Appreciation for well-made products of reminiscent of the good ol’ days is on the rise. There is an unmistakable charm that quality, handmade goods have that mass-produced products are unable to replicate. So what happens when classic Victorian elegance meets a bold, modern-day entrepreneur? We sat down with a virtual cup of tea and some imaginary scones to find out what makes The Saponifist unique in the highly competitive artisanal skincare category.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I grew up watching my mother bake cupcakes for sale. I helped her by taking orders from my classmates. I don’t get a whole lot of allowance and naturally, as I grew older, I decided to try my hand at selling handmade crafts at school. It didn’t take long for me to understand the dynamics on how one can acquire some side income.
We love how the classic Victorian brand image is depicted on your packaging design, distinguishing you from the competition. What inspired you to do so and how did you decide on the name The Saponifist?
I love being different and I also love things that are old and forgotten because they were very well made and beautiful. There’s a certain charm in them that you don’t see in today’s products. I was into post-war styling when I discovered a dance from San Francisco. They were into a fusion of vintage styling with a dash of steampunk and tribal influences. It spoke to me and there’s a child-like nostalgia feeling about it for me. When the brand came about I knew I wanted it to be an extension of who I am — different, fun, bold and most of all a brand that makes beautiful things like in the good old days.
The Saponifist comes from the word ‘saponify’, which means ‘to turn into soap’. We started the business at selling handmade cold process soaps and I made up the word ‘Saponifist’ as I felt that it was an interesting and different way of calling myself a soapmaker.
What are the ingredients used in your products? How are they different from other handmade skin care?
We use natural botanicals in our products and we stay away from synthetics as much as we can. We source our supplies locally and internationally. All the essential oils we use are sourced from Australia.
We’re different because we aim to not only produce grooming products that are high in quality, but we also strive to educate our customers how to choose other products in the market that suit their skin. We don’t make products just for the sake of making them. We want to make products that we would use on ourselves. Furthermore, we are constantly improving ourselves by taking courses and reading up on materials that would take us to the next level.
Why do you think it is important to bring your business online?
Well, it is a smart way to do business. I myself spend a longer period on online platforms compare to other forms of communication, and the cost is low.
What do you like most about The Pocketbook app? And how has it changed the way you run your business?
I like that Pocketbook makes documenting my sales, sending receipts or invoices a whole lot easier. I really like the idea of having a real-time point of sale system so I can track my stock efficiently without having to rummage through my storage. Now I can just record my sales on my trusty phone every time I receive an order.
What do you consider the most challenging aspect about running your own business?
The most challenging aspect would be expansion. Because I have a full time job, there is only so much I can do. If I were to expand, it would mean different logistics, funds, etc. It could also compromise the integrity of my brand and I’m not sure if I want to go down that road. To me, when an artisanal brand expands, you lose your core character, which is products made by the artisan. It is still possible if you really work hard but I can’t do that because I prefer to work smart!
Can you share a specific failure you encountered while building The Saponifist and what did you learn from it?
It would be producing my products on a larger scale. I have tossed countless failed up-sized batches. For things like these, the only thing you can learn is to expect the unexpected.
What excites you most about being the owner of The Saponifist?
I like the fact that I’ve created the brand from nothing but an idea. I have no sponsors or special funds. I like the look on people’s faces when they pass my booth and the funny things people say and do. I like the interaction. The most exciting thing for me is simply people telling me that they love the things I have made and that it worked for them.
Would you recommend others to follow your path? What do you think are the 3 key characteristics a person needs to be an entrepreneur?
There are so many paths one can take. The ones I took may not necessarily work for everyone. I would say do your homework and choose your path wisely. If all fails, just listen to that gut of yours. Half the time I do just that. Hahaha.
To call oneself an entrepreneur is subjective nowadays. To me, perseverance, humility and smarts are key. And don’t forget to have fun while doing it!
If you could pick a celebrity to collaborate with, who would you pick and why?
It would definitely be Dita Von Teese. I love her relentless strive and appreciation for beauty and the finer things in life.
Lastly, being Malaysian, we have to ask: What’s your all-time favourite Malaysian food?
I think it would be Banana Leaf Rice with some killer meats and copious amounts of Papadums 😀