Draft: Meet The Maker | Stacey @ Bean&Boy Soaps

Continuing my Meet The Maker series, I am sharing with you the super talented and knowledgeable Stacey of Bean&Boy soaps. Stacey is my go-to whenever I have any ingredient questions and what she doesn't know, doesn't matter! Read on to learn more about how soaps are made, how it works behind the scenes and Stacey reveals what new soaps she's working on too.
 
I actually met Stacey at a local fair before I had launched The Kind Store. I was in the product testing phase and her soaps were THE BEST! Stacey doesn't know this but she is an inspirational business women of mine - juggling her soap making business and a family all whilst keeping conscious and ethical decisions at the heart of her business. She showed me it could be done. I love brainstorming with Stacey too - so many ideas, just never enough time to put them into practice!
So, shall we dive in...
 
Skincare quick fire questions
 
Favourite essential oil and why My favourite essential oil is Rosemary. Historically, it’s been used since ancient times – notably by the Greeks and Romans who used it medically to help internal organs and as a purifying antiseptic (still revered for this use today!). It’s also well known as brilliant cephalic oil for helping concentration, mental ability, improving memory and aiding meditation. Even when you’ve got the busiest day in the most chaotic environment, rosemary is there to help lend you a bit of herbal magic to see you through. I also love using rosemary when I’m cooking just about anything, and it helps that it’s incredibly easy to grow and quite resilient to the English weather.
 
Favourite skincare ingredient and why Shea butter. It’s the most incredibly versatile skincare ingredient that can (and should!) be used raw and unrefined. We use it in all of our soaps, but I always keep a tub of it handy to use as a balm on dry skin (especially elbows), and I still use it for my youngest’s nappy rash and cradle cap. You can moisturize with it, rub it into your hands if you’ve spent all day working, or drop a small amount straight into a hot bath for silk-like skin.
 
Your one BEAN&BOY product you couldn’t live without Turmeric & Orange soap. I always have a bar of this soap in the shower, and I take one with me whenever I travel. I have incredibly sensitive skin and get milia on my face, and the turmeric and orange soap is gentle enough to exfoliate around my eyes (where they are most common) to help prevent and remove them. I also use it to wash my hair, which is brilliant because it makes my bath time routine very easy indeed!
 
Another product I absolutely love is a drawing salve I made while studying herbalism. I use it on absolutely everything – cuts, burns, bruises, bumps, bites, stings, spots, fever blisters. You name it, if someone in my family has it, they get a lump of black gunk applied. It’s not the prettiest balm with the addition of charcoal, but it is flipping fantastic stuff. The Nerdy Farmwife blog shared a copy of the recipe with permission: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/drawing-salve/ (it works just as well with a beeswax replacement too – I used carnauba wax). I infused my olive oil with plantain as it grows just about everywhere in the UK and is incredibly easy to get hold of (definitely in your garden!).
 
Bust a skincare myth: You need a different soap / cream / wash for your face / body / hands for day / night. There’s no real difference between hand soap, face soap, body soap, solid body wash, and all the other marketing names that producers give their products. Soap is soap. When you make it naturally and gently, it can be used all over – and it has been for thousands of years! You don’t need to buy ten different products unless you want to. Be mindful of the added botanicals and oils when choosing soap – you might not want to use a poppyseed bar directly on your face, for example, but you can definitely lather up in your hand and wash your face with the lather.
 
The same goes for creams. When you’re making creams or lotions, they are all based on exactly the same method. Sometimes vitamin e is added to make it an “eye cream”, or rosehip oil is added for face cream – but in the end, there is no major difference. Choose one that contains ingredients you know work for your skin.
 
What about commercial skincare products? Most commercially-produced soap contain tetrasodium EDTA which is synthesised from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide (!). In fact, most skincare products contain this ingredient because it is a cheap preservative and commercially-made products need a longer shelf-life to make them financially viable. Always check the labels on your skincare product before you apply it, you never know what nasties and fillers are lurking.
 
