An interview in The Hambledon Shop Journal

We are so fortunate to have been interviewed by one of our stockists, the beautiful shop The Hambledon in Winchester.

They asked us lots of interesting questions about our soaps, life in Dorset, Italian cooking and our cheeky treats in their Journal interview.

You can buy a range of our soaps from their online shop for the moment. If you are ever in Winchester after lockdown do make sure to visit this fascinating department store, it's a temple of buying, display and merchandising skills, situated right in front of the magnificent Cathedral, in a charming square. There are little cafes with kerbside tables and chairs, independent shops and pubs all tucked next to one another, away from the main high street - on a sunny day The Square feels like a little slice of Paris.

They have a ground floor dedicated to toiletries, perfumery, homewares, flowers, books, children's toys and stationery, a basement filled with men's clothes and fashion and accessories are upstairs. Owner Victoria Suffield (interviewed and lauded by everyone in the industry!) has a great eye for colours, trends and product design. You won't want to leave because you will discover and browse through things you never even knew existed - and leave with armfuls of useful goodies and joyful inspiration.

 

 

We are featured in The Lifestyle Editor

This week we are delighted to be featured in the beautiful blog The Lifestyle Editor  

Founded by Stephanie Bateman Sweet, on Instagram @thelifestyleeditor, it features many of my heroes in the world of homewares, design, photography, cooking and publishing. Stephanie is a UK contributor to the wonderful website and Instagram feed @the_shopkeepers, celebrating the diverse and magical world of independent shops all over the globe.

In the article she asks about my business, inspirations and ambitions - it's always hard to talk about yourself but you never know who might find it inspiring and informative in turn. So many people are starting new ventures AC (After Coronavirus) and I find that reading about other people's creativity and drive helps me in my work - we are all part of the same tribe after all.

I share the names and social media accounts of businesses that I love following and learning from, so many creatives and entrepreneurs have inspired my journey through life. I hope you find it interesting to read.

How our soaps are made

Our soaps are created by the cold process method, which means that very little external heat is applied – only enough gentle heat to melt the coconut oil and shea butter which are both solid at room temperature in a cold climate. The advantages of this method are that the curing process is slow and gradual, creating a more natural, mild and creamy soap, filled with moisturising glycerin that is better for your skin. The natural saponification process results in about 75% soap and 25% glycerin, an emollient that softens, protects and heals the skin.

With a pH of around 8 or 9, our soaps are gently alkaline and cleansing on the skin, which can have a varying pH between 4.5 and 6.2. Skin’s relatively acidic pH plays a role in keeping its delicate microbiome (or the skin flora, which refers to the microorganisms which reside on the skin) balanced. An acidic microbiome makes it more difficult for harmful pathogens to invade, and one of the main roles of the epidermis is protection from the latter.

Hand made soap is the neutral end product of combining an alkali and several acids.

The alkali (with a pH of around 14) is sodium hydroxide which is mixed with water to create lye - a necessary ingredient in the creation of soap. Sodium hydroxide is a compound containing three elements - sodium, hydrogen and oxygen - and it is transformed during the soap making process because the mixture is saponified.

The acids are oils or fats (olive, coconut, almond and essential oils and shea butter). They are listed as sodium olivate, sodium cocoate, sodium almondate and shea butterate in the ingredients list on the label because they are transformed into the sodium salts of the fatty acids during soap making. Some of our fragranced oils are created by macerating fresh organic herbs or flowers with oils in a sterile jar, stored in the dark for six weeks.

Soap making is carried out in a sanitised workshop with protective clothing and up-to-date batch documentation in order to comply with good manufacturing practice.

There are seven main stages in the making of Farm Soap Co. soaps.

Weighing ingredients and melting solid fats

In our workshop we firstly weigh all the ingredients - all the different oils, sodium hydroxide and water - and we gently melt the solid fats till they are liquid. This takes just a few minutes, then the pot is removed from the heat and left to cool to around 40 to 48 degrees Celsius. We use bain marie style water cooling methods.

