While I do not currently sell my soaps, it is something that I am actively working towards – here in the EU it is not as straight forward as it is in The United States, for example, which means it is taking some time to get in a position to sell my products. Throughout this time I am faced with ethical choices and I also engage with other soap makers who do sell and face similar questions of ethics.
For me, ethics are a very important part of my plans.
The aim is to be an artisan producer, not a commercial soap factory. When we picture an artisan, it tends to evoke a picture of someone who loves the craft involved – it’s a labour of love, not just throwing product out of the door and counting the cash coming in. Artisan-made products also suggests someone who knows the craft intimately – the person who has made the product knows why it was made this way and not another. In the case of soaping, it would be why a certain recipe was used and not another – what is it about the mixes of oils and additives that really makes the soap worthwhile.
This post has been prompted by a build up of ethical “grey areas” but ultimately by some shocking revelations regarding a soaper well known in shaving circles, This particular soap maker was a bit of a character, a larger-than-life sort. Because of this, he gained quite a following. At the same time, there was a second manufacturer of shaving soap and the two would review products from one another and one even interviewed the other. So far, so tame. The shocking part of it is that they were THE SAME PERSON. The soaper had actually been banned on a lot of forums for creating accounts with which he would “review” his own products and then he went even further and was using these two companies to play off of one another.
The reaction of some people in the shaving community was mixed. Some people were of the opinion that it was just “aggressive marketing” and is nothing that a business would not do. For some others, that was the major problem – they felt that the manufacturer was part of a community, one of them, which made it feel less like a normal “corporate” issue and more like a betrayal. It was likened by some to the difference between having your wallet stolen at a busy train station compared to having it stolen at a family gathering.
This is the sort of situation that I find really disappointing. I think that I expect the same standards from other soapers as I strive for myself regarding general business practices.
When it comes to the product itself, some of the other soapers are more in the mindset of “Caveat Emptor” – let the buyer beware. An example would be use of the word “natural” – it is an unregulated word in many markets and to many different people it will mean many different things. When someone sees that word on a label they would make an assumption about the contents which might not actually be true and some soapers feel that it is down to the customer to make sure that what they are buying actually matches what they think they are buying.
Here in the EU it is not that easy – we have a lot more regulation and it is something that I am both thankful for even though it errs on the side of being oppressive. I can be a lot more free with some of the things that I say regarding what my soaps do, as they are automatically classed as a cosmetic, plus I know that the rules that apply to me also apply to the competition, making it a lot more relaxing as I know that everyone is working to the same standards…………………..to some degree!
If we look at a working example – every EU cosmetic product needs to have the ingredients listed. There is one company which claims that they don’t use preservatives in their products and none are listed on the packaging. This is confusing for those who also make cosmetics as we know there is no way to get the same results with no preservative. So what is the answer? The term “perfume” on an ingredients list can cover a multitude of sins. If you are using a fragrence oil, it contains a number of different ingredients itself but it only shown as “perfume” on your final product ingredients. If you put your preservative in the fragrence, then there is no preservative listed on the final product.
Clever marketing? Of course. Less than open with the customers? Very much so. It is the sort of thing that I really want to avoid.
So, here is my promise to my future customers – a mission statement from The Efficacious Gentleman:
To produce quality ablution products for gentleman and ladies ethically. To be clear on the ingredients and their benefits. To be open in marketing. To treat the customer as a valued person and not a potential dupe. To act in all aspects as an efficacious gentleman.
I ponder as well. Stay true to your values. Respect the customer. it has become a mantra.
The hoops we have to jump through in the EU to be able to sell our products are crazy, but at least it’s a level playing field (or should be – like you I’ve come across people who don’t play by the rules). You already have a great brand, and a great attitude towards your future customers, so I’m sure you’ll do really well. Good luck – I look forward to seeing you grow your business!
Wonderful post! I started making soap and other products as a hobby in 2009, and have since realized that it is more rewarding to me than the career I have been training for. So I want to start the process towards making a business from it, hopefully by next year. But I live in Sweden, and I have been worried about if it is even possible to make any kind of living from soapmaking, with all the fees and regulations. I am not opposed to complying with regulations, rather the opposite! But I’d like to keep things small scale – labor intensive and artistic, small batches, limited editions etc, but after reading about what will be required of me in order to sell, I guess I feel that I need some reassurance that there is still a profit margin underneath it all? I guess since you are pursuing it, you feel it can be done… Is there any word of encouragement you can offer me? I don’t expect to make lots of money, I live modestly – but is it feasible to pursue soapmaking as a full time business in the EU?
I think it is possible, although we are of course limited to our approved recipes and all of our sales have to take in to account the initial outlay. You also need to look at what people would be willing to pay and compare that to what you would need to charge/the amounts you would have to sell. If people are willing to buy enough product at the price you are asking, then it is feasible, but you need to know that first of all.
Thank you for the advice and encouragement! I will continue to perfect my process and see about doing more thorough market research. I am carefully hopeful that there is a market… there is only one other soap maker in Sweden that I have found that does anything similar to the kind of soap I love. I find that encouraging, as the market isn’t likely saturated, but also worrying. My question was born from the worry that people don’t do it because it doesn’t work finacially, due to fees and regulations. But as you say, if enough people buy the product… Well thanks again, I wish you luck in your endeavors and will be looking forward to trying your soap when your business is up and running!