Artisan soapmaking is a skill where science meets art. The soap-maker plays around with various patterns and textures and ingredients to come up with unique creations that are good for the body.
Handmade soapmaking has caught on in India over the last decade or so. Soap-makers have been creating these bright, bold, and wonderful-smelling products and displaying them at local fairs and neighbourhood flea markets. Today, many soap-makers also utilise the soaring popularity of social media to give visibility to their products.
Sarah Jane John is one of the first few people in Kochi to venture into the art of soapmaking. Operating from her small studio, she makes a batch of at least 50 soaps in a day under the label ‘FIG’.
It all started when Sarah noticed the back of her body wash two years ago.
“The list of ingredients just kept going on and on. It struck me how mindlessly we were using these products. I did some research and realised most of these ingredients were doing us more harm than good. For instance, a common ingredient in cleaning products is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). They remove the glycerin out of soaps and use SLS, a cheap surfactant, to produce lather. It is now proven that SLS produces cancer and is banned in many countries. But it is still used in India. Similarly, parabens, which are messing up people’s hormone levels, are found in our products. A combination of these chemicals are definitely having an effect on us. This is when I realised I needed to do something about it,” she says.
Armed with a Masters degree in Accountancy, Sarah returned to India from Australia in 2016. This is when she decided to start FIG. It took her months of research to learn soapmaking and come up with recipes and designs. She then spent a few months testing them.
The process is an interesting one. To make a basic soap one needs to use oils and alkaline. On top of this, other ingredients are added to give a different scent, feel and look to the soap. And finally, the soap is allowed to set.
According to Sarah, she uses very pure and high quality moisturising elements like coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, almond oil, avocado oil,etc. She also tries to source locally as much as possible.
“In today’s world, we need more of antioxidants and no carcinogens. My products have substances that contain a lot of antioxidants. I keep things like that in mind when I create various combinations,” she says.
Sarah makes six varieties of artisan soaps. And each soap is inspired by a different theme. Every FIG soap is handcrafted by Sarah with a lot of love. For instance, the Midnight Lavender Soap contains lavender buds, which Sarah painstakingly handpicks. Power Morning has aromatherapeutic ingredients and according to her is a pick-me-up soap. Sweet Loaf O’ Mine has coffee and oatmeal as its primary ingredients. It has been inspired by dessert and has cellulite fighting properties. The Mountain Man is a healing soap with ingredients like Himalayan Salts, Aloe Vera, etc. Kasturi is a 100% coconut oil soap, which has Kasturi Manjal in it and is inspired by a Kerala theme. Sarah’s favourite, however, is Aphrodite, which is a combination of various essential oils and looks pink and pretty.
FIG soaps are available at HoH in Panampilly Nagar and Aambal at Fort Kochi and will soon be sold online on Amazon.
According to Sarah, a lot of help has gone into establishing FIG. Her friends and family in Kochi have helped her get over the challenges she has faced.
The artwork on the soap packaging has been done by various artists. Her friend then helped her with digitising them.
“I want to include art also, in my journey towards sustainable living. Art will make it fun for people at the end of the day,” she says.
As for her future plans, Sarah plans to venture into other personal grooming products as well as household cleaning products. As most of the products available now are highly toxic, she feels there is definitely a need to have clean products in the market. A need that she wants to try and address soon.
To know more about FIG, visit the Facebook page.