Handmade goat's milk soap
We first moved to France in 1998, to Dordogne. We wanted a change in lifestyle while the children were young enough (aged five and three at the time). In the UK I was a stay-at-home mum and Neil was a farrier so it was easy enough to carry on doing the same jobs in France.
“We moved to Ariège in 2004, attracted by its unspoilt nature as well as the prospect of being closer to the mountains (we are keen skiers) and other sports and activities for the boys. By now Neil was working as a blacksmith as well as a farrier, which kept him busy but the cotisations were crippling.
“I’ve always had goats since I was a child, and with the boys growing up, I wanted some work of my own. I first started making soaps from goat’s milk because my son Tristan has eczema and it was difficult to find products which didn’t irritate his skin. Then I started making them for friends and family and they were always very well received, so I thought I’d try and make a go of it as a business.”
The family moved to a house with five hectares for the goats and Neil put his business on hold while he renovated the house, and Lisa registered with the Chambre des Métiers as an auto-entrepreneur (now micro-entrepreneur). Before the soap could be sold publicly, Lisa had to send her soap formula to a chartered chemist to be safety assessed and the formulas registered with two different official organisations. She set up a website (in both French and English) and booked slots at local markets.
“I started off with the three or four goats we already had, making around 24 soaps per week. Today we’ve got 11 goats and I make around 200 to 300 a week. I make more in the winter as I like to be able to give myself some time off in the summer to avoid the heat in the lab!”
Neil now helps out with the business too and the couple go to at least two markets a week, as well as seasonal events. “It’s definitely the marketing side that I find the hardest,” Lisa says. “It’s difficult to find out exactly what events are happening and when. But the soaps are becoming more and more popular and we do pretty well by word of mouth.”
The soaps are perfumed with natural essential oils from a supplier in the north of France – the most popular scent is geranium rose. They are wrapped in pretty pieces of cotton and customers who return the cotton receive a discount on their next purchase.
“I love working from home and being able to stop and have a coffee when I want to,” says Lisa before adding, “I love watching the goats grazing in our fields, though they often decide that the neighbour’s grass is better than ours and it’s a mad dash to round them up! But that’s life with goats and I wouldn’t change it.”