Soap Star

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

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

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.”

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