Kate and Chikondi both studied first-year chemistry and used this knowledge to make soap eight years ago when they lived in Malawi and couldn’t find any natural soap for sale.
They sold their soap at school fairs and gift shops every now and again, but it took six years to build the confidence to start making soap in greater quantities and establish the business they called Rondavel. “We’ve always loved the simple yet functional design of this small African home, and wanted our soap to remain equally true to its roots,” says Kate.
Two years ago they boarded a bus with their soap pots, equipment and three sons and came to South Africa, convinced the business would be more successful here.
Is soap-making a profitable business? Yes and no. It’s hard work. We realised this again the other day when there was a power cut, but we could still make, cut and wrap soap. As with other crafts, it’s best not to work out what you’re being paid per hour – all it takes is being stuck in peak traffic once to remember how blessed you are to have your own business and working hours. Life isn’t only about profit. What makes your products unique? Our products stand out because we source the raw ingredients – especially indigenous essential oils – from sustainable community projects and small-scale farmers. We design our own packaging – our Landscape collection is based on seven beautiful South African landscapes, printed on paper made from sugar-cane waste.
Making good soap isn’t only about following a recipe. Understanding the chemistry behind the process is very important, so you can work out why something went wrong. For us, the whole process requires a cross between a mad scientist and a creative baker.
• Research and know how the soap-making process works, and think about what you want to achieve. • Don’t start using expensive essential oils until you’ve mastered the process. Some failed batches can be salvaged, but many will have to be binned. • Use long gloves, safety goggles, a full apron, closed shoes and a mask for mixing caustic soda into the water (never the other way round).
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