Scented soaps and luxury cosmetics are commonplace on the bathroom counters of high-end hotels and households.
But while you might assume these products are sourced from expensive brands and designers, this isn’t always the case.
The Soap Co, which calls itself an “ethical luxury brand,” launched in September 2015, and sells handmade soap bars, liquid hand wash, hand lotion, and luxurious gift sets — all made by disadvantaged and disabled people.
Based in East London with a factory in Keswick, the available roles vary from production to retail and commercial roles in marketing and sales. The company’s profits get re-invested into the organisation, so it can employ more members of staff.
Its parent company, registered charity CLARITY Employment for Blind People, is the UK’s oldest surviving social enterprise, according to Soap Co, and has been employing, training, and supporting people with disabilities since 1854. CLARITY started off making baskets and mattresses then moved into soap in the 1930s.
Camilla Marcus Dew, co-founder and head of commercial of Soap Co, told Business Insider that CLARITY’s luxury soap had already been used under the umbrella of other brands over the years. Her job is to make it a brand in its own right under the Soap Co banner.
“They’d go into The Ritz and The Cavendish and The Savoy [with other labels]. They had our products, which were made here in the factory,” she said.
“I saw an opportunity to refine the products and branding, and take something to market that our generation would love and connect with,” said Camilla, who had a corporate career working for the likes of Accenture, Lloyds Bank, Disney, and Asda until she made the move to Soap Co when the brand launched.
Louise Barnett, the company’s sales and marketing manager, added: “We thought an ethical luxury brand would sell more, and make more profit to go back into the business to employ more people.”
The simple black and white branding on the bottles, 25% made up old milk bottles, features braille, which Thomson said “peaks the curiosity of our consumers.” Camilla added that the brand “has a Scandinavian feel” in fitting with the trend of “beautiful minimalist bathrooms.”
The products are all made in the UK with natural extract and added vitamins, and are colour and paraben free. The labels and paper are also compostable and recyclable. “There’s a trade-off between the design and the social/environmental side,” Barnett said.
Soap Co currently employs more than 105 people across the country through a government disability scheme, 80% of whom are blind, or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged. The company uses a “semi-automated production line” in their London factory, with a traditional homemade process workshop in its Keswick location.
Three of the staff in the factory also have guide dogs, or use “other ways of getting around,” according to Louisa.
“[The dogs] have the nicest time,” she said. “There’s a volunteer who walks them every day, and we have a range of dog shampoo. They’re very much a part of the brand.”
The goal isn’t to find long-term staff, but to offer Soap Co as a “stepping stone” to other employment, for those who are able to achieve it. Camilla said that 50% of the company’s staff are there on a “transitional basis.”
“Some people might be with us for a few weeks, then get a job elsewhere, which is a massive celebration for us,” she said.
The company’s goal is to generate over 60 new job opportunities every year. In 2015, 49 people were hired after a period of unemployment lasting at least six months, and 28 people moved onto “mainstream” employment after their time at Soap Co.
Despite the company’s history of being used by other brands, Soap Co. is starting to make a name for itself.
The brand is currently stocked in a number of independent retailers, and hopes to announce its launch into a national retailer this summer.
Camilla added that the company has “had some great conversations with restaurant chains and hotels, and we’re building a footprint with independent shops and restaurants.”
Ultimately, she believes that there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between luxury, design, and social impact. “Charities and social enterprises can do luxury as well,” she said.
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