South Africa’s soap queen

go! Platteland - - 6 ENTREPRENEURS: SOAP -

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.” rain­queen­doo­ 028 514 2926/27 fra­grance­for­ >

“The majority of su­per­mar­ket soaps are cheap be­cause they’re in­dus­trial, mass-pro­duced prod­ucts made us­ing cheap in­gre­di­ents.”

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