New Soap – Fiddler’s Green

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I made this soap 2 days ago, when inspiration hit and getting down to making a completely new soap felt like a breeze. I’d been toying around with a formulation for gym buffs and people with severe acne or folliculitis for some time – and this is the result.

When I first cut this soap I spent a good 5 minutes just admiring the amazing shades of green on the cut surfaces (and trying not to tear up from sheer joy – I was thinking of the many ingredients I have used in the past which very sadly turned to a dull brown over time due to oxidation, or high pH environments). Spirulina powder was the magical ingredient that gave this soap its luxurious green colour, and I read that it in its natural state, it thrives in a high pH environment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the colour will hold for months to come!

Fiddler's Green collage

Another thing I’m really excited about is its essential oil combination of sweet marjoram (new!), bergaptene-free bergamot (also new!), cypress and pine. These are all well known as being antibacterial and antifungal, so they should be helpful for those of you who have chronically inflamed pores / hair follicles. I recently had an enquiry from someone who had symptoms that fit the bill for folliculitis, which gets worse when the damaged hair follicle becomes infected by bacteria, yeast or fungi (here are some images, but beware, some are pretty gruesome). None of our existing soap bars were tweaked specifically to have strong antibacterial and antifungal actions, so I’m hoping that Fiddler’s Green will fill that gap.

That’s not all – marjoram, cypress and pine essential oils have wonderful soothing and healing properties for muscles as well. I won’t go so far as to say that this makes it the perfect post-workout soap to take the edge of sore muscles the next day, but its scent will certainly help you be in a placid, happy state of mind. :)

There is also a little story that I would like to tag on to this soap. Just recently I learned that the parents of an acquaintance of mine were about to go through a divorce. When I popped into her shop to say hi to her a few days back, this normally bubbly, jovial lady was on the verge of tears. She told me her story and I felt my throat and chest knot up. What a shock it must be for her, and her family. But what could I do to comfort her?

Then I thought of other friends who have their own struggles. Unemployment. Illness. Discrimination. Troubled children. All wishing to find themselves in a better place.

According to Irish folklore, Fiddler’s Green is the equivalent of heaven for sailors. There’s a traditional song of the same name that describes it – I used to listen to it when I was a child, when my father played it on a CD. :)

So my wish for you, my friends, is that you will all find your Fiddler’s Green while you still walk this wondrous place we call home. I am just a soapmaker…but I want to do all I can to help us all make our little space on earth a little brighter, a little cosier, a little friendlier,

even if it’s through something as mundane as a bar of soap.

Virtual hugs from me. :)

p/s: Fiddler’s Green will be available for sale on April 17th. Hang in there, I’m still working out its product page. :p

pp/s: A special mention goes to all my friends who saw this soap as food (specifically, kuih talam) – I found someone’s blogpost from 2010 which has an almost identical design! :))

Naked Soap: Save Money, Save Our Environment

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We are gradually introducing “naked” options to our individual soap bars so you can now purchase them without any packaging material whatsoever, and you get to save RM1 per bar. Our DreamTime and Tangy Lavender bars now have this option, since these two batches are just off the curing racks as of today. :)

Why are we doing this?

We agree that product packaging is important. It serves several functions: to protect the product from the elements and spoilage, to make it look presentable and desirable, to impart information to the user. However I believe that certain developments in technology and how we go about our daily lives has changed drastically ever since mass-consumer product packaging was introduced in the industrial era, and it does influence how products can be presented in this day and age.

For instance, one day while I was driving my two older children to school, Brandon (our eldest) remarked, “I don’t like seeing all these stickers all over the lamp posts and signboards. They make me feel uncomfortable.” They advertise all kinds of things, from plumbing services to personal loans, and are plastered all over any available surface in public areas in our neighbourhood, similar to this:

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I explained that some businesses find that to be a good way to advertise their services, along with their contact details. I asked him what he thought would be a better way to go about it.

“They should put their businesses and phone numbers on Facebook.”

Now this is coming from an 8-year-old who only sees me using Facebook. He doesn’t know how to get online, let alone have his own FB account–but he has somehow understood that the internet is a pretty good place to find useful information.

By inference: the product label isn’t the only place to get information about it.

