Sandra and I sat down early this year to discuss all things soap... I do hope you enjoy this conversation. The TINY Soap LAB is the closest small business to the gallery...
Q. I would like to ask if you don’t mind, where did you grow up and did it have a bearing on you making these amazing soaps?
I grew up in Romford, which is in the London Borough of Havering. I love the area for its liveliness, the shops and bustling market. It’s so easy to jump on the train and be in the middle of London in no time. I also lived in Newcastle for four years, whilst studying. It’s an amazing city. I would say my inspiration for making soap came when I moved to Finchingfield just over two years ago (I hadn’t even thought of it before then!). After years of working in education and being very busy, moving here was such a tonic. I decided I really wanted to do something creative again and be my own boss.
Q. Describe a working day as a soap maker?
I tend to do different things on different days. Some days I’ll make batches of soap all day, one after the other. The next day I’ll be unmoulding and cutting up the soap (I make the soaps in large wooden moulds which each make 24 individual slices of soap). Other days will be devoted to labelling each bar (I have to wait 6 weeks before I can do this as the soap needs to ‘cure’. This is where the soap hardens and dries). Some days will be taken up with packing and sending orders. I tend to leave any computer work to the evenings (ordering ingredients, updating the website and Etsy shop, booking craft fairs and markets etc.). I’m still learning about different ingredients, particularly essential oils, so I always put some time aside for research as well.
Q. Have you had any previous jobs before becoming creating your lovely Soap business?
I’ve actually only been making soap for just over a year. After leaving university I trained as an art teacher and have had jobs as a self-employed designer, college lecturer, class teacher and most recently as a primary school head teacher. I took early retirement shortly after moving to Finchingfield. I had ideas about doing some private tutoring but then the pandemic happened - that’s when The TINY Soap Lab was created!
Q. Are there any little tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years, that would help or inspire budding soap maker?
I would definitely say, keep it simple at first and gradually attempt more difficult techniques once you’ve got the basics right. Also, if you are creating your own recipes, don’t spend ages working out the saponification values of oils (necessary to know how much sodium hydroxide you will need) – use the Soap Calc program which does it for you.
Q. What music do you listen to when you are working?
When I’m working, I like to listen to laid-back instrumental jazz (anything Cafe Jazz style). You have to be really precise when measuring out ingredients and checking temperatures - if I listen to music that’s very upbeat or with lyrics, I tend to lose concentration and forget what I’m doing!
Q. What piece of equipment can’t you do without?
There are several pieces of necessary equipment but probably the one I rely on most is my hand blender. It’s vital for turning all the ingredients into soap batter – it’s when the saponification magic starts to happen. My first blender lasted a year but when it broke recently, I was really stuck, I couldn’t soap without it!
Q. The main theme of soap and what influences the different smells?
Initially, I just wanted to make handcrafted soap with carefully chosen, skin-loving ingredients because it’s so much better for the skin than commercially produced soap. Making my first batch was a revelation and I immediately fell in love with soap-making.
When I decided to start selling my soap I realised I needed to develop a selection that would offer something for everyone. I love using essential oils and fragrance oils and had a great fun testing them out to see how they would work in the soaps. I now produce 25 different soaps, ranging from decadent, cocktail-inspired hemp oil soaps (Pina Colada and Frozen Margarita) to soothing, floral-scented oat milk bath soaps (Rose Geranium and Lavender).
Q. What do you enjoy most about being making your soaps?
I love unmoulding the soap the day after I’ve poured it. It will have turned from soap batter (the consistency of cake mixture) into soap overnight. It won’t be ready to use for a few weeks but it will be set enough to slice and you get to see how it has turned out. Slicing it up is like cutting a great big block of fudge – immensely satisfying!
Q. What have been your highlights or biggest achievements so far?
Seeing my soaps in beautiful places like The Wonky Wheel Gallery and Iceni in Great Dunmow gives me a huge boost!
Q. How would you describe the life of a soaper in just 3 words.
Interesting, Satisfying, Fragrant.
Q. What advice would you give to younger self about starting a career as a soaper?
I would say, don’t be put off when things go wrong! Soaping doesn’t always go to plan, especially when you’re starting out. Persevere – it will be worth it.