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Bella Ip: The soap maker with a clean eco-conscience

A community-based business demonstrates that entrepreneurship can be socially conscious and flexible around family life, writes Victoria Ip

 

The slogan "Your hand can make a difference" on So...Soap!'s bottles says it all. It is its founder Bella Ip Chi-kiu's mission to promote a sustainable future with her eco-conscious, handmade soap brand.

The bottles are recycled from polypropylene plastic bottles. Customers can return their empty bottles, which are reused. The brand's natural soap is a blend of saponified plant-based oils, natural essential oils, magnetised nano-filtered water and alkaline substance.

With a crew of six soap makers, all mothers who are living in Tai Po, trained by Ip, So...Soap! is available in places such as lifestyle shop Kapok. Flexible working hours allow staff to juggle family and work commitments.

This year has been particularly fruitful for Ip. In February and March, So...Soap! was on show at the "Social Enterprises" exhibition at agnès b. In April, the brand had a pop-up store that sold its products and held soap-making workshops at popular Tsim Sha Tsui shopping mall K11. In August, Lane Crawford started selling the brand.

Ip's ambitions at the outset were more modest. "I was taking care of my daughter and wanted to find a job that was close to home and environmentally friendly," she recalls. She couldn't find such a job, so she created her first soap brand, Bella Sapone, in 2008.

Ip taught herself how to make soap by reading extensively in books and on the internet. "What I enjoyed the most about soap making is creating something of value using my own hands," she says.

Two years later, the brand evolved from a private business into the community-based So...Soap! when it was launched in Hong Kong.

While everything seems to have gone smoothly for the brand, Ip admits that educating customers can be challenging. "Customers now understand more about the different aspects of our brand, such as the production process through the workshops we hold for them," Ip says.

"We want So...Soap! to become more mainstream, so we are competing with big manufacturers. We are looking for an investor to take the business to the next level," says Ip, who hopes that her business will blossom into a brand with 60 to 100 soap makers in the future.

Ip remains optimistic about the future of her brand and the handmade soap industry in Hong Kong. "Handmade soap is popular in Europe, Japan and Taiwan. It is only a matter of time before the craze hits Hong Kong," she says. "In developed countries in Europe, there are many housewives who set up green initiatives in their community, so I think what I'm doing is ordinary. I just do what I think I should do."

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