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Interview with Reef Check Malaysia

Today I chatted with Theresa, who is the Programme Development Manager for Reef Check Malaysia and it was such a good experience, getting to know the organisation and what they do on the ground, all around Malaysia.

We will be partnering with them for our Kinder Seas Project, to contribute to them financially for their coral restoration work in two sites in Malaysia, namely on Tioman Island in Pahang, and Mantanani Island in Sabah. I’ll be writing a longer blogpost about this project at a later date.

For now, you can watch the interview on IGTV, or listen to the podcast here.

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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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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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Kinder Soaps Is Going Palm-Free in 2017

It’s been a long time coming. We are officially going to rework ALL our soap formulations to completely exclude palm oil from now onwards.

For years, we at Kinder Soaps have been agonising over the use of palm oil in our soap. We’ve held on to it for so long because

  • it lends good lather, cleansing and moisturising properties to our soap;
  • it is the cheapest ingredient we hold in our inventory;
  • it is very accessible.

That is, it makes good business sense to keep using the stuff in our products.

However we can no longer turn a deaf ear, nor a blind eye to the many issues surrounding the use of palm oil globally. The ones that are of particular interest to us are

  • rampant deforestation of virgin rainforests to make way for new plantations;
  • the use of the slash and burn technique to clear old crops in Indonesia, which gives rise to the choking haze that has to be suffered by its citizens, as well as its neighbouring countries, every year.

Our choice to distance ourselves from using this key trade crop for our country may not leave any significant impact on the industry as a whole – but we will certainly be able to sleep better at night, knowing that we are actively taking steps to be a smaller part of the problem.

(I keep thinking of the future environment that my children will grow up being accustomed to – easy access to unspoilt forests, or just swathes of mono-cultured land?)

What does this mean for our customers?

You will still be getting great soap bars that are just as nourishing for the skin – which will also be even more gentle on our environment. 🙂

We will be using a lot more coconut oil in our soap base formulations. They make for hard, long-lasting bars of soap that also give wonderfully fluffy lather, and together with the olive oil and cocoa butter, the resulting soap will still have great moisturizing properties too.

This decision comes at a price – doing away with palm oil means that it will cost more for us to produce each bar of soap. So as we gradually roll out the new palm-free formulations to replace the soaps that eventually get sold out, we will also be adjusting their prices upward, between 10-15%. Some soaps may be their prices revised by an even larger percentage, because of their essential oil prices (we haven’t decided on their price tiering just yet). For now, however, you will still be able to get your soap at the old price of RM22 per bar.

So all in all, we are very excited to roll out our new formulations – and to be a part of the global movement to hopefully make a sustainable change to this earth-damaging, yet critical, industry.

Please share our story with your Facebook network, your friends and family. We will need your support more than ever, as we try to do our best by Nature, on whom we depend entirely for all our needs. And if you have anything to add to this issue, please comment on this post or get in touch with us at We’d be more than happy to chat with you. 🙂

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Refrigerate Your Soap For Best Shelf Life

fridge interior

This, ladies and gents, is probably the best possible place for you to store any form of handmade, all-natural skincare. Given that we are trying to do away with plastic shrink wrapping, and that our beeswax wraps themselves also have limited shelf lives of their own, we highly recommend that you treat them as you would fresh food.

Place your unopened soap bars in plastic containers and keep them in the fridge until you need to use them. The containers will help to prevent the soap and food from cross-contamination of odours, but they are not necessary. The cold, dry insides of the fridge will prevent the formation of mould on the beeswax wraps, which has happened for soap bars that were stored in warm, humid places. And since your fridge is already running 24/7, adding a few soap bars in there won’t do much to change its current energy consumption. Reducing spoilage will also mean that we won’t use up resources to replace otherwise perfectly good bars of soap.

It’s a terrific win-win solution all round:

  • we do away with plastic shrink wrapping
  • the lifespan of both our beeswax wraps and soap are prolonged
  • our collaborative efforts will reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills and waterways
  • reduced carbon footprint of having to purchase shrink wrapping or importing (costly) biodegradable options
  • reduces waste from having to replace spoilt soap bars
  • makes use of an existing resource, i.e. your fridge, which already operates 24/7 without any additional energy consumption to accommodate the soap.

I know that this is a bit of an odd practice when it comes to storing skincare items, and I do apologise if this causes you any inconvenience. However I feel very strongly about using as little plastic as possible, and to also minimise the amount of materials we use for packaging as best as we can. Too much waste from the consumption of all kinds of things in our daily lives is already being dumped into landfills. I believe that you and I are in a good position to reduce our contribution to waste generation by tweaking our habits here and there. 🙂

Thank you so much for your continued support. Please share this information with other users of handmade skincare (not just Kinder Soaps), so that we can save even more space in the earth from being taken up by unnecessary packaging.

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The Story Of Stuff

Ever wondered what the whole picture is when it comes to making the handphone that you’re putting to your ear? The car that you drive? The groceries that you pick up from your local supermarket? The clothes you’re wearing right now?

Here’s a very entertaining and informative video that will give you the low-down of the actual cost and processes of making the stuff that we consume every day. Personally I feel that it drives home an important message about being aware of how much our society is trapped in Consumerism, and that we have every right and every ability to shrug it off and make decisions that are better for our environment and our future generations.

Enjoy the video. Feel free to share your thoughts on what YOU can do to take a step away from being caught up in this ‘linear system’!