pollution is an issue that we just cannot ignore, and we have chosen not to participate in this segment of the cosmetics market until concrete solutions and systems to keep plastic waste from contaminating our environment are set in motion.

We hope you’ll still be contented with our humble offering of soap bars in biodegradable beeswax wraps (or no wraps at all!) for the long run. 🙂

Michelle's signature
Founder and resident soap artisan

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SOAPFUL Soap Repurposing Project with Sunway Hotels & Resorts

Used hotel soap bars collected by Sunway Hotels and Resorts hospitality staff, ready for repurposing

Goodness, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything really interesting on our blog. Partly because I was caught up with the usual day to day running of the business and home affairs – and partly because we had to keep this new project under wraps until it was officially launched this month. It lines up perfectly with our efforts to engage in more zero-waste efforts.

On 5th December 2018, the Soapful project by Sunway Hotels and Resorts was announced to the public at a media event, where it pledged its commitment to fulfilling the 12th of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which is to do with responsible consumption and production. Specifically, with regards to addressing the usual practice in the hospitality industry which is to discard used hotel soap bars after just a handful of uses.

Representatives of Sunway Hotels and Resorts, Ecolab and Kinder Soaps together with Selangor Youth Community and Pertubuhan Kebajikan Anak Yatim Darul Ehsan Malaysia (PKAYDEM) at the launch of Soapful
Tengku Amir Shah (fourth from left, in black T-shirt), Sunway Bhd President’s Office executive vice-president Evan Cheah (third from left), Yayasan Islam Darul Ehsan board of trustee member Mohd Salim Sain (second from left, in purple shirt), Leong (second from right) and Ecolab Singapore and Malaysia managing director and vice-president Ong Kian Tick (right) with guests and children from PKAYDEM during the launch. Photo credit: The Star

(Read the story that was carried by The Star in their Metro section.)

In this particular project, Sunway Hotels is partnering with Ecolab (a global company that provides water, hygiene and energy technologies to all sorts of industries – you should visit their website, their range of services is astounding), and Kinder Soaps to undertake the recovery and repurposing of used hotel soap bars collected from its various properties around Peninsular Malaysia, and then distributing it to the Selangor Youth Community (SAY) as a possible means for them to engage in entrepreneurship training amongst young adults.

 

Members of media crowding around Raja Muda Selangor
Media swarming around the royal patron of SAY, Raja Muda of Selangor Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah

Kinder Soaps took the first delivery of roughly 100kg of Sunway’s used hotel soap bars, cleaned and repurposed them, and produced 1,000bars which were then presented to Pertubuhan Kebajikan Anak Yatim Darul Ehsan Malaysia (PKAYDEM) at the media launch.

(Pauses to take a mental breath)

This is a something significant to us, as it involves Kinder Soaps in a movement that extends far beyond what I imagined our company could achieve on its own. We have been working on this project since July this year. Actually come to think of it, the whole thing began in May – and it very nearly didn’t materialise at all. Here’s what happened (the story you won’t find reported in the media):

Amidst the slightly more frenzied pace of work in the middle of the year, I took a call from one of Ecolab’s staff who told me about this soap recycling project they had in mind. After finding out who Ecolab was, and understanding the size of their typical client (they had yet to mention who their client was for this particular project), I suggested that they try to look up a bigger soap manufacturer in NPRA’s list of cosmetics manufacturers – because I thought Kinder Soaps was far too small to take it on. They accepted my suggestion, and I thought, that was that.

June rolled around, and yet another email arrived from Ecolab from a different member of staff, enquiring about the possibility of collaborating on a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) project related to soap recycling. Again, I found myself suggesting them an alternative to working with us, because we had no excess soap to offer them for their original CSR activity (plus, that was the period when we were preparing for our GMP audit, so we were all a little flustered from making sure that we had our paperwork etc in order before the auditors were due to visit the studio). I thought it was such a pity we wouldn’t be able to work with them, but I also felt we would not be in a position to effectively help them in the long run because of our limited supply of soap scraps to recycle. If you are a regular customer with us, you’d know we only make as much soap as our customers require – and we often find ourselves out of stock for the more popular ones.

Finally however, in July I met with Ecolab Singapore and Malaysia’s Managing Director, Mr Ong Kian Tick, where he revealed who their client was, and what they had in mind for the CSR project. He introduced Kinder Soaps to Sunway Hotels and Resorts’ CEO André Scholl, its Regional Senior General Manager Kelly Leong, and Group Director of Brand Marketing & Communications, Farizal Jaafar. At that first meeting, I still remember feeling like I was in an out-of-body experience, not quite believing what we were discussing around the table, and who I was with.

