Cleanliness, they say, is next to godliness. But it was goodliness that led me on a cleansing mission to East London recently. For it is there that skincare brand The Soap Co is based. It makes, as the name clearly suggests, soap; in the London factory, it’s of the liquid variety in a pump dispenser and in the Lake District outlet, it’s of the more traditional handmade bar kind.
This isn’t just soap – it’s very, very good soap (poshly called wash), as are the accompanying products. The Hand Wash (£16), Hand Lotion (£16), Body Wash (£19), Body Lotion (£19) and Soap Bar (£9, all available from thesoapco.org) come in charming fragrance options including Geranium & Rhubarb and Wild Nettle & Sage. The brand has even branched out into bath and body oils that contain luscious essential oils (and, on the down-low, one of them is about to win a beauty award – I can’t say which, but it’s a good ’un). Plus all of the products are vegan, bee-friendly and free of parabens, sulphates and silicones.
But this isn’t even about just being very, very good soap. The fact that the brand’s name is also written in braille on the packaging is a pointer that it’s about more. This is soap as a vehicle for change – 80 per cent of the staff are visually impaired, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged.
This commitment is at the heart of the brand’s ethos, as it comes under the Clarity umbrella (an organisation created in 1854 to provide work for the blind). So manufacturing (currently run by a charming gentleman called Steven who has been employed there for 18 years and worked his way up the chain of command) is kept semiautomated. Bottles are hand-checked, pumps hand-screwed on… you get the picture. It’s important to maintain jobs that keep people in work and every bottle of hand wash sold pays for one hour of their employment.
Wandering around the factory you can see what a giant difference a beauty product can make, the pride these people take in their work, the community it creates – right down to kennels for guide dogs (one worker travels an hour and a half on the tube with his each day) and the volunteer who walks them in nearby Epping Forest. It’s a setup that brings tears to your eyes.
The truth is that The Soap Co needs every penny it can earn to help find work for people who might otherwise simply slip through the cracks. (It also needs a patron, by the way, in case any royals are reading this and would like to lend a hand.) It isn’t profit for profit’s sake, but to plough back in to supporting the very reason it exists. Personally, this is what I call ‘clean beauty’, something that makes me feel good both inside and out.
So if you need to buy soap, or are looking to give a meaningful gift, I’d urge you to consider this. And though none of it is just for Christmas, if you order by 18 December, deliveries will arrive by the 24th.
The gifts that give back
A little aside (and to continue a somewhat charitable theme this week): should you be gifted something beauty-wise this year that you feel you might never use but don’t like to return, then please consider donating it to Beauty Banks.
Founded by journalist Sali Hughes and PR guru Jo Jones, it’s like a food bank, but for personal care products instead (the only things they can’t accept are perfume and nail polish and remover). The project is committed to supporting those living in poverty so they can achieve at least a basic level of daily hygiene. To find out more or learn how to donate, visit beautybanks.net or follow @thebeautybanks on Instagram.
Feature by Edwina Ings-Chambers