Everyday routine I am absolutely terrible at this kind of thing! The one thing I do religiously every evening and every morning is wash my face with orange and turmeric soap and water. I use the bar directly on my skin, and focus on the areas above my cheekbones and under my eyes. It has made such a big difference to my sensitive skin! When I feel like I need a bit of “me time” (I lock myself in the bathroom for two minutes of quiet while the children terrorise their dad), I use apple cider vinegar on a reusable face wipe to tone up, and finish off with spearmint and rosemary soap for balanced moisturizing.
 
 
What are your travel essentials Because I use soap for pretty much everything (washing hair, face, clothes, etc.), I always take a bar of soap with me and also a jar of grated soap. The jar is a great way to use up odds and ends of soap, and keeping it grated means you can use a pinch of soap when you don’t have time to let your soap dry out between uses. It’s also great for washing clothes instead of washing powder, or adding to a bottle of water for cleaning surfaces or dishes. Grated soap is perfect for camping!
 
I also always take with reusable face scrubbies which double up as face cloths for the kids in the bath or shower, and as baby wipes for sticky fingers. Just wash them in the bath/sink with soap between uses.
 
Top Travel Tip! Never move the toiletries provided in the bathroom, or request that they are removed by the staff. If they’re in a different location or rearranged, the staff are required to replace them – and the ones they take away go in the bin as there’s no way to see if they’ve been opened or not.
 
Can you share with us your favourite Low Waste Hacks:
 
Grocery shopping You can take your own containers for weighing things at the grocery store – even deli counter goods! Most shops are quite open to using a supplied container, and you can cut out a huge amount of packaging waste.
 
Reducing waste parenting Having two children under five is messy business. I always carry a refillable bottle of water for each of them, so having reusable wipes in a sealed container or bag means that we can do away with baby wipes to clean up the inevitable spills, sticky fingers and messy mouths. I like to use make-up removing fabric squares for the kids because a stack of them is easy to transport, and you can use one at a time and still have lots of clean corners!
 
Now for the juicy stuff, Business related questions
 
Can you give us an insight into why you created Bean & Boy and what was your very first product? My daughter (we nicknamed her Bean when she was born) has always had eczema and sensitive skin. It was fairly mild, so easy to control. I started making a very gentle soap for our family and it was a great way to banish her skin reactions to preservatives and chemicals. We used sensitive skin products for everything else, and it was great. When her little brother was born (the boy), he reacted to absolutely every store-bought sensitive skin product and I had no idea what to do. People would stop me in the street and tell me that my boy had lovely red cheeks and I’d cry because it wasn’t because he was a beautiful little boy – it was eczema. I spoke with doctors, midwives and the health visitor. By two weeks old, he was prescribed a steroid treatment.
 
Through all of this, I learnt how to read product labels, I identified trigger ingredients (mostly preservatives, parabens and SLS), and got rid of everything in the house that could make his skin flare up. I replaced common household cleaners, shampoos and liquid soaps with incredibly gentle and moisturizing bar soap that I’d made myself. It took a few days, but it cleared up. For the first time, I had it under control. At the time it wasn’t so much about using soap or being eco-friendly, I was driven by a need to stop the rashes, bleeding and itchy red blotches. I would have done anything.
 
It occurred to me that it was three or four very long weeks for me, but others have been suffering their whole lives. I suggested to some friends that they try my method and it worked for them too. Soon, I was getting messages from other adults who had irritating eczema rashes on their hands from work, or flare ups around their elbows. They switched to our all-natural soap and noticed an immediate difference. That’s when I started looking into the ins and outs of selling our soap, I got everything tested and certified and attended our first farmers’ market with our very first soap – Avocado & Shea Butter – and a few variations with added essential oils. At the core they’re all the same sensitive soap I made (and still make) for my kids. I never did fill that steroid prescription.
 
How have you found starting a business and what have been your biggest struggles? Every day brings a new challenge for us! Sometimes they’re fun challenges and sometimes they’re just outright struggles. Perhaps the biggest struggle has been our absolute insistence on doings slowly, traditionally and with all-natural ingredients. While that sounds like a brilliantly good thing, it does mean that a lot of our stockists aren’t able or willing to wait for specific soaps when they need them now, and that we aren’t able to make soaps in some of the most popular scents like coffee or vanilla (these are only available as artificially synthesized fragrances or alcohol-based absolutes). We also use ingredients that are dictated by nature, so if there’s a shortage of lavender (this happened last year!) it means that we might not be able to make that specific soap for a while.
 