Representatives from Sunway Hotel and Resorts, Ecolab, Kinder Soaps, and Raja Muda Selangor walking down the red carpet
My first experience being treated as a VIP, with a red carpet entrance. Photo credit: Sunway Hotels and Resorts

We were essentially presented with a long-term opportunity to actually do something to recover perfectly usable soap, and save them from being tossed into landfills. Packaged in paper, the way I would be happy with. No plastic shrink wrap. Everything done by hand, and we would be able to pass along our know-how about soap rebatching to the disenfranchised, which would hopefully give them access to a skill that could potentially stir up their entrepreneurial spirit. While it isn’t the perfect solution to curbing soap waste from the hospitality industry, I think it’s still a step in the right direction to get society thinking about what it really means to adopt more sustainable consumption habits.

What noone else realised was that I had been thinking about soap recycling as a service for Kinder Soaps, for years. But at the back of my mind, I also knew we just didn’t have the kind of network nor resources to actively pursue it, especially since we are already so caught up with business-as-usual. And yet somehow, someone took a gamble on contacting us, connected all the dots and eventually made my dream a reality – even after I had voluntarily turned down the opportunity twice.

From left to right: Mr Kelly Leong, Yayasan Islam Darul Ehsan board of trustee member En. Mohd Salim Sain, Mr Ong Kian Tick, Raja Muda Selangor Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah
I think this would count as my first celebrity wefie, with the Raja Muda Selangor. We talked about sailing, his experience training in the army, and plastic pollution in the oceans. Really down to earth chap.

I can’t think of a better Christmas gift for Kinder Soaps (actually, I can – it’s that we rapidly reach more new customers so we can sell more soap in the long run, haha…! XD You can check out our soap bars here).

View of rain from driver's seat
Rain or shine, we’ll be soaping…

Seriously though, I’m so grateful at how things have panned out so far for the Soapful project. It has been quite a challenge to reach this stage (many rounds of trial and error to figure out the most efficient way to rebatch the used hotel soap bars – it’s pretty tedious work, I can tell you that). Our production crew pulled many long days and nights to ensure everything got done and delivered on time for the launch. Hopefully there won’t be any more 2am soap wrapping sessions after this…! And we had the privilege of working with a bunch of lovely people from Sunway’s PR and Communications team, namely Farizal, Stephanie, Chandrika and Jen Mun – thank you all for the hard work you did to make everything come together. I’m sorry I gave you a heart attack by getting the delivery numbers wrong at the last minute. :”) Looking forward to continuing to develop the Soapful programme through the year with you all.

As always, I believe we wouldn’t be where we are today, were it not for the continued support from our suppliers, customers, friends and family all these years. Thank you so much.

Speaking of family, the 5th of December is also my father’s birthday! So that same evening as the media launch, my family all got together to celebrate his 68th trip around the sun:

Michelle Ho, Ho Tet Shin and Lionel Ho
My dad, and my younger (but more level-headed and responsible) brother

I attribute my optimism, curiosity and sense of idealism to my dad. It’s genetic, perhaps somewhat perplexing to people who don’t understand our brand of humour, and it’s contagious. 😉 Happy birthday Daddy, this “win” for Kinder Soaps is dedicated to you, and Mummy. <3


More writeups, videos and blogposts on the event:

Newspapers

Blogs

News Portals

Videos

Instagram

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Going Plastic-Free For Our Courier Shipments

We’ve been using courier services to deliver our goods, ever since we started business. But the one thing that bugged me was the use of those plastic sleeves to wrap each parcel – they only served one purpose, which was to protect the parcel and hold the consignment note while in transit, and after that it would be torn or cut open, and discarded. I thought they were a compulsory requirement from our courier companies – until someone showed me how they shipped their parcel via PosLaju, without any fuss from the staff when there was no outer plastic sleeve. What a revelation!

So this is what we’re going to do, from now on:

  • All our parcels will be going out in kraft or manila paper envelopes or cardboard boxes, with our items wrapped and protected with paper GEAMI wrap.
  • We will forgo using the outer plastic sleeves that courier services provide us.
  • We are replacing cellophane tape with paper tape.

And yes, we’ll still be able to hold our consignment notes to the odd-shaped envelopes, without relying on clear plastic windows.

Here’s how we’ll do it, and you can follow along too!

