This article was first published by the Lovin' Soap Project.
In May 2018, the Lovin’ Soap Project conducted a soapmaking and business training in Nairobi, Kenya with the Washindi Victory Center, a small community-based organization serving people living in the Kibera slums through economic empowerment.
An important part of our mission is to recurrently engage in a long-term commitment to working with our organizations beyond the initial training. We remain in contact with our partners to offer advice on product development, marketing, business expansion, etc., and typically return after several months to provide follow up training and support. Our ultimate goal is to assist trainees to be self-sufficient businesswomen that are working to lift themselves out of poverty…
Because of their inaugural success in implementing a strong business strategy and efficiency in production, Peggy Tipton and Caitlin Abshier will return to Nairobi to again lead the training. Both women own soap-making businesses in Atlanta, GA. Peggy additionally has a background in international development and public health and has lived in both Kenya and Tanzania. Caitlin has experience running a large and complex bath and body business. In total, the pair have nearly 30 years of soap-making experience.
In our first passage to Nairobi, the two-week training consisted of two primary components:
- Learning to make soap and skin care products, and
- Learning the business skills necessary to market and sell what they had made.
The trainees represented a variety of ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The youngest participant is in her early 20s while the oldest is nearly 60. Some women have completed secondary school while others have little or no schooling. A few women have some business experience; others were community health workers in the slums of Kibera. All were enthusiastic to learn.
Participants began by learning the basics: how soap is made, safety, proper use of scales and the importance of record keeping. Over the following days, they produced many batches, mastering the skills of basic soap making and went on to experiment with a variety of colors, scents, and additives. They were so excited the day they cut their first block of soap into bars! There were, of course, a few mistakes in the beginning (forgotten ingredients, improper weighing, etc.), but these are just part of the learning process and serve to reinforce the correct steps of proper manufacturing.
After several days of practice batches, the women voted on the soaps that they liked the most, resulting in six quality varieties. The women also learned to make an exfoliating salt scrub as well as a hair and body oil. Both of these products are popular and have a good profit margin. The scrubs and oils were each formulated in three scents: lemongrass, vanilla and a blend of lavender, mint, and lemongrass. Fabric bags for the soaps were chosen as packaging using a locally available traditional cloth known as kitenge. The women liked that the bags were reusable and felt that this could be a strong selling point since they could serve as a wallet or case for holding a cell phone. The same fabric was used to decorate the jars and bottles holding the scrubs and oils.
With the product line and packaging finalized, the training shifted to paperwork and marketing. While this might not seem as glamorous as the creative aspect of making products, it is critical, as accurate records and money management can make or break a business. Every participant learned to make batch records, sales records, and keep track of inventory. Most importantly, they learned that all earnings must be allocated not just for salaries but also for transportation, supplies, reinvesting into the business, etc. The enthusiasm and confidence of the women visibly grew throughout the two weeks of the training. They even set up pages on Facebook and Instagram to promote their business and identified a local market for selling.
Since the training ended last May, the business has continued to grow and prosper. The group meets weekly to make products, plan for future events and explore additional opportunities to expand their sales. Currently, they sell at a weekly craft market, at a store specializing in locally made crafts, and direct to loyal local customers. They have also cultivated a relationship with hotels to provide soap for their guests. The Christmas season was very busy and several times they had to schedule additional meetings to keep up with demand. Not bad for a business that is only nine months old!! Recently, we asked group members to tell us about their experiences since we left. Below are some quotations (lightly edited for clarity):
“Three things that are success to me. I feel proud of myself as a businesswoman and a soap maker. I am working hard to better myself. I am proud when [the group] meets every Wednesday. When we meet we always hear good news about our customer’s feedback on our soaps.”
“I count on our consistency as a big success. We have more or less mastered our six main lines of products, have been able to meet demand and thus, have never been late to supply either flea markets or orders.”
“The training helped me to get capital (from the salary) to supplement operating my other business farming and selling rice. This then helped me to buy corrugated iron sheets to build my home.”
The Lovin’ Soap Project is returning to Kenya in March of this year to assist with developing new products and improving marketing, business skills, and other technical areas.
This trip will be a collaborative process; we will survey each group member to get their feedback so that the training is relevant to their unique needs and not only what we think is important.
We will be visiting retail stores, ingredient suppliers, and markets so that together the business can grow to their fullest potential! We will be documenting our progress with stories about individual members as well as short videos so that everyone can experience a bit of the experience.
In order to further this group’s capital, afford Peggy and Caitlin travel and safe accommodations, we need your tax-deductible donation. As always, your contribution is vital to our mission and thus far has prompted the betterment of hundreds of lives around the world, as when women earn an income, their money directly effects their communities in a constructive manner.
Please consider helping us get back to Kenya to further the progress in the lives of truly incredible people. As always, your financial help is tax deductible, as The Lovin’ Soap Project is a 501(c)3 Not-for-Profit.