As for making a product even more desirable through pretty packaging, I have conceded that packaging design isn’t really my forté, much as I adore beautiful things. :”) Just look at the myriad of wonderful, irresistible options available from retailers such as L’Occitane, The Body Shop, and Aesop. I occasionally wander into those stores to marvel at the clever packaging designs, the immaculately presented gift baskets, and the gorgeous materials used to dress up products to make them look fabulous. There is NO way I can drum up the same kind of panache for Kinder Soaps’ own packaging. The other issue I have trouble with is the sheer amount of waste generated from product packaging, which performs its task just once, and is destined for a landfill the moment the product is unwrapped.

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So instead of agonizing over how to pretty up our packaging design, I have discovered that I’m quite happy to offer our soap completely bare for our regular customers who just need something to cleanse their skin. Soap bars are a product that you can use up completely and also leave nothing to toss into a landfill. They are relatively easy to transport, even in bulk. We will still offer properly wrapped soap for sale, of course, but they will still be packaged in a more utilitarian manner compared to most other brands.

What I feel to be the most important function of packaging, however, is to protect the product from the elements, and from spoilage. I truly wish there were an all-natural alternative to plastic shrink wrapping which does this job the best, but there isn’t any at the moment. Our beeswax cloth wraps do a fair job of keeping the soap bars from coming into contact with dust and the accidental splash of liquid, but they too have limited shelf lives. Malaysia’s warm, humid climate makes it even trickier to store our unwrapped soap in a way that prolongs its shelf life.

Must we really resort to single-use packaging as the only means of presenting, and protecting our products?

I strongly believe that this need not be the case, if we are willing to make some simple, minor adjustments to our own purchasing habits.

There is a lot of good advice out there about how to reduce our dependence on product packaging (and throwaway items in general), but I would like to draw your attention to some tips that are specifically meant for how to make the best of Naked soaps (regardless of who made them):

  1. Buy what you need, when you need it. Stocking up on perishables is usually not a good idea.
  2. Store your soap in a cool, dry and dark place, away from direct sunlight.
  3. Yes, you can keep soap in the fridge. ;) I can’t say what will happen to its scent though–whether it will make your vegetables smell or taste like essential oils, or if the soap bars will absorb the scents of your fridge’s other occupants.

Now here is what we at Kinder Soaps are committed to do to help you in producing less household waste through product packaging:

  1. Our shop and studio have much better storage conditions than the average Malaysian home (we run our air conditioners at least 3 hours a day to help keep the air cool and dry). Let us take care of the safe storage of perishable soap bars, and make sure that you are sent the freshest batches of soap each time you make a purchase.
  2. I know that some of you do bulk purchases sometimes because there have been occasions where we run out of stock of soap that you really like (and need!). :”) That’s a shortcoming on my part, I’m sorry, as I’m still personally making all our products by hand. I will do my best to schedule my soapmaking to match the rate of purchases better.
  3. We will NEVER try to coerce you into buying something you don’t need. All we will do is to offer you enough information to help you make a purchasing decision that you will be happy with.

I know this is a bit of a ramble-y post, but I needed to address this issue of throwaway packaging that has been bothering me for a long time. I hope you’ll take advantage of the naked soap options and do your bit to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts about this matter.

Have a lovely week ahead!

New: Deliveries By GoGet.my

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As busy-ness moves up a notch over here at Kinder Soaps (having a new studio with new corporate clients coming on board, masses of paperwork to handle, and the new school year starting for my kids), I found myself wishing that I had someone to handle the physical dashing about to collect and deliver items from both our suppliers and clients. Timing is everything for me, especially since I need to make myself available for the children’s school runs 3 times a day.

So after several instances of missed deadlines because I couldn’t make a long drive over to a faraway part of the Klang Valley, I tried out Goget.my–and I’m now a fan! I’m not going to agonize over wasted time spent caught in traffic, or panic over a last-minute delivery or pickup that I need to do. Every single one of my job requests was completed on time, and most of my requirements were extremely urgent, meaning I needed something done within 2-3 hours (that’s a bit on the extreme end of my time requests!).

Goget.my is a well-curated network of despatch runners, called “Go Getters”, who will look out for job postings on their website and mobile app, and complete them in a timely, efficient manner. Need someone to pick up your laundry on your behalf? Just post up a job on Goget.my, offer a tip and someone will pick up your job and help you out. Want to order a great meal from My Burger Lab and skip the queuing? Go Getters can get you sorted too! Offer a reasonable tip for your Go Getter and everyone’s a happy chap. :) (Visit their FAQ page for more info on how Goget.my works.)