Step 1: Gather your materials

You will need:

  • An envelope, roomy enough to fit your item(s) in and wide enough to accommodate your courier’s consignment note / airway bill,
  • Scrap paper
  • Scissors
  • Good quality glue

Step 2: Make paper corners

Cut 2 strips of paper, about 2 x 4 fingers wide. They need to be fairly wide, in order to hold your consignment note securely on the envelope.

Fold each end down to make a 90º angle in the middle of the strip. This is your paper corner.

Cap diagonally-opposing corners of your consignment note with your paper corners, if you are only using 2. Otherwise, cap all 4 corners.

Step 3: Position your consignment note on envelope, glue down paper corners

Step 4: Insert contents and seal envelope

…et voilà, your plastic-free parcel is ready to go!

Also, it would be a good idea to write your addressee’s details directly onto the envelope, and include the courier’s consignment note number too.

We’ll do the same paper corner trick with our parcels that go out in boxes, or at least glue the whole consignment note down onto the parcel and cap the corners where the duplicates open up, just to make sure the paper doesn’t flap around during transit.

I hope this gives you an idea of how you too can go plastic-free with your shipments. 🙂

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How To Get The Best Currency Exchange Rates When Transacting With PayPal

Okay, this isn’t related to soap at all–but I hope it will be useful for those of you out there who purchase things online and have to pay using foreign currency.

I learned something new today: when paying for a bill in a foreign currency using Paypal, you can choose between using

  1. Paypal’s currency conversion rate, or
  2. your credit card issuer’s rate.

I called up my bank, and they told me that their credit card follows Visa’s International Exchange Rates, plus a 1% transaction fee. After a quick run on Visa’s site, I found that it was better to select my credit card’s currency conversion rate over Paypal’s. Bear in mind though, that the final rate may differ slightly, because the actual transaction date may be later than the day you got the indicative rate for.

I also discovered that I saved paying an extra 9% of the invoice by opting to transact in my supplier’s home country currency, instead of their USD-based invoice. This was also after comparing rates. (I don’t know if there are instances where the reverse happens, but I would imagine that it could.)

This took me a couple of hours to do (because I was working at home, and my kids are on a short school break), but it saved me several hundred ringgit.

Lesson learned: it’s worthwhile spending time making comparisons – at least for big ticket purchases.

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Of Surfing And Getting Out Of One’s Comfort Zone

michelle's diary entries for Jan 2017

I was just about to write “Happy New Year” to start this blogpost… and then realised that it’s already February 5th. I’m late, as usual…! :p

Last year, I very briefly met Tony Meloto, who is the founder of Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in the Philippines. You really should take the time to read about what they do and why they do it–it’s pretty inspiring stuff. They were going to run their 4th Social Business Summit from January 20th till 22nd. It sounded interesting (because I had no idea what social entrepreneurships were all about, or how they are run), so I decided to go.

Here’s the rub: I’ve never been to the Philippines. I don’t know anyone there. I’ve never travelled solo.

I also have a weird fear of getting into airplanes.

I could either a) be afraid of all the unknowns present in this situation, and stay ‘safe’ or b) do all the necessary planning, and trust that everything will eventually turn out fine.

No prizes for guessing which route I took. :p

I did my budgeting, browsed through Airbnb, wrote some emails and booked my flights. Thinking of making the most of the trip to a new country, I was going to spend 8 days learning how to surf on a tiny island off Mindanao called Siargao, then fly over to Luzon to attend the Social Business Summit at GK Enchanted Farm. All on my own.

It was the most life-changing 13 days I’ve had to date.

disembarking our twin turbo prop airplane at Siargao

There were many situations where it was a lot better that I did not know what to expect. For instance, the fact that I would be arriving in typhoon season for the Philippines (a deadly one had just passed through Manila over Christmas), or that the only way for our plane to land in Siargao was by sight–if it was too foggy (as it often was, over that island), the plane would have to turn back for Cebu.

I was also presented with several occasions where I literally had to suspend what I thought to be my better judgement. One of them was when I got stuck in Cebu’s horrible lunch hour traffic snarl, with just 45 minutes left to my gate closing for the one and only flight to Siargao–and all the taxis passing by my pickup point were occupied. Just as I was about to give up on public transport and entertain the scenario of waiting for the next flight the following day, a toothy old man walked up to me with an oustretched arm holding a spare helmet, gestured to his beat up motorcycle and said that he could get me to the airport in time for 120 pesos, “No problem!”.

