DIY soap making was a hobby I always said I wanted to try but never did. The high cost of soap making classes and the lack of expertise to do this at home are my main barriers to trying it out as a one time activity.
Unlike me, a group of doctors enjoyed the activity so much that they started a social enterprise called Smooth Soaperator. The full-time doctors from KL, Selangor and Penang work together on this passion project as a leisure activity.
Dr. Nadia, founder of the company, added, “We started making soap to relieve stress and we loved how amazing handcrafted soaps are compared to commercial soaps. In the end we actually had too many soaps, so we decided to sell them to charity! "
People were willing to pay for it
The team initially produced the soaps faster than they could use and began handing out extras. It was well received by the public who soon asked to buy the soaps, much to the team's surprise.
The for-profit social enterprise was launched in April 2020 in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month. Due to the MCO, the usual fundraising campaigns suddenly came to a standstill. That was the trigger for the doctors to sell their products online and to use the proceeds.
Far from amateur attempts, passion comes through in her art / Photo credit: Smooth Soaperator
Although these funds were raised to promote autism programs, the charities used the proceeds from Smooth Soaperator to donate money to poor families during the first MCO.
“We don't usually dictate the terms of the charity or organizations. They are happy to accept any donation (especially non-tax deductible organizations) but ask for privacy, which we respect, ”explained Dr. Nadia.
How the group of 6 doctors find time to make soap, shared Dr. Nadia that this could be done on purpose. "Work is undoubtedly stressful and can be overwhelming at times, especially during the pandemic, but we've always found ways to do things outside of work as a coping mechanism, such as making soap."
An inside joke for a name
The name of Smooth Soaperator doesn't take much to refer to the 1984 Sade song Smooth Operator, written by Dr. Nadia confirmed that it is true.
Dr. Nadia told Vulcan Post that the brand's name started as an inside joke among doctors, making fun of those who dropped their tools (safely) during surgery by saying "gentle movement".
She added, "Since the art of making soap feels like a de-stressful operating environment (since we also had to wear gowns and gloves like in an operation), we thought of the song: Smooth Soaperator!"
Behind the scenes of the soap making process / Photo credit: Smooth Soaperator
Handcrafted soaps in Malaysia are already a saturated industry with brands like LUSH, BUIH, Sluvi and many more small players sharing the space. But the social enterprise isn't fighting to be the best, nor is it the team's goal to stand out.
However, that didn't stop them from finding a niche. The team is aware of the public's penchant for bespoke products, a trend that the handcrafted watch and jewelry brands Konnii Watch and Left & Right are also leveraging. Therefore, they also offer customization services for their handcrafted soaps and bath products.
For example, the team receives requests to make dainty bath bombs that fit into baby bathtubs so parents can enjoy bath time for their toddlers, and other suggestions from customers who are doing research and development.
A side business full of dedication
Research and development for new products is a vigorous but fun process, the team said. Since inspiration for creative work can come from anywhere, the soap makers have their own soap journal, which works like a Pinterest board.
For festive designs and soaps with crystals, the team needs to make sure that their products are both functional and charming. New formulations for soaps are made in small batches to avoid wastage as certain formulas are difficult to use.
Although it only takes 2 hours to make the soaps, it takes another month to harden before they can be used. Before the products come onto the market, the doctors first test them with the help of their network.
Imagine finishing a soap and keeping a gem of it / Image credit: Smooth Soaperator
Since the business is a passion project for doctors, they still have to achieve economies of scale. Proportional cost savings are achieved here through higher production. As a result, each batch of soap made by the team only makes about 13 bars of soap.
“Zero waste (in terms of material) also means less volume and high unit costs. So our price is between RM13-RM25, depending on the size and the ingredients used in the soap. We calculate the charity contribution directly in advance, which is RM2-RM5 per soap, ”said Dr. Nadia.
"It's a tough balance that we had to find in terms of price because we have to have a good amount for charity and at the same time have to be affordable enough for people to use."
For me it is actually quite reasonable to pay a bar of soap at this price, all the more so when I know that part of the profit will go to a good cause. It's likely an opinion shared by Smooth Soaperator's customers, who are mostly people with sensitive skin, reported Dr. Nadia.
- Find out more about Smooth Soaperator here.
- You can find more information on other Malaysian startups here.
Photo credit: Dr. Nadia, founder of Smooth Soaperator