We are now really happy to have Go Getters help with delivering your Kinder Soap goodies to you, and possibly even more quickly than any courier service can! It’s the perfect solution for those of you in the Klang Valley who urgently need something from us, but can’t find the time to drive over to our shop, or don’t want to hunt for parking spaces around our area.

Goget shipping option

After placing your order at our website and selecting “Goget” as your shipping option (we won’t be charging you any shipping fees in this case), here’s what you need to do:

  1. Sign in with Facebook at Goget.my.
  2. Create a job to collect your soap.
  3. Offer a nice tip for your GoGetter (general rule of thumb is a minimum of RM5 + toll fees, if any + RM1 for every kilometre between our shop in Damansara Jaya and your destination). I use Google Maps’ Directions to look up distances.
  4. Post up your job.
  5. Wait for your Gogetter to claim your job! Their contact details will be made available for you once they do.

(Again, have a peek at their FAQ page.)

We hope you’ll find Goget’s service as helpful, time-saving and liberating as we have! :)

New: Hassle-Free Monthly Soap Subscriptions

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We’ve finally launched a service that we’ve been setting our eyes on for years!

A proper soap subscription service where you can sign up for the plan of your choice (2, 3 or 4 bars a month), set up your automatic billing just once (only Paypal can handle this for now, not local banks, sorry), and thereafter receive a steady supply of soap to take care of your skin cleansing needs without having to place new orders, or make a trip to our shop.

How’s that for convenience? Plus you get to enjoy some savings too, as a little thank-you for allowing us to serve your skin’s basic needs for the long run, as well as keeping your throwaway packaging to a minimum. Have a look at the various subscriptions for more details of how they work, and some Frequently Asked Questions.

Shampoo Bottles That Can Sprout Trees?

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This is really exciting news! A Taiwanese company called O’right uses biodegradable bottles made from a plastic-like starch processed from fruit, plant and vegetable waste, and makes hair care products out of used coffee grounds. Seeds embedded in the plug at the bottom of the bottles can sprout into trees two or three months after the empty bottles are buried in the ground. It’s a fantastic green initiative that seems to permeate the entire company’s operations.

As I have said before, one of the primary reasons why I don’t make liquid products is because of the whole issue surrounding throwaway plastic bottles that will eventually clog up landfills and end up on our waterways. If truly biodegradable alternatives to plastic packaging are readily available in the near future, I’d certainly be more open to the idea of trying to make liquid soap. :)

Raising Prices on February 15th 2015

Hey everyone,

We held out for as long as we could–but now we really must move with the rising costs of pretty much everything (ingredients, transport, wages) that have already come to pass in the last 6 months. The events that have a major bearing on our finances are firstly the USD-MYR exchange rate, and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Malaysian government starting April 1st 2015.

We import most of our ingredients, which are produced in the US, Europe and Australia, so we aren’t new to the effects of exchange rate movements. However the latest trend in the USD-MYR exchange rate, which is expected to hit RM3.78 to a dollar for most of this year, has pretty much broken out of our comfort zone in terms of the amount of extra costs we can absorb without hurting our bottom line.

As for the GST, we will be bearing the costs of GST just as an end consumer would. I personally feel that our company is not ready, or big enough, to charge for GST and claim tax credits at the moment. This may change in time, of course.

So from February 15th onwards, the prices of most of our items will increase by about 10%. Most notably, our soap bars will retail for RM22 per bar instead of RM20 (but there will be a way for you to still enjoy our old soap prices–more on that soon!).

We’re really sorry that we have to do this, but it is necessary–because we want to maintain the high level of quality that you have come to expect of our products and service. Thank you for sticking with us all these years, and we hope that we’ll be well equipped to continue delighting you in the future.

As always, you can get in touch with us at ask@kindersoaps.com if you have any questions or constructive feedback.

Take care and have a terrific week ahead!

Of Missing Equipment and Christmas

Day 74 of studio renovation – I’m making soap again! However it took me a bit of a while to really get back into the saddle with production, because I discovered that some of my tools were missing. My laser thermometer gun, some paint buckets, screwdrivers, a really nice hand truck and my favourite blender motor were all gone.

