WHAT WE LOVE: Handmade botanical soaps and skincare products. Made in small batches from local plant based and marine ingredients; from farm to face.
WHO: Retailer and skincare product maker Silvana de Soissons.
WHERE: Dorset’s beautiful Jurassic Coast.
When was Farm Soap Co. established? 2020 – just when the March pandemic lockdown was announced in the UK!
What are Farm Soap Co. best selling products? All of them, but the Dorset Sea Salt and Fragranced soaps are the bestsellers because so many people suffer from allergies and sensitive skins.
Where do you make Farm Soap Co. soaps? The products are made in my Dorset workshop, all the oils are sourced from British wholesalers and I grow some of the botanicals myself organically, as well as macerating fruit and herb oils myself. Seaweeds are foraged from the Jurassic coast and the sea salt is harvested from the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
What makes Farm Soap Co. so unique? There are very few cold process solid soap bar makers that make the product from scratch and then air dry the soaps slowly over 4-6 weeks. The whole process is hand made.
What are the challenges selling online compared to a physical store? Online is of course less tactile – customers aren’t able to feel, touch, smell and try the product, to see how gentle and delicate it is. Nor can you chat to them.
What are the advantages? Unfortunately the world of retail is now almost wholly online – the days of high rents, high rates, wages and utility bills don’t really work for the average artisan shopkeeper. It’s far less expensive to be online.
Who are Farm Soap Co. customers? My customers are people who want to use toiletries and skincare products without chemicals or plastics.
How has the pandemic impacted your business and how have you adapted? The pandemic made everyone want to wash their hands – much more frequently – as soap removes the lipid barrier that surrounds the virus, thereby rinsing it away with the water. Demand for solid bar soap is also on the rise because consumers want to eliminate single use plastic. Keeping up with demand has been a challenge, as the product is very time consuming to make, dry and package.
Silvana de Soissons, soap maker and shopkeeper at Farm Soap Co.
Who inspires you? It is fascinating to see how producers and formulators from many different countries use their culture, heritage, flora and customs to create skincare, toiletries and well-being products with a sense of place and pride. I love to follow the work of: Bamford, L.A Bruket, Sphaera Soap, Seed to Skin, Primally Pure, Rawbatch Soap, Pai Skincare, Votary, Vintner’s Daughter, Wild Sage, Wildsmith Skin, Wilder Botanics, A.S. Apothecary, Yellow Gorse, Saint Iris Adriatica, Harvest Skincare, Vanderohe …. so many!
What inspires you? I am inspired by originality and skill. Artisan skills inspire me, across all media, especially now, when you need great tenacity and focus to ride the waves of these challenging times. I think resilience is very inspirational. And of course Mother Nature, the greatest inspiration – the seasons come and go, the tide goes out and comes back in, the sun rises and sets, the stars shine and then disappear. No matter what is going on in the world, nature is our guide, our constant and our healer.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I… was a shopaholic! I did work for other retailers for many years before setting up my own business – I learned the craft from some of the best in the business – there is so much to learn, from buying to finance, merchandising, displaying, stock keeping, marketing ….
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? I think everyone who owns their own business learns very quickly that it takes over the whole of your life – morning, noon, and night! There are no days off and no sick days.
The best lesson you have learned starting Farm Soap Co.? That making and selling products is infinitely interesting and exciting.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open an online shop? Get a good, simple, clean logo and website. Keep it very clear and uncluttered. Define your market very accurately and stick to it – don’t deviate in every direction. Showcase products people need. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? A gardener – growing flowers and herbs.
What are your favorite shops? The great shopkeepers who still make independent retail look enticing, inviting and alluring – like Daylesford Farm Shop, The Hambledon in Winchester, Brassica Mercantile in Beaminster, The Botanical Candle Co. in Shaftesbury, Malabar Trading in Bridport, No 56 Penzance, Nadinoo clothing in Rutland, The Frome Hardware Store and Assembly in Frome, Baileys Home and Garden in Ross on Wye, Cabbages and Roses (owner Christina Strutt is opening a flagship store in Bruton, Somerset), Found in Bath …..I could go on and on and on…….
What are your favorite Instagram accounts? On Instagram I love to follow: @thehambledon and @objectsofuse and @gonzalezygonzalezstore and @march.sf and @levestiairedejeanne and @rennes._ and @bontucson and @cinq.kyoko and @cloveandcreek and @avidaportuguesa and @veritecoeur_shop and @veritecoeur_atelier and @plaingoodsshop and @tiinathestore…I could go on and on!
Do you participate in events, pop ups? Yes, and I will keep you posted once we are all allowed out freely once again!
I wish I could… Bring back the British high street – for so many centuries, Britain’s shopkeepers and artisan trades were famous all over the world. People would travel to London, Manchester, Leeds, Bath, Bristol – all the major cities and towns of Britain – to shop for food, fashion and lifestyle goods. I fear for the recovery from this pandemic recession – once small businesses have gone from town centres, it will be so very difficult to get them back. It takes so much skill and knowledge to be a good shopkeeper – the profession is part of British culture, heritage and history. I wish I could restore Britain as the world shopping capital it once was.
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“I think that the online world will still prevail as the main sales platform for all retailers and the old greedy landlord business model of expensive, sad, tired shops rented out for long leases at extortionate rents will die (hallelujah!). If we want to restore the high street, it will need concerted efforts from government, councils and landlords, to bring short, reasonably priced leases within the grasp of a new generation of shopkeepers that will venture back to our towns and cities and start up exciting new retail ventures. Landlords will have to present and maintain their properties to a much higher standard or premises will remain empty and neglected for many years. To make high streets look attractive and alluring once again it will take investment and hard work. And, of course, retail will be part of an overall experience – in a gallery, with a café, with events, workshops and talks. Standalone will be quite a challenge – but if you mix it with other visitor attraction and community engagement elements then you have the power to lure consumers from their computers and mobile phones. Humans are sociable creatures by default – we all love meeting, greeting, eating and shopping!”
FARM SOAP Co.