I find myself in a state of frustration just about constantly. The things I want to talk about – most people have no idea of even the concept surrounding the topic. It’s not their fault, nobody else I know shares the passion I have for what I do. Much like what we produce, I too stand apart. While it can be lonely, it’s an essential quality that genuine artisans looking to persuade others to purchase a product must have.
I find it especially frustrating when people compare our soap to something one would find at a craft fair. I have had quite a few people tell me that you can buy home made soap anywhere. Home made soap is one thing, we prefer the distinction of hand made. I usually point out to people that the difference between someone who makes soap at home and us, is that we happen to live in a factory. Craft soap is fine, it’s similar, but it isn’t what we make. Therefore it is not comparable in price or quality. How are we different? We’ve not only spent time learning how to make soap, but learning why soap is soap, the history of soap and of soap making, we’ve learned about the beneficial properties of herbs, spices, and botanicals. We’ve spent months researching additives from milk to silk, clays to charcoal and everything in between. We’ve learned about photography, web development, marketing, accounting, blogging, social networking, wood working, and now the art of blending fragrances. We’ve learned how the ingredients we use are made, we have learned about the people who make our ingredients, and the particular skills carefully developed over time to make those ingredients. We go much deeper in understanding every aspect of our product.
The purpose of this post is to explain how to set your product apart if you’re interested in microindustrialism.
A phrase I find myself repeating over and over again is that “if you’re going to build it, you might as well overbuild it.” If it’s worth doing, then make sure you do it as well as it can be done. Consider that the difference between passable and unsurpassable is a thin margin. To get to world-class excellence you must put in that extra effort. That extra effort is time consuming, laborious, and something many would say may not be worth the effort. What that means is that you may be able to do a half way decent job of making and selling something, but until you reach the level we have spent years reaching you will always be a crafter. If you want it to be everything you say it is, you must go as far as you can in quality. How?
Every aspect of our product is designed – intentionally to completely engage every sense. From the beautiful fragrances, to the texture of the handmade paper, to the visual impact of a finished product. If you make something that you hope to sell for money, then these aspects will set you apart from mass producers and crafters who are just out there to have fun and maybe make a buck or two. This is not a hobby for us, we’ve transformed and continue to transform our lives to make this a reality. Our product interacts with a customer at multiple levels and in every way possible it should exceed expectations.
Consider this: To produce just 1 bar of our soap, takes the collective knowledge, passion, and time of, in the most real sense possible, thousands of people scattered throughout the world. Each bar is literally years in the making. From the villagers in rural Burkina Faso who mill shea nuts by hand into the world-renowned rich and conditioning shea butter heavily used in our soaps to the French farmers who grow the lavender in Provence just as their ancestors have for grown lavender in the same fields for the previous 700 years. Consider that length of time. 700 years ago, Columbus’ grandfather had yet to be born. All of this history, knowledge, tradition, etc. goes into a product that people simply rinse down the drain. What could be more excessive and sickeningly decadent than that?
Up to 10% of each bar is pure, unsaponfied shea butter. Some soap makers feel that putting shea into something that is rinsed off is completely wasteful, and have criticized me for doing so. One in particular told me that shea is so luxurious, it should only be used in lotions. For us to put such an excessively wonderful ingredient into our soaps is one reason why they’re considered to be so luxurious.
Most people don’t consider what hand made means. What it means, is that it is someone’s life work. Someone somewhere in the world spent years perfecting their technique. Highlighting just one of the many products we use to make our fine soaps, paper makers must make paper to be just the right thickness. To understand what it takes to make paper the right thickness you must understand how it’s made. When made by hand, pulp or shredded plant and fabric material are placed into a vat of water and then scooped out into a screen. Depending on how long the water has been mixed with the pulp and how many sheets have already been made from the vat, it may be holding more or less water and the artisan may have gotten more or less pulp than required, meaning that if someone aims to produce paper of a certain thickness they have to determine how much water it’s holding and how thick the slurry needs to be in the screen to match the desired thickness after it has been dried and pressed. A professional paper maker gave the figure of only 12 errors on average per thousand sheets of paper he made. While anyone can learn to make paper in less than an hour, learning to make paper with that degree of accuracy takes many years. That level of skill goes into our product every time we wrap one of soaps in a piece and that isn’t something others care to claim and it’s just another way we go above and beyond in production. Yes, hand made paper costs considerably more than cheap shrink wrap or cardboard boxes, but incorporating the quality and wonder of hand made paper is appreciable, and while people may not consciously be aware of it, when they hold it in their hands they will know that something about it is better and different. If you don’t believe me, go pick up a sheet of paper produced by hand and see the difference yourself.