At first I put it down to me just being absent-minded and not being able to locate them in all the chaos–but now that I have unpacked everything and put all the furniture in place, it’s clear that they were purposefully taken. It’s hard to imagine how a thermometer gun could have singularly fallen out of a drawer that was carefully stowed away, nor a hand truck removed by accident.

I actually sat at my desk and shed tears. I really, really liked that stick blender (it was easier to make smooth soap without air bubbles), and I thought I worked hard for it.

It wasn’t the actual loss of items that was bothering me, but more of the sense of having your trust betrayed. It never occurred to me that someone would actually rifle through my things. Throughout the renovation period, I would pop by upstairs, say hello to the workers and ask if everything was ok, and if they needed anything extra that I could help with. I wanted them to know that I was grateful for their efforts.

Logically, I should ask for  compensation from our contractor for the lost items. When I told him about it, he promptly offered to pay for the replacements, I just needed to send him the bills.

But this doesn’t strike me as the right thing to do.

Let’s be honest–a big part of the reason how I can afford to undertake this massive renovation is because it was affordable. Kinder Soaps doesn’t make a huge amount of money. It’s enough for us to get by, and to grow gradually. So for us to be able to afford this project is a huge blessing.

Unfortunately, it also brings to light that most of the workers, especially the ones who were foreigners, are probably underpaid. Which could be why they even considered pilfering in the first place (I’m convinced that NOBODY would automatically want to do bad things to anyone, given the right circumstances).

I had the option of leaving the studio space when the smell of turpentine was overwhelming. They did not. I covered my nose and eyes while they sawed, drilled and hammered at walls, breathing in fine dust. I stayed for a few minutes–they stayed for days.

All I had to do was cough up enough cash, and through their physical efforts and expertise, they gave me this:

curing area(This is the curing area)

hallway in Kinder Soaps studio(the hallway, looking out from the back of the studio)

Mixing Room at Kinder Soaps studio(the mixing room)

It’s a really wonderful space to work in. I couldn’t be happier with it. And it’s because of their sheer hard work that I have the privilege to call this workshop our home.

So I have decided not to take up my contractor’s offer to reimburse me for the lost items. I can afford to pay for it on my own, even if it’s at a later date.

Instead, I have gone ahead to prepare a box of soap to be distributed to all of his workers (and for himself) as a Christmas gift. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation for all of their hard work and diligence. I wonder if any of them have ever received Christmas gifts before.

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Boxed soap for contractor

I hope that whoever has my equipment will put them to good use, and maybe in some way, help them along in getting to a better place in life.

Now this – this makes sense as my personal response to this situation, and I feel happier for it. :)

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Merry Christmas everyone, and have a fantastic new year!

Studio Renovation Day 13

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studio sans partitions

Goodness, do I really have ALL that space?

 

We’re almost 2 weeks into the studio renovation now. The carpeting and vinyl tiles were stripped within a day, then my contractor and I spent an afternoon marking the intended positions of all the room partitions using a pretty nifty little tool that looks quite similar to this:

Taut line ink marker

It works by pulling a string that’s wound in a spool, through the round chamber that is filled with ink, holding it taught on the ground over the straight line that you want to mark, and then snapping the taut line against the floor, thereby leaving a nice straight line in ink on the surface. To prep it for the next use, the string is simply wound back onto the spool using a little crank on the side of the box. This was completely new to me, so I was quite happy to keep playing with it by helping to mark the rooms!

A few days later the carpenter came and took all the necessary measurements for the partitions and doors, and very confidently told me he would be back in 2 days (i.e. that very Saturday) to begin installing the partitions. And he really did begin work on time:

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By Sunday morning most of the frames for the rooms were installed. Notice that quite a lot of my stuff is still in the studio–I feel a bit bad for making the workers have to manoeuvre around them and also shift the really heavy stuff all over the floor as they complete different jobs in stages, but I didn’t really have any other reasonable alternative for storage.

I also discovered some (hopefully) unintentional ‘line art':

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I made sure that the contractor was alerted to this, and that all wiring must be done in lines that are either parallel or perpendicular to the floor. Still – seeing this crazy thing made me laugh. :p

Now the rooms look more or less like this:

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That’s the washing up room on the left, the weighing and dispensing room to the right, and the mixing and moulding room closest to you on the right. Plastering is being done to smooth out the surfaces of the gypsum boards, and sockets are being added to the walls.