Running a business that puts sustainability at it’s heart is harder than most. Why is this important to you? Product manufacture and commercial enterprises are responsible for so much of the world’s waste. It’s important to be aware of the supply chain at every step and make sure that you’re making the right decisions to minimize impact on the environment. There’s absolutely no reason why you should use bubble wrap to transport something when paper will do. A certified farm supplier has gone out of their way to verify the source of their farm-grown product, while a cheaper import doesn’t even have a batch number. Make an informed decision. There are alternatives for everything. Being “eco” or “green” isn’t just about what you show people, it’s about a core moral commitment that you make big or small, and that you stick to whether people are watching or not. Being a sustainable business is built on these foundations. (Note from Tash: Now that's a quote!!)
 
What considerations/steps do you take - i.e. packaging/sourcing materials/certification etc? It took us a really long time to find suppliers who share our ethos. We insist on certification for every ingredient we use (at the moment, we have more than fifty!), and the suppliers themselves take annual assessments on their premises to ensure that they meet eco credentials. They are also on various boards for the proper sourcing of organic ingredients, and readily answer any questions we have.
 
We chose to package our soaps in paper, and we found a paper manufacture plant with green credentials who ship only in cardboard or paper boxes secured with paper tape. I was lucky that I’d worked with them before in a previous job, so it was easy to renew contact and discuss options. From there we were able to source supplies from other eco-minded businesses within their referral network. We are also members of ORB (the organization for responsible businesses) which is an assessed membership, so “shopping” for our supplies through the ORB network has been incredibly useful. I was lucky enough to find a local packaging company who are incredibly accommodating of our green standards and who also let me collect unwrapped packaging from them when I’m in the area.
 
Any struggles?
Like you wouldn’t believe! So many so-called green companies are only green on their retail arm; dealing with them in a wholesale or trade capacity reveals a whole new dimension. We’ve gone through hundreds of suppliers to find the ones that work with us and are completely transparent.
 
Also, many suppliers aren’t willing to make special compensation for recycled or unwrapped packaging when posting. I’ve found that dealing with smaller businesses has mad a big impact to our supply chain as they’re more willing to align their values.
 
What improvements (if any) are you working on? So many people are concerned about the impact of palm oil, and while we only source our RSPO palm oil from verified sustainable plantations that are regularly assessed (and are regulated and governed by these concerns), we decided that it was time to release a small range of olive oil and shea butter soaps to join our current range. We are working on these now and they’ll be ready later this year.
 
Although customers are fully on board with reducing packaging and non-recyclable waste, it’s much harder up the supply chain. Can you briefly share how this works at Bean & Boy from supplier packaging to sourcing ingredients and your own packaging. I inadvertently covered this in one of your earlier questions. It’s something I completely get behind – until businesses demand change from their suppliers, nothing will change. This is the main reason why I’ve stopped working with some businesses. Sadly, they were unable/unwilling to change things and it’s not something you can sweep under the carpet.
 
I spoke with our biggest supplier about their use of “packing beans”. They were able to replace them immediately with compostable beans. We don’t re-use these, but we do bag them up and pass them on to other traders who use them for posting. Opening up dialogue with other small businesses is essential – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what people are happy to do when you ask them.
 
I also regularly get boxes donated from other traders who don’t re-use them… but we do! There’s such a stigma attached to reusing packaging, but if they’re solid and sound then there shouldn’t be an issue at all.
 
I’m really interested in what your day looks like. When did you take the leap to working at Bean & Boy full time and how do you structure your day? When we first started making soap for friends and family, I worked from my kitchen and I fit soapmaking in when my daughter napped. Then it grew, we moved, and I shifted all of the soapmaking stuff into our empty garage. Soon, soaps took over the house. There was packaging on the dining room table, soaps curing in the conservatory and wrapped soaps in every free corner. Eventually a friend of mine told me about a workshop space that was available on a nearby farm, and I jumped at the opportunity. I quit my day job and made soap full time.
 
