South Africa’s soap queen
Rain, the bath and bodycare range started 15 years ago by Bev Missing of Swellendam, is now an international success story and the business employs more than 140 people. Now Bev has shared her wealth of knowledge in The Rain Book of Natural Soap Making.
Rain is proof that one can start a global brand in a platteland town like Swellendam. What makes your products unique and why do they appeal to the international market? “Our soaps are hand-made using a combination of Rolls-Royce-quality oils and butters. They make your skin feel amazing, as if you have applied lotion. They’re accredited by Fair Trade and Beauty Without Cruelty, and they tell a story.
“Our foreign customers, in particular, appreciate this quality, the natural ingredients we use and the degree of labour intensity – and they’re prepared to pay for that.”
How does this differ from the local market? Are South Africans well informed about what constitutes “good” soap?
“Not at all! They tend to think of soap as something that should clean, so see nothing wrong with soap from the supermarket. And even though many South Africans are picky about what they eat and avoid colourants, preservatives, trans fats and genetically modified ingredients, they’re not as discerning when it comes to what they put on their skin. The majority of supermarket soaps are cheap because they’re industrial, mass-produced products made using cheap ingredients. Remember, your skin is like a sponge and the only function cheap soap performs is to clean it – it does nothing in terms of nourishment and moisturising.”
Rain’s products are marketed as “natural”, but many people are quite shocked when they hear you use “a dangerous and toxic” chemical like caustic soda to make the soap…
“Indeed. I always try to explain that, in the same way that the two gasses hydrogen and oxygen combine to form a new liquid substance called water, the caustic soda is altered on a molecular level and is technically not there any longer. Neither the US Food and Drug Administration nor the EU cosmetic regulators require caustic soda on the ingredients list, as it has been converted into soap.”
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about making soap, specifically as a business?
Any business making only soap would need to do one of two things: either supply large quantities of commercial soaps to the likes of hotels or prisons, or make expensive artisanal soaps and sell them to high-end lodges or at craft markets. Rain has expanded so much in the past few years that we wouldn’t make a living any longer by just selling soap. Actually, soap accounts for only about 9% of our total sales.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to earn an income from making soap?
“Don’t do it! No entrepreneur who has wanted to grow a serious business has ever become rich from soap-making alone – you’d have to sell a lot of soap to get a decent turnover. If, however, you love the art of making soap and enjoy the vibe of craft markets, it could work for you.”
Presumably you use only your own products at home…
“Yes, I’m allergic to artificial dyes and use only Rain’s soap – even when I travel – as it’s 100% natural and has never given me an allergic reaction. My favourites are our Lotion Bar and the Marula Olive Oil Soap. My life is pretty busy and I don’t always have time to apply lotion after every bath or shower. Our olive-oil soap cleanses and moisturises, and is perfect for busy people.”
You been living in Swellendam for 10 years now, where all the Rain products are made, then shipped across the country and abroad. How come you haven’t swapped the platteland for the city?
“I love small towns. I love living in a place where it feels as if you can make a measurable difference to the lives of the local people.”
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“The majority of supermarket soaps are cheap because they’re industrial, mass-produced products made using cheap ingredients.”