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Discovering business success with hand-made soaps

Young entrepreneur, Gloria A. Alphonsus, Margao, runs a successful venture of natural, hand-made soaps, discovers
Serilda Coutinho

While the soap market has a variety of brands to suit every pocket, it is handmade soaps that are gaining in popularity among the wellness conscious. Made out of fresh and natural ingredients like flowers and fruits, hand-crafted soaps are in the premium segment of the wellness market and appear to be doing well vis-à-vis the mass brands.

Gloria A Alphonsus, aromatherapist and owner of Agathos Essentials, a Margao based store, is among the few who are into organic handcrafted soaps. A young entrepreneur and just 22 years, Alphonsus is surprisingly knowledgeable about preferences and knows what will appeal to the luxury conscious buyer.

She reveals that on an average she receives orders for about 1000 soaps in a month and festive occasions such as Christmas are when business is brisk. “For this Christmas season alone I received 50 orders. My soaps for the Christmas collection had the fragrance of spices such as cinnamon, clove, sweet orange and pine to give it a festive vibe.” She adds that, she worked on more than 1,200 pieces in the shape of Christmas trees. The Christmas tree soap used skin nourishing shea butter and painted in warm mineral shades of green looked very attractive.

To tackle the festival rush Alphonsus made sure her products were launched well in advance “I had put up a stall at the pop up bazaar in Caculo Mall in November itself as I wanted to make sure that shoppers could see the range of products we offer for the festival and place gift orders in advance,” she says.

The reason for prepping up with the orders well in advance was to prepare the base of the soap. “It takes around 30 weeks for curing the soap base. The curing is necessary to give the soap a firm texture. It makes it gentle on the skin,” she explains. She adds that the shelf life of her soaps range between six months to one year depending on the ingredients used.

Having completed her BSc in clinical psychology at the Middlesex University in Dubai, Alphonsus later specialized in aromatic therapy through an extensive training course during her graduation at the university. “I was encouraged by my mentors to set up my own business rather than working under someone. Also, most of my contacts for the supplies of my raw material were developed while I was studying at the university. Alphonsus initially started working on her passion for soap making through the stipend earned during her clinical psychology internship. She made soaps on a small scale for friends and family members.

It was once that her family returned to Goa that her passion was fueled up by the encouraging response received from buyers. “Most of my early orders were for moms whose kids were allergic to the ingredients used in mass brands,” she says.

Alphonsus started by selling at pop up bazaars and seeing the huge demand for handmade soaps decided to venture into the business of handmade soaps. She says “I had just five soaps and two lip balms when I started a year back but now the range of products I can offer my customers is vast.” The young entrepreneur says that the best thing about venturing in your own business is, “You do not have anything to lose as you get ample of time to experiment with your ideas.”

Alphonsus says that, she has a loyal clientele base from boutique hotels outside Goa for luxury line soaps. She also sells abroad on an order basis. The homegrown entrepreneur now wants to launch a new range under the gifting segment. The segment, set to launch in January 2019, will make use of lavender buds, rose petals and jasmine and the shape will be unique. “The soaps will be available in heart and square shape and be double the size of the regular soap bars that I make. The daily use soaps are priced at between Rs 100 to Rs 200 per piece while the luxury line will be priced between Rs150 to Rs 250,” she reveals. She will also be launching her products for sale online in the next year.

According to her apart from festive sales and sales from pop up bazaars, wedding orders are also driving the market of customized soaps in a big way. “From the packaging to the color of the soap and the shape, I give my wedding clients a range of options to choose from,” she says.

Some of the ingredients used by Alphonsus in her daily use soaps include red wine, aloe vera, shea butter, coconut, charcoal, lavender and tea tree essence among others. “Our soaps are free from chemicals, parabens and sulphate. They are preserved naturally using an essential oil that is the reason they sweat easily in the heat” she explains. In order to maintain the authenticity of the organic ingredients some of the raw materials like coconut oil and rose petals are sourced from her garden.

The other ingredients such as olive oil, cocoa butter, essential oils and shea butter are imported in bulk from Africa, UK, Israel and Africa. “I avoided getting my raw material from local sources as there were no standard measures to check the quality of the produce. While importing the ingredients I make it a point to personally meet my suppliers before placing bulk orders to make sure that the products are sourced from certified farms” explains Alphonsus.

In an effort to discourage heat based plastic packaging, onion or butter paper is used for wrapping. “We make use of a paper packaging that is easy to use,” she says. While for shampoos, she uses acrylic bottles that are usually refilled by customers.

In the old days, Goa was famous for its hand-made soaps made in the shape of fish, birds, etc. The hand-made soaps of the current times are made with natural and exotic ingredients and come in attractive packaging, striking colors, distinctive shape and fragrance. The trend of hand-made soaps seems to be completing a full circle with entrepreneurs like Alphonsus.

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