A few months ago, it was just me running everything. I would drop the kids off at nursery and dash off to the workshop to make soap. Then I’d get back, pick the kids up and work from home for the rest of the day and deal with admin, packaging, orders etc. I worked seven days a week, around 10 hours a day. I quickly burnt out.
 
Then, my amazing mother-in-law joined us. It became a proper family business! I trained her in how to make soap, we worked together to wrap everything and sort out orders, and we carried on growing and growing. Now she makes all of our soap, and I manage all the back-end and administrative things and still get time to spend with the kids after school. We also have two incredible ladies who help us a few days a week to wrap soap.
 
A typical day for us, together, is to start the day by wrapping all of the orders that came in over night. We’ll post these later. We also decide which soaps need to be made next, and look at any special request that have come in. Often we have to adjust our schedule to accommodate requests for things like wedding favour soaps, or large orders. Then Audrey goes to the workshop to make soap. It takes around four or five hours each time. I absolutely couldn’t do what I do without her.
 
I spend the rest of the morning replying to emails, answering comments and questions across all of our social networks, and dealing with customer queries on Etsy. I also update the inventory, manage the PIF files (it’s a log that you have to keep running for every single soap or cosmetic product you make), sort out Etsy stock, order ingredients and do any other necessary paperwork to keep us on top of things. It always seems to take longer than I expect!
 
I also work on our new products. At the moment I’m working on developing a dog soap for our furry friends, and a range of olive oil and shea butter soaps. It’s quite exciting, and requires a lot of research, testing and is such a lot of fun. I probably should say that it’s ridiculously hard work and very demanding (which it is), but I really do love this bit of my job.
 
I’m studying herbalism and aromatherapy at the moment, so I try to sneak in an hour or so every day before I fetch the kids from school. I like to justify this by saying that it makes me a better soapmaker because I’m able to perfect our botanical and herbal blends for our soaps, and while this is true, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for forever, and this new way of working gives me the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.
 
This is all going to change again very soon as we’re hoping to get retail premises this year, but that’s the beauty of working in a small business with people you love: everything is fluid and adaptable, and we all work together to make exciting things happen.
 
Alongside caring for the planet, all of your ingredients are natural and vegan. Why is this important to you? When I realized that synthesized chemicals were the trigger for my son’s eczema, I started eradicating them from our home. We do need them in some instances, but I found that they were being included everywhere and that really isn’t necessary. Going back to a simpler time of natural, handmade things – not just soap, but food, preserves, bread, cosmetics, even clothes – had an incredible appeal for me. I worked methodically to use plant-based solutions and I noticed an immediate reaction and improvement. Now they are core to everything we make. We draw on the history of healers and makers everywhere who carried the knowledge of plant care and we use it in our soaps, in our homes, to make them better.
 
We’re all about celebrating success at The Kind Store. We’d love to hear some of your favourite milestones and achievements reached since you started Bean & Boy. When we first started out I thought that getting awards and recognition was the most important thing to do, so I applied all over and won numerous awards. It was such an incredible honour – but it finally occurred to me that these award systems only work when you enter (and pay for) them, so I stopped doing that. But the awards still came in, and we have been voted the second best handmade soap in the UK (losing to a non-natural and non-vegan brand), as well as the best micro business. Winning something we didn’t even apply for was incredibly humbling.
 
We were named one of the UK’s top 100 small businesses last year, which was amazing! It has been a bit of a whirlwind since then. This year we were included in a global research initiative about our approach to sustainability in business; this was published in The Universal Sea Guidebook last month.
 
And finally, what does the word ‘Kind’ mean to you? To be kind is to treat people, animals and plants around you the way you’d want to be treated. Be mindful and respectful of others. Work together, always. To be kind at our core is to make a better, happier place. Your place might be a small place – your office, your home, your neighbourhood, your town. But soon that rolls out, and the light you share with others will spread. Soon it will be your city, your country, your planet. At worst, at best, be kind. Always.
 
Note from Tash: Wow. Reading Stacey's interview gives me hope that there are lots more people like her in the world who just want to do good. Not for praise or recognition, but because it's the right thing.
 
Let me know if you're enjoying our interview series!
 
Tash x
 

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