I had a suitcase, a backpack and my handbag on me. I looked at the motorbike, and the ratty helmet.

I needed to catch that plane.

So I popped on the funky smelling helmet and off we went, my luggage squeezed between us, one hand balancing my handbag on top of said luggage, the other clutching the seat tightly. We were getting damp from the rain. Zigzagging for 20 minutes in between lorries, cars and vans, which were just inches away from us at times.

As I tumbled off the motorbike at the airport with the silliest grin on my face (I imagined), I thanked the man profusely, and vowed never again to give only 2 hours’s traveling time to any airport from then on.

This was also the first time I became that crazy passenger you may have spotted at the airport, running full pelt past the check-in counters and desperately searching for her boarding gate.

view of the sea from Pesangan beach

It rained almost every day I was there. It wasn’t torrential, but enough to get you soaking wet if you stayed out for more than 5 minutes. But it did make the one or two days (and the hours in between showers) where the sun burst through the clouds – absolutely glorious.

cockfighting entrant, Magpupungko rock pool, Pesangan, an outrigger

For 8 days I was surfing, exploring some parts of the island on foot, others by motorbike or habal habal, catching up with some reading, and just relaxing, taking in the sights and observing people.

I got caught underwater, at times almost breathless, when the whitewash kept crashing into me and my surfboard, making me bump and scrape my legs on the reef; ate an entire breakfast from fresh coconuts that my instructor and his brothers tossed out from the trees they had climbed, just after we paddled exhausted to the shore; sped down roads on the back of motorbikes while being stung by the rain; and saw vibrant rainbows against the backdrop of a heavy, blue-gray sky.

Every one of these experiences made simple things like having a warm plate of rice in front of me (and the realisation that I was still breathing!) feel like something to be so grateful for.

When I finally had to say goodbye to the island and the lovely new friends I made there, I thought I would miss my new routine too much to fully appreciate the conference I was going to in Bulacan, two hours out from Manila. Thankfully however, I was wrong.

At Gawad Kalinga, I met yet more wonderful people, heard inspiring stories from young Filipinos who were determined to lead their families and communities out of poverty by learning how to be effective entrepreneurs, and had the chance to roam around a fully working farm.

By the time I got on my 5th and final flight that would take me home, I felt like some old parts of me had been slowly, lovingly taken away–to be replaced with new perspectives, ideas and beliefs. All thanks to the myriad of mini adventures, as well as some very interesting people I had the good fortune of connecting with in my brief jaunt in the Philippines.

I was charmed by how happy most of the locals were, despite clearly being financially poor. Both in Siargao and Gawad Kalinga, the community was tight, and practically everyone knew each other by name. They made genuine connections amongst each other. They were contented, and had everything they needed. The land and sea provided for them, as long as they continued to nurture and protect it.

It was clear, however, that modern consumerism was catching on, as evidenced by what the little sundry shops were stocking up on (junk food, mass made clothing and toiletries, english TV dramas etc). There were many new concrete buildings being erected along the single main road that ran along the eastern coastline, and I fear that if ever I came back to Siargao, the island would have lost some of its backwater charm to loud, touristy establishments. I hope I will be wrong about this too.

It also gave me some fresh ideas for Kinder Soaps, in terms of what we should be focusing on, new products and the like. As much as I relished the quiet downtime while abroad, I was quite glad to touch down in KL so I could get back into the swing of things at work again. And I was beginning to really miss my family too!

All in all, January has been surprisingly enriching. It makes me feel like it’s just the beginning of a very eventful year to come, and I will need to somehow muster the discipline daily to keep my shoulder to the wheel… especially when times get tough (which they will).

May you be blessed with the mental and emotional fortitude to make 2017 your year. Hugs from me. 🙂

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Ramping Up Production

I wish I could say it was for our own products, but lately we’ve found ourselves spending much more time making soaps and body care products for other companies. Take this for instance:

161F1242-05DD-43F4-B3B2-3561D3072166

That’s just over a thousand bars of soap for one client. We have another order for 1,350 bars of soap to get through in the next few days.

breastmilk soap

These were made for a client who sent in her leftover frozen breastmilk (thank you goget.my for your terrific, careful service to collect them from her!), to be turned into soap. Scented with patchouli and french lavender essential oils–I hope she loves them. 🙂

deodorant

This was the most amusing repeat order–deodorant! We’ve had one client send in 3 orders for 100 tubes each time, all in the span of 4 weeks. I never realised how hot the demand is for such a product. I guess her formulation is really effective.

amenities kit

Then there was the two crazy weeks that I spent trying to whip up a line of products for an amenities kit to pitch for a big client. Still no word from the actual person in charge after I handed over the samples, but the experience that I gained over that period, working with the middle man to continually refine the products, was priceless in itself.