And what did we do about the packaging room, to which I wanted to allow as easy an access as possible? Instead of sliding partitions / doors which would have cost a bomb, my contractor suggested installing double doors instead:

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They can swing open flat against the partitions, which affords a nice open feel to a room that would have otherwise been really cramped (half the space will be occupied by our shrink wrapping machine). Same function for one fifth of the original price. Sweet!

I’ve bought 18 pendant light fixtures for the electrician to install. Looking forward to my next visit this coming week. :)

 

 

Studio Renovation Day 1!

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Friday, October 10th 2014–we’ve officially begun renovation of our production studio! Our contractors are terrific, they came in over the past few days to go over the final details, shift whatever barang (belongings) that I wanted moved to the shop downstairs (including our 85kg shrink wrapping machine and curing racks), and tidied away all the mess I left behind to be tossed out of the studio. It feels GREAT to clear out all the junk from the cupboards and shelves!

We opened up the emergency stairwell, found a good locksmith who replaced all the broken locks and swapped out padlocks.

On Saturday the wrecking crew came in to start removing the carpet tiles, vinyl flooring and the existing partitions. Can’t wait to see what the space looks like on Monday!

Updates: October 2014

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Goodness, things have been whizzing past me and I haven’t really had time to keep you all informed about what’s happening on our end! Sorry about that. I trust that you all have been keeping well, yes? :)

So here’s what’s been happening recently:

Studio renovations to begin on Tuesday, October 7th.

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I met with our contractor earlier this morning (yes, despite it being a public holiday–I guess we’re both as excited about getting this project off the ground!). We’ve talked about deadlines, aiming to reopen the studio in mid November–so he’s promised to do all he can to help me achieve that target. The total renovation cost is looking to be at around RM45,000, not including some extra fittings like a good water filter and (maybe) a new air conditioning unit (which I’m trying my best to avoid purchasing).

In the meantime I’ve been trying my best to churn out enough stock to last us till November, and hopefully into the Christmas season as well. The prospect of shutting down production for 6 straight weeks is terrifying (I’ve never been without my soaping equipment and essential oils for so long!), but it needs to be done. The upside from this is that I will be forced to concentrate on doing up my filing system and paperwork in readiness for the studio’s reopening, and hopefully also dedicate more time to my poor children who have been going for days without me at home for 80% of their waking hours. My guilt is gnawing away at me. :”)

Christmas Warmth soap on the curing rack!

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These turned out to be phenomenally difficult to cut–partly because I left them in their molds for more than 24 hours, and partly because I used a soap recipe that was geared towards hardness and a longer-lasting bar. It took me 20 minutes to get the first slab through the log slicer. 20 minutes of huffing, heaving and pushing with all my might–for a single slab. Lessons learned: either cut the soap earlier if using a hard soap formulation, or opt for a softer formulation. Bumping up the water content should also keep the soap mixture from tracing too quickly, but I would only opt for this if I am certain of having at least 6 weeks of curing time available for the soap.

The end result was worth all the effort though! :) I’m very happy with how they’ve turned out, and the scent is lovely. They have different designs, but all the soap bars have the same, welcoming, warm and spicy scents of clove, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, sweet orange and just a touch of peppermint. I’ve made 3 batches this year–I hope that will be sufficient.

 Plans for the next 6 weeks

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I would really, really like to be taking a bit of a breather… So I will, for a few days, so I can recharge ahead of the busy holiday season ahead. The kids are going to LOVE that mummy will be home for more hours in a day for a change! :) Gotta schedule some time to also catch up on a bit of sketching, mending of the kids’ clothes, tending to the garden, thinking about the coming year.

Apart from that there’s all the background, unglamorous administrative work that needs sorting out. I have a couple of new corporate clients to get properly acquainted with, and there’s also the question of hiring a part-time production staff. Finding a suitable candidate will be an interesting pursuit. I haven’t heard anything on my FB feed about people being interested in doing crafty kinds of work for a living (unless it’s to run their own business), so I’m preparing myself to reach out beyond my natural connections to find that special someone (or could you be the person I’m looking for? Write to me!)

How am I feeling?

A little overwhelmed, to be frank. :”) But it’s okay. Nothing that a good night’s rest can’t fix. I’ve found that one of my most effective coping mechanisms when it comes to managing stress is to engage in physically demanding activities like this. What’s yours?