Laguna lass turns soap making into a cause

Mary Grace Padin - The Philippine Star

More than just a hobby

MANILA, Philippines - Handcrafted organic soaps have gained popularity in the Philippines in recent years, thanks to increased awareness in health and wellbeing.

From the malls to bazaars and online shops, you  see small businesses selling high quality organic soaps as  more consumers opt for  natural, safer products for daily use. 

There has also been a notable increase in the number of soap making seminars and trainings being offered by artisan soap makers and the government alike. 

For the soap makers, producing and selling soaps does not merely involve earning money from it. It entails longer hours of work, experimenting with formulas, and coming up with safe, good quality and effective products.

Soap makers value not only the manufacturing process but the ingredients that make artisanal soaps different from the commercial ones as well. Although this segment is still relatively small, it has already touched the lives of farmers who supply the raw materials used in the production of soap.

One of these budding entrepreneurs is  the 21-year old AJ Llanes from Laguna, who has been making environmentally-friendly  soaps for three years, borne out of her passion for her craft and her desire to help underprivileged people.

 AJ is the person behind the online stores, Natureals Bath and Body and Coco Naturals, which favour products made with locally and ethically sourced ingredients.

Llanes discovered her passion for soap making through a group project in one of her Business Management courses at STI College.

“It started when I was 19 years old, in third year college. We had a school project where we had to feature a product. I chose soap for our group because back then, I had issues with my skin,” she said.

Selling soaps and learning how to make them seemed to have struck Llanes’ fascination. Even with the project done, she continued making soaps, selling them to her classmates.

But it was during Llanes’s fourth year in college that she really started making soaps on her own and decided to take the craft more seriously. She enlisted the help of two experienced soap makers  to develop her skills.

One of her mentors is a young artisanal soap maker, while the other one got her credentials at Formula Botanica, an accredited online organic cosmetic science school based in the United Kingdom.

Just a few months before her graduation, Llanes put up her online shop Natureals on instagram amid the strong support provided by her mentors and college friends.  This was followed by Coco Naturals, a smaller line.

Natureals has a wide range of organic products such as  lotions, soaps, body scrubs and lip balms while  Coco Naturals focuses more on coconut oil based soaps.

Both product lines offer 16 variants which include coffee, charcoal, goat’s milk, tea tree, among others.

“What I use mostly are plant-based materials. Usually, coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil. For botanicals, I use materials commonly seen, such as guava, madre de cacao, coffee and honey,” she said.

The young artisan shared that most of her raw materials are sourced from local and backyard farmers.

“As much as possible, I source raw materials from local farmers. For Coco Naturals, the coconut oil comes from farmers in Real, Quezon,” Llanes said.

She is also a member of Artisan Soap Makers Philippines, a small group of individuals who share the same passion as hers.

“Sourcing ingredients from local farmers is part of our advocacy. We meet up with coffee farmers in Batangas and cacao farmers. We have a source of goat’s milk from Alaminos, Pangasinan. Just last week, we went to Tagaytay to source honey in Ilog Maria, a local bee farm,” Llanes said.

The prices of Natureals and Coconaturals products are considered affordable for Filipino students and the working class since the materials are locally sourced.

Products under Natureals cost  between P100 and  P300, while a Coconaturals soap only costs P50.

However, Llanes noted that making a small business out of artisanal soap with little investment is not very profitable. Since her promotions are purely done online, orders vary in numbers every month. For Coco Naturals, she said sales can range from 20 to 50 soaps a month.

Llanes earns an average of P2,000 a month from her Natureals line, which she donates to a cancer patient who is a mother of a fellow soap maker from Catarman, Samar.

Coconaturals, on the other hand, barely makes any profit, she said.

“At this point, I still consider it as a hobby because I don’t really earn from it,” Llanes added.

Llanes currently helps in her grandfather’s insurance brokerage business which has become her main source of income.

But Llanes is bent on growing this business with the aim of building a small factory. To achieve this, she plans to enroll first in an online course offered by Formula Botanica.

Local farmers will not be the only ones who will benefit from this endeavor, as the aspiring businesswoman said she would employ individuals with special cases, such as single mothers and persons with disabilities.

Her game plan involves joining bazaars to promote her products and eventually setting up stalls in different malls.

“This is really what I want to do. This is really my passion,” Llanes said.

Llanes’ advise to up-and-coming soap makers is to really build on their skills and attend seminars or hire mentors who can guide them through the process.


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