Making the lye and cooling it

The lye is created by dissolving the sodium hydroxide into cold water (an exothermic reaction that gives off heat) and leaving it to cool until it also reaches 40 - 48 degrees Celsius.

Mixing and emulsifying 

When the right temperature is achieved, the lye is gently mixed into the oils and we keep stirring until it reaches the moment of trace. This is the transformative moment in the soap making process and it requires focus and steady hands. With no fat molecules left at the sides, the uniform coloured mix leaves a viscous and definite trace on the surface when it is thoroughly emulsified. At this stage it looks like a thin, pale custard. The essential oils or sea salts (for the Dorset Sea Salt soap) are mixed in carefully at the beginning of trace as they may cause the trace stage to accelerate and the mixture begins to turn to gel uncontrollably.

Moulding and unmoulding

The soap mix is first poured into jugs and then poured into silicone moulds, the tops levelled and the moulds are then covered to retain the heat. The gel phase of soap making is the heating stage of saponification. Once you pour your soap into its mould it will start to heat up. Gel phase starts with the soap turning translucent in the middle and then spreads out to the edges. The soaps are left to solidify for 24 – 48 hours then unmoulded onto trays and carried to curing racks, where they are left to dry and cure for 30 - 40 days. The racks are labelled with soap names, batch numbers and dates.

Curing

During the curing stage the soaps are fully saponified and they dry out, oxidising in the air and lightening in colour. During this phase we monitor them closely, and if they contain seaweeds we turn them. This ensures that even amounts of air circulate. We cure our soaps on stainless steel and wooden racks with clean sheets of paper and linen to cover them so that they are covered from dust.

Checking and packaging

Once the soaps are cured, and prior to packing, each batch is checked for neutrality, polished with a clean cloth, each box is batch numbered and the soaps are then packaged, ready for dispatch.

Cleaning and washing up

There is one stage that we mention at the very end because it’s the messy one! Cleaning – there is so much to wash and sanitise before, during and after the soap making process. The soap mix is very oily, considering what a high proportion of the mix is made up of oils. You would imagine that making soap is a very clean activity but in fact soap is only the eventual product that is magically transformed into what you would recognise as clean and fragrant after the curing process. In the meantime, thank heavens for hot water, scrubbing brushes and washing up liquid. We use natural products to clean and sanitise our workshop areas and we write about it here.

 

 

Benefits of sea salt and seaweeds

We use Jurassic coast sea salt and seaweeds in a range of bath and skincare products. Natural and organic seaweeds are rapidly growing and high yielding plants so are one of the most environmentally sustainable products to be used in the beauty industry.

Bladderwrack seaweed (Fucus vesiculosus) and oarweed (Laminaria digitata), can be found in abundance along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

Since ancient times seaweeds have been used for their cleansing and therapeutic properties. In thalassotherapy the ancient Greeks used the healing properties of seawater and sea algae in cosmetic and health treatments. Seaweeds have no roots and gain all their nutrients from the waters they grow in, providing the earth with over 70% of its oxygen through photosynthesis.

Seaweeds are humectants, drawing moisture to the skin and containing high levels of lipids, proteins and minerals (such as zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium and selenium) which have great benefits in healing and repairing the skin. Vitamins K, B, A, C and E help plump the skin, even skin pigmentation and promote collagen. The high iodine content of seaweeds is deeply cleansing and by using dried seaweed powder in a salt scrub it is also an effective exfoliator, removing dead skin cells so new ones can form.

Bathing in seaweed rich bath salts helps rheumatism and arthritis sufferers, helps reduce cellulite and drains the lymphatic system to help improve circulation. Simply run salts under warm to hot bath water and relax  for 15 - 20 minutes - the salts will withdraw toxins from the skin and help mineralise the skin and relax muscles. The warm water helps ingredients penetrate the skin, the heat releases stress and tension and it’s a calm time for meditation and self-reflection.