Hi Silvana, how would you describe Farm Soap Co.?
Farm Soap Co. manufactures small batch, botanical skincare products in a workshop on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. We use organically grown plants and hand foraged seaweeds to create soaps and toiletries that help to support the skin’s natural microbiome.
Our methods are quite ancient and traditional – such as cold process soap making, botanical oil macerations, fresh flower distillations and seasonal hydrosols. We harness the power of plants to heal, calm and cleanse the skin.
What inspired the idea of setting up Farm Soap Co.?
I believe in local food, growing produce and living a simple life that is free of chemicals and toxins. This has inspired and informed me all my life and that’s what I wanted to do when I created my business. Simple, handmade skincare products with plant powered ingredients.
It took me many years of research, courses and product development to create our range – but in this field you never stop learning. There is always more to read and discover, and that is what keeps you fascinated and young.
Could you tell us about your work before Farm Soap Co.?
I worked for many decades in retail, in food, styling and also as a writer. The sum total of all my work led me to Farm Soap Co. – there is a revolution in natural skincare really, fuelled by the same consumers that want to eat and drink local, well produced food and drink that comes with artisan skill and tradition. Making a product with integrity and skill is really fulfilling – that’s what keeps you hooked. I have always worked in the luxury, high–end side of the market – looking at what discerning customers need and want.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Nature – ancient apothecary herbs and essential oil distillates, such as lavender, thyme, rosemary and citrus fruits. The herb garden is always the starting point for any new formulations. In ancient times herbal remedies were always the starting point for healing, cleansing and disease prevention. There is no better form of disease prevention than soap – we certainly found that out during the Covid pandemic.
I also find creative inspiration from the many natural skincare brands that are now emerging – there is a great deal of talent and skill out there.
Could you tell us about your making process?
Our products are really simple, made in small batches so that we don’t keep stores of ingredients and stocks on the shelf for years and years. That’s why the making process is fresh and vibrant. We grow and harvest herbs such as calendula, borage, rosemary, thyme, mint and lavender (to name a few) and then use the oils, hydrosols and dried plant parts to create soaps, bath salts, lotions, washes, balms and deodorants.
We make many of the products to order – but the soaps take four–six weeks to cure or longer, so in that case we do keep racks of soaps that are in the drying process.
Our guide is always Good Manufacturing Practice – the best raw ingredients, treated very simply, products prepared in a very clean, light, bright workshop. Our packaging is very sustainable too – we want to make sure that our footprint is as light as possible.
How did you first discover your love for what you do?
I’ve always been interested in natural living and have seen how the natural skincare market has grown and developed over the decades. So many consumers have turned their backs on products that contain sulphates, benzyls, parabens, synthetic fragrances, surfactants and palm oil. In cooking, in looking after my home, in shopping, and in my work I have discovered how much better natural, genuine and handmade products are for your health and wellbeing.
Could you describe a typical working day?
I start very early because a lot of Farm Soap Co. dispatches go out early in the morning when the courier arrives – we sell online through our website and also wholesale to shops, hotels and B&Bs all over Britain.
After a herbal tea and fruit breakfast, I look at the order sheets for the week and I make a list of what needs making, packing, labelling and dispatching every day. No two days are the same – one day I could be making a bergamot soap batch, a batch of sea salt bath soaks, a vat of rosemary hand wash, and putting out the lavender all over skin balm tins in our shop, FARM.
At the end of the shift there is always a lot of cleaning and clearing, as well as watering and looking after the plants. In the evenings there are always emails to send out, admin to send to Julie, our Mary Poppins admin manager, as well as printing out new orders, and buying ingredients for the following week.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
Working with plants – the seasonality of horticulture is wonderful. I love the sowing, growing, harvesting, drying and storing of the plant material.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
Our business is powered by Instagram; even though the algorithm is really tricky and I know that many small, independent businesses feel invisible on it! I am not really one for endless reels and selfies. Our tribe is online – it’s global, and we have a good chat sometimes, especially by direct message. It’s a very supportive and kind community, we get lots of referrals and recommendations, so we are very grateful.
What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?
Well, Farm Soap Co. was launched right at the start of the Covid pandemic, in March 2020. Since then, we’ve seen a dreadful war, a fuel crisis, a supply chain crisis, a cost of living crisis – you name a crisis! Then the Queen died, which stopped the world in its tracks. It’s just sad news after bad news, on repeat. In business you have to be extremely resilient, hard working, focused, and don’t give up.
You touched on it there but as an independent biz – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I love working as an independent – I have worked for other people in the past but their standards are never high enough, or there’s too much office politics, egos and drama. The joys of working for yourself include setting your own standards and benchmarks. The challenges are that there’s no salary at the end of the month unless you make it happen and you are subject to world.
What have been your business highlights so far?
When you open your emails and there is a wonderful shop or hotel buyer that tells you they have seen your work on social media and would like to stock it. We are fortunate to have Farm Soap Co. products stocked in lots of places, but the thrill of a new customer is always uplifting.
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your work?
The cleaning! Artisan soap making in particular is very messy. Cold process soap is made using oils – like olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, almond oil and essential oils. That’s a lot of oils, so every pan, pot, jug, silicone mould, metal spoon, thermometer, knife, chopping board etc., needs to be washed extremely well in hot water and washing up liquid, then rinsed in more hot water, dried and put back in a very clean storage space. It’s like food production – the workshop needs to be sanitised and disinfected so that there is no bacterial contamination.
Do you have any pastimes or hobbies – what does your ideal day off look like?
Our workshop is on the Jurassic Coast and on my days off I love walking on the beach, looking for seaweeds is very special. The fresh air, wind and ozone are so good for your mind and help calm you. The Bridport Saturday market is another favourite haunt, and I love visiting The Seaside Boarding House for lunch or coffees.
What does the next year hold for you?
I published a book this year, Natural Skincare for All Seasons, published by Pavilion Books/Harper Collins. I opened a seaside shop called FARM filled with beautiful products. The next year will see workshops and more products on the way.
Books I love: All books about herbs and natural skincare, and right now I am reading The Essential Aromatherapy Garden, by Julia Lawless.
Creative heroes: The team at Los Poblanos in New Mexico;they grow and distill their own lavender to make wonderful products. Also, the team at Weleda, one of the very best botanical skincare brands.
Shops I love: The Hambledon in Winchester, Bon in Tucson, Cabbages and Roses, Margaret Howell, Toast, Old Town, Labour and Wait, and Egg in Kinnerton Street, London.
Inspirational places: Italy, my home country.
Instagrammers I love: So many! @objectsofuse, @gonzalezygonzalezstore, @march.sf, @levestiairedejeanne, @bontucson, @cinq.kyoko, @cloveandcreek, @avidaportuguesa, @veritecoeur_shop, @veritecoeur_atelier, @plaingoodsshop, @tiinathestore, @tulsishop, @eggtrading, @homesong _ market – I could go on and on!