Falling in love with a Frenchman brought Welsh entrepreneur Nia Jenkins Hafsia to Dordogne where she runs a successful handmade soap and skincare business, as Susie Hunting finds out
Nia Jenkins Hafsia has been passionate about handmade skincare products since she was a teenager, having suffered with bad skin and asthma. Her desire to formulate a natural solution to skincare problems drove the Welsh entrepreneur to open her first shop formulating natural perfumes nearly 25 years ago.
And it wasn’t just her skincare business that was set to blossom: Nia met her husband Karim through their love of natural soap and his terrible allergies to any synthetic perfumes. “He came into my shop, with all those aromas, and didn’t choke to death. That day I gained a new client and a new love,” remembers Nia.
The couple decided to move to southwest France together where Nia loved the temperate unpolluted climate. “As you know, in Wales it rains twice a year – both times for six months – so when we came here with the wonderful weather, and short winters, it completely changed my health,” says Nia, who turns 60 this year.
Nia and Karim moved to Bergerac in Dordogne and Nia launched her new soap business, ‘Passion Savon’, in 2005 producing natural, high-quality soaps and other skincare products. For three years Nia had a shop in Bergerac’s Old Town where she sold her products.
“Although I had an atelier there of about 50m2 that was fine for making the soap, the house was lost in the countryside and it was impossible to have a soap boutique there. The costs of the rent and rates in Bergerac were huge, so we decided to start looking for another premises, where we could have our home, the atelier and a soap boutique all in the same location,” says Nia. The couple began searching for a suitable property that would tick all of these boxes, and they were lucky enough to find the old Moulin de Bourgnac nearby, as Nia explains. “We had both always wanted to live in a mill and the association with water fitted wonderfully with the manufacture of soap.”
The atelier took a year to build, and was built by a local craftsman who works only with wood, so all the nails and screws are also made of wood. “It is very well insulated so we have an ambient temperature of between 20 and 28°C during the year, which is perfect for the saponification of our ‘cold process’ natural soap.” Nia has developed over 80 soaps and other skincare products which she sells in her boutique and around the world through her website. She uses plantbased, nourishing ingredients – with gentle infusions of herbs and oils and unique blends of pure essential oils – to create skincare products which are free from parabens, petrochemicals, sulphates and synthetic fragrances and colours. Nia does not claim any medical benefits, but her clients swear by her products that help with skin complaints such as acne, dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema.
Nia admits that she would have struggled to set up the business without the help of her French husband Karim. “I am lucky to be married to a very clever Frenchman who is aware of all the rules and regulations, and is able to take control of the administrative side of the business, i.e the bank, accountants, taxes, insurance, etc. Otherwise, to be honest, it would have been very daunting for me,” says Nia. “Even now when I see how what we pay in taxes is more than half of what we earn, it’s hard, so I am very fortunate that I am so passionate about the business.”