In addition to that, paper made by hand has a deckled edge. Deckled edges are the rough edge that is left from paper fibers naturally settling in a screen. It’s a mark of quality and is sometimes simulated in machine made papers to give a more finished and luxurious appeal. Knowing the difference between genuine and simulated deckling is what putting in the extra effort means.
To understand what hand made soap means is that we have spent over 2 years and thousands of dollars making batch after batch, fine tuning and making the smallest adjustments to bring you something that produces amazing lather, leaves your skin supple, and smells delicious. Money is nothing, it’s value differs from person to person, but the time we spent has amounted to thousands of hours of research, reading, practice, and discussion. It has been an all consuming task that we have spent gladly and will continue to engage in.
Like many others we could have understood the basics and then ran with it, but we didn’t. We set ourselves apart by pondering the deeper meaning of quality, luxury, and richness. We go the extra mile in really appreciating every nuance of the soap making process and by having that deep understanding of every aspect of your product, you too will set yourselves apart.
There is a famous book that I have read and enjoy. It has some solid information in it, but the major premise of the book is outsourcing everything in your company – from production, product development, to customer service. This is fine for cheap junk from China, but not suitable for a luxury product that is produced in small quantities. Outsourced service providers lack the knowledge and experience a professional artist has and no one should know your product better than you do if you’re claiming it is of higher quality and value than other products available.
By dealing with your customers one on one, you preserve a level of humanity that is far too often left out. People generally like to deal with other people, and it’s sad to say that these days, getting a live person to answer your question is a luxury.
From our experience, we’ve yet to see another soap on the same level as ours. The passion we both have for bringing a luxury grade product to the few who can find us is all consuming. To better explain what I mean, right now I’m investing time into reading texts that were written about the art of perfumery, over 100 years ago. These antiquated texts explain how to produce delightful fragrances before they had artificial scents and modern machines. I’m also reading modern day texts to help me define a process to produce our own custom blended fragrances in house, to ensure that nothing can touch what we produce. By going back to these older texts, I gain a deeper understanding of not only the process but the history and tradition of it, which will provide a more developed ability and ultimately a much better product.
As small manufacturers, we do not and cannot play the game of volume. We lack the ability to produce in large numbers, but it has been done to death. The only way to compete is to produce something that is genuinely and significantly better than the common place items you compete with. Soap can be found for under $1 a bar at bulk stores and even gas stations, but what we produce isn’t even in the same category.
Give your clients their money’s worth, not just in the product but in the discipline of your craft.
Luxury is not about price or an image. It’s a dedication to beauty and purity in the pursuit of perfection. For us, it isn’t in the packaging, it’s in the time it took for someone to develop the skills necessary to make the packaging. It isn’t in the ingredients, but it’s in the care in which they were prepared. It’s not about the superficial qualities that are most commonly observed, it’s about the inherent ones that are so easily overlooked. You cannot separate the villager who spent the time developing those necessary skills to hand mill shea nuts into butter from the actual tangible shea butter. You can overlook it, as most people do not think about it when they read the words “shea butter” on the label, but you still know it’s there. You don’t think about the years of practice it took a paper maker to ensure the quality of the paper when you rip off the wrapper and throw it away – but those are the aspects that make a product undeniably luxurious and while you may not consciously observe them it is evident on some level that people pick up on.
If you want to make something that is worth the extra expense, it’s not in having a good graphic designer or a catchy slogan. Sure those things help, but go above and beyond in making it and the thing will sell itself.
Here’s to your best creations!