Just so you know – there was NO WAY I could do this all on my own! Thankfully our Sunshines have all been working together to push these orders out the door, and we also have another new production staff coming in several days a week to help me make all these things. Learning to trust other people to pick up a task and run with it (and do it well) is still something I have to struggle with on a daily basis, but I have been blessed with extremely capable people working with me, which makes it so much easier. 🙂

Oh and one more thing:

NASAM Food and Fun Fair 2015. Image credit: Because.my

 

(image credit: Because.my)

This is why we have so little stock left on the shelves! On June 13th we participated in the NASAM’s (National Stroke Association of Malaysia) Annual Food and Fun Fair at Taman Jaya, and raked in a whopping RM4,900 in sales. We committed 30% of all takings that day to be channeled directly to NASAM to support their continuous efforts to educated the public about stroke, and doing all they can to give strokees and their families a better shot at leading a normal life. Thank you for your fantastic support!

Right… so now it’s back to pouring our own soaps to restock our shelves! We’re really sorry if we’ve run out of your favourites. Hang in there, and we’ll be putting up notices about Curing Completion Dates soon.

In the meantime, have yourselves a pleasant week. 😀

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WAY Outside My Comfort Zone

soap column

Do you remember the feeling you get when you say “Yes” to something that you’ve never done before?

That initial wave of euphoria, followed by a weird, cold sensation at the pit of your stomach that comes from knowing that you’re about to embark on something unknown and unfamiliar.

I’ve been feeling that quite often lately. Mostly because I’ve been taking on OEM / private label orders, and having to get used to working with formulations that are from other parties.

I had one corporate customer whose 720-bar order I repeated twice at my own expense, because I wasn’t familiar the customised soap molds that were required for the job, and the resulting soap bars were either too small, got stuck in the molds, or ashed over so badly that they had to be rejected. Not only that, the card boxes meant for the soap bars refused to work with the double sided tape we were using, and only later were we advised to use a hot glue gun by the client. Four of our staff worked over 3 days to get the job done–and all that hard work was for nought.

It’s easy to get sidelined by the proverbial wrenches that get thrown into the works… But I count myself extremely lucky to have a great team of people working with me at the studio and the shop, and I believe that we are all trying to deliver professional results to everyone we come into contact with. Plus there is also the fun side to bootstrapping, doing all that you can with everything you’ve got.

Case in point:

soap column

We’ve been so busy churning out batch after batch of soap, that we ran out of curing racks–so we made do by stacking these 4 batches of Tangy Lavender we made for a wedding in a circular column on the floor instead. I’ve always wanted to make one of these! Now we had the perfect reason to. 🙂 The air circulation for a column like this is much better compared to the narrow spaces on a curing rack, so hopefully this means that the soap bars will dry out a little faster than expected. It is by no means an original idea (look up for soapmakers from the Aleppo region–they have been making soap for the past 600 years, and stacking their soaps this way), and the folks from the GMP division may raise an eyebrow at the sight, but it does the job.

Now I have another 1,300 bars to make by the end of this week to meet a looming deadline, a shipment of balm tubes that have mysteriously gone missing to track down, and various administrative issues to grapple with (inventory management systems are elusive, yet scary!).

I feel my limits being tested with all this busy-ness, yet I am grateful for these opportunities to learn, and to be stronger. Mistakes trip you up, and you can fall spectacularly for all and sundry to see–but what counts more than the embarrassment of failure is the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (listen to the video below – Diana Krall says this best!) 😉

Have a terrific week ahead everyone!

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Kicking Back A Bit…

It’s been almost 3 weeks since our family helper went home for a well deserved break, and to spend time with her family. The change of pace and routine wasn’t entirely unexpected (we’ve done this for several years now) – but I must admit that it’s nice to have a bit of a forced break from work myself and focus more on the kids’ daily needs.

Gearing up for a frenetic week starting Monday. In the meantime I’m slowing down (a lot!) so I don’t inadvertently rush the family through their days just so I can get work done. Some days I feel so frazzled, grumpy and worn out. On others, indescribably psyched and happy. I look forward to a bit more balance once I can get some decent nights’ sleep again.

There will always be work – but children will only be young once.

