Soap with a Clean Conscience
By Ana Grabova
Published 01 May 2012
(May-June 2012 Edition)
Jonathan Doyle meets Anne Jones and Christian Langlois, founders of Colne Soap Makers and creators of fine natural soaps.
They started with margarine which, Anne tells me, worked brilliantly. “We started to think more about the ingredients and experimented.” Christian’s science background helped tremendously. “When you’re devising a recipe, different oils have different characteristics,” he explains. They tried olive oil. “It makes a perfectly usable soap but it has a slightly slimy lather that’s neither bubbly nor creamy,” says Anne. Learning how to blend other oils for different effects they perfected the lathering, moisturising and hardness attributes soap needs. They tried their soap on themselves and their friends. It worked really well. “It was probably at that point that we thought let’s try and go for it,” she says.
Olive oil is still the biggest ingredient in their ‘Colne Bar’ soap, named after the first buoy in the Colne Channel – which appeals to their strong sailing interests. It’s a good moisturiser, but it needs to be mixed with other oils. “We also use shea butter from Ghana,” says Christian, although as that comes from a nut, they also have a hemp version for allergy sufferers.
Making soap is a reaction of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) or potassium hydroxide and various oils and water (or, in some Colne bars, goat’s milk). Although Colne soap is completely natural, the chemistry in production is still caustic so they have to take great care. Testing and certification ensures safety and compliance with cosmetic safety regulations. Once the reaction is balanced, scenting oils and further moisturising oils are added.
Lavender, pepper, basil and even grapefruit oils are all used. There’s a coffee soap, ‘Maldon Mud Lark’, with boiled down grounds to give a slightly abrasive consistency for deeper cleaning. The soap itself smells of cinnamon oil and vanilla extract. “The coffee aroma eventually disappears in the heating process and the soap ends up smelling like a spicy Christmas cake,” explains Anne. ‘Ebb Tide’ contains sea salt and bladderwrack. All Colne soaps work with seawater.
Anne and Christian both have a keen interest in what their soaps represent. “There is much interest in the handmade, the small scale and the natural,” says Anne. “Many of our customers are led by scent first. They’ll come and smell our soap. They’ll be drawn by colour too.” If they choose on the basis of scent at the outset, they come back and say they were surprised by how long it lasts. “And how nice it felt,” adds Christian.
A window cleaner friend suffering with dermatitis needed a soap with nothing in. All Colne soaps leave the naturally moisturising glycerin in – something often extracted by commercial soap makers for other uses and replaced with foaming agents such as sodium laurel sulphate. “It’s the chemicals that usually trigger the skin problems,” says Christian. So, Anne and Christian created a very natural soap called ‘Dave’ for Dave – and anyone else whose skin needs it.
Customers are purchasing regularly as part of their normal shopping budget from farmers’ markets but also local delicatessens. Colne have online sales, festivals and fairs and a growing B2B market supplying guesthouses too and stores further afield.
Christian is so enthusiastic that he wants to open source the ‘Willow’ model to encourage other soap makers to do the same with their local farmers and growers.
From ‘Willow Bar’ to ‘Dave’, it’s a daily reminder that handmade quality can be much more than merely interesting or quirky. Connecting creativity, commercial sense and eco-sensitivity has fused homemade quality with the pragmatism of everyday good value. Anne and Christian have taken something we’re using every day and made a range that gently cleanses the body, the soul and the conscience all in one go. Not a bad place to be after three years in gloves and goggles at the kitchen sink.
Anne and Christian’s site and blog contains a wealth of inspiration about Colne Soap Makers’ range of natural products. Visit www.colnesoapmakers.co.uk
To hear more about Colne Soap Makers and experience some of Anne and Christian’s range of natural soaps come to Lunch Time Show Off! on 21st June at fifteen Queen Street, Colchester, CO1 2PH.
All speakers share two things in common: 1) their location and 2) an incredible passion for their craft. So why not pop along in your lunch break, bring a sandwich and pull up a chair.
This feature and the Lunch Time Show Off event are brought to you by fifteen Queen Street, supported by firstsite and The Creative Coop with funding from Arts Council England. fifteen Queen Street is home to The Colchester Circle and a hub offering affordable workspace to local creatives, whilst aiming to celebrate, nurture, share and support their talent. firstsite is a visual arts organisation with a mission to make contemporary art relevant to everyone.