This week we caught up with Mahawa Kamara, founder of The Soap Connoisseur. She speaks about how she got started, being a momtrepeneur, plus more.
How did the idea for the Soap Connoisseur come about?
It came about after I had my daughter and I was on maternity leave. My daughter had dry skin and I was looking for a solution to treat her dry skin because I got tired of using the commercial stuff,so I stumbled into soap making. I was just trying to see if it works and it did.
How do you come up with the different ingredient combinations?
I took time out to really study ingredients and how the whole process of product making works. With Soap Connoisseur, what we do is link ingredients to skin type. Ultimately our focus is skin, so we look at ingredients that are suitable for different types of skin and then we create a product using those ingredients.
How do you source your ingredients?
We use manufacturers, specialist suppliers, suppliers in the UK and have started looking at suppliers in Ghana, to see if we can source other ingredients.
What is the production process like, and how are your products tested and regulated?
Every product has to through a test period, it goes through a process called R&D research and development. So you research your ingredients ,test your formulas in small batches to see if it works and if it does work, then you can send it off for testing and if it is approved then you will be able to manufacture it and sell it. We do go through the whole manufacturing process and because we are a manufacturing business, we have legal manufacturing guides that we have to follow.
In terms of the productions process, how are your products made?
It is all made my hand, which is something I had to think about when I started. It’s made by a process called batching, this is where we make batches of products at the same time. Even as we grow we hope it’s all handmade, because it is something that is possible to make large products by hand,we would just need to refine the process that we use.
What inspired you to create natural products?
I like natural products and I want the right thing for my skin. As a Christian, I found a scripture in the bible that spoke to me about how God gave me the plants and the herbs and all those things for me to use. So I think using natural products is the ability to create something out of nothing. It’s like natural science in terms of taking all these natural ingredients and then you mix them together, and for us you get a bar of soap.
What were some unexpected challenges you faced in the beginning of your business?
I would have to say financial management, and understanding cash flow. I’m still learning about that in terms of your businesses and your personal finances, where you have to separate the two. Especially when you are first starting out, and just getting the structure right. Another one would be the structure, in terms of building a structure and moving it from a hobby to a business. Also the business development process was something I didn’t understand in the beginning. It was something that I had to learn and understand in terms of knowing how to grow my business.
What have been some of the challenges creating a skincare business?
The first thing was that I don’t have a background in skincare. So when I first started, I was going off of my own knowledge. It was a challenge knowing what I wanted to offer and who I was offering it to, because there is so much in the organic skincare market. Also because people are putting this on their skin, which is a personal experience I needed to target the right audience. With the skincare industry it’s important to work out and know where you fit in and understanding your niche, in terms of what you do and knowing what you offer is really important.
How has the business grown and evolved since you started?
It has grown in the fact that sometimes it can be overwhelming. We have tried different things in terms of looking at different routes to market. We went to Ghana this year and looked for markets abroad and partnerships with suppliers and other beautifying brands. So that is definitely one area we are looking to grow into,in the African market. In the UK, we are growing our online market, we are going to launch a YouTube channel, we have just re-launched our Skin Talk live Series which is an online Q&A about skin. We have done a lot of our own beauty events, which have turned out really well in terms of engaging our customers and audience in conversations about having good skin and actually trying to teach people to understand what natural products are etc. We have seen growth in our customer engagement, brand awareness and having people trust that we know what we are talking about.
What have you learnt about yourself since becoming your own boss?
I didn’t know I had faith, especially when I look back and think about where I am now, and where I was 4 years ago. When I got the idea, I just started by going to the Pound shop and buying utensils and mixing at home. I didn’t realise,that was actually the step of faith, because I took the step of not knowing how to make soap and practically taught myself and that faith is what has kept me going from the first year until now.
How have you balanced this with being a mother and other commitments?
What I did from early on when I decided to start, was that I got my daughter really involved in the business. I took her everywhere, meetings, events,and I just accepted it as a mother. I didn’t make apologies about it, I would ask peo
ple if it was okay and people would be fine with it. What happened in that space, is that it helped her in terms of skills, now she talks and she knows what to do, she knows the drill and she understands what I do, so it has found a way to work itself out. There are times that there are things I can’t do because I have to spend time with her, and sometimes I have to give up spending time with her because I have to do something. So it does have its ups and downs, but for the most part, it has worked out.
What advice or tips would you give to anybody wanting to start a skincare business?
Do your research, know your industry, know what area you want to go into as there are so many sectors of the beauty industry. Get a mentor, not necessarily in the skincare business, but just somebody who has been there and understands the struggles of starting a business. Do a business plan, make a strategy for yourself, create a marketing plan, and just ensure that you follow those steps in terms of starting a business. Then following from that you can brand yourself and create your brand.
What is key in maintaining and having good skin?
Water is key! Clean your skin every day, keeping your skin moisturized and knowing your skin type. You can check out my website for more information on daily skincare routines.
How do you want customers to feel by using your products?
I want my customers to feel confident, there is nothing better than being in your own skin. We want that when you use our products, you feel like we have helped make your skin feel better.
What are your views on skincare ranges in the UK for women of colour? What would you like to see more of in this area?
There are some good skincare products out there for women of colour. People often don’t know if they should target women of colour specifically in terms of it being a limited market. For us, what we trying to create is a luxury black beauty market. There is something there and it hasn’t come out yet and that is what I would like to see more of, luxury products for black skin. So that’s what I would l like to see develop and really just grow. I feel like that is something that our business is really trying to be at the fore front off, creating that luxury skincare brand for ethnic skin and just showing people how to properly care for skin.
What can we expect next from The Soap Connoisseur?
We have redefined our product range and are going to be coming out with some new fun products. We have just relaunched our Skin Talk live every Tuesday 7pm on Instagram and Facebook Live. We are also going to do more events. We also have some services that we want to launch in line with our products.
Keep up with Mahawa and all things from the Soap Connosiuer by visiting their website