Lionel and me

(My younger brother and me, when he was 3 or 4, I think…)

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Raising Prices on February 15th 2015

Hey everyone,

We held out for as long as we could–but now we really must move with the rising costs of pretty much everything (ingredients, transport, wages) that have already come to pass in the last 6 months. The events that have a major bearing on our finances are firstly the USD-MYR exchange rate, and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Malaysian government starting April 1st 2015.

We import most of our ingredients, which are produced in the US, Europe and Australia, so we aren’t new to the effects of exchange rate movements. However the latest trend in the USD-MYR exchange rate, which is expected to hit RM3.78 to a dollar for most of this year, has pretty much broken out of our comfort zone in terms of the amount of extra costs we can absorb without hurting our bottom line.

As for the GST, we will be bearing the costs of GST just as an end consumer would. I personally feel that our company is not ready, or big enough, to charge for GST and claim tax credits at the moment. This may change in time, of course.

So from February 15th onwards, the prices of most of our items will increase by about 10%. Most notably, our soap bars will retail for RM22 per bar instead of RM20 (but there will be a way for you to still enjoy our old soap prices–more on that soon!).

We’re really sorry that we have to do this, but it is necessary–because we want to maintain the high level of quality that you have come to expect of our products and service. Thank you for sticking with us all these years, and we hope that we’ll be well equipped to continue delighting you in the future.

As always, you can get in touch with us at ask@kindersoaps.com if you have any questions or constructive feedback.

Take care and have a terrific week ahead!

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Of Missing Equipment and Christmas

Day 74 of studio renovation – I’m making soap again! However it took me a bit of a while to really get back into the saddle with production, because I discovered that some of my tools were missing. My laser thermometer gun, some paint buckets, screwdrivers, a really nice hand truck and my favourite blender motor were all gone.

At first I put it down to me just being absent-minded and not being able to locate them in all the chaos–but now that I have unpacked everything and put all the furniture in place, it’s clear that they were purposefully taken. It’s hard to imagine how a thermometer gun could have singularly fallen out of a drawer that was carefully stowed away, nor a hand truck removed by accident.

I actually sat at my desk and shed tears. I really, really liked that stick blender (it was easier to make smooth soap without air bubbles), and I thought I worked hard for it.

It wasn’t the actual loss of items that was bothering me, but more of the sense of having your trust betrayed. It never occurred to me that someone would actually rifle through my things. Throughout the renovation period, I would pop by upstairs, say hello to the workers and ask if everything was ok, and if they needed anything extra that I could help with. I wanted them to know that I was grateful for their efforts.

Logically, I should ask for  compensation from our contractor for the lost items. When I told him about it, he promptly offered to pay for the replacements, I just needed to send him the bills.

But this doesn’t strike me as the right thing to do.

Let’s be honest–a big part of the reason how I can afford to undertake this massive renovation is because it was affordable. Kinder Soaps doesn’t make a huge amount of money. It’s enough for us to get by, and to grow gradually. So for us to be able to afford this project is a huge blessing.

Unfortunately, it also brings to light that most of the workers, especially the ones who were foreigners, are probably underpaid. Which could be why they even considered pilfering in the first place (I’m convinced that NOBODY would automatically want to do bad things to anyone, given the right circumstances).

I had the option of leaving the studio space when the smell of turpentine was overwhelming. They did not. I covered my nose and eyes while they sawed, drilled and hammered at walls, breathing in fine dust. I stayed for a few minutes–they stayed for days.

All I had to do was cough up enough cash, and through their physical efforts and expertise, they gave me this:

curing area(This is the curing area)

hallway in Kinder Soaps studio(the hallway, looking out from the back of the studio)

Mixing Room at Kinder Soaps studio(the mixing room)

It’s a really wonderful space to work in. I couldn’t be happier with it. And it’s because of their sheer hard work that I have the privilege to call this workshop our home.

So I have decided not to take up my contractor’s offer to reimburse me for the lost items. I can afford to pay for it on my own, even if it’s at a later date.

Instead, I have gone ahead to prepare a box of soap to be distributed to all of his workers (and for himself) as a Christmas gift. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation for all of their hard work and diligence. I wonder if any of them have ever received Christmas gifts before.

soap in box

Boxed soap for contractor

I hope that whoever has my equipment will put them to good use, and maybe in some way, help them along in getting to a better place in life.

Now this – this makes sense as my personal response to this situation, and I feel happier for it. 🙂

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Merry Christmas everyone, and have a fantastic new year!