Soap-making business out of necessity

Types of soaps (From left: shea butter with myrehh, carrot soap and brown and white rice).

BY ANNABELL NAJA TOMMY & NEVILLE TIMOTHY SANDERS

Genevieve Wong

KUCHING: Following her daughter’s skin condition, a mother of two has turned her homemade soap into a soap business.

Genevieve Wong, 44, is now the proud owner of a soap business called Relise & Oliver. She has been making handmade soap for the past eight years.

In conjunction with Mother’s Day, New Sarawak Tribune has sat down with the soap business owner who shares her soap making journey and balancing between work and her family.

How it began

It all started when her daughter was diagnosed with eczema, a type of condition that would make the skin red and itchy. It’s a skin condition that is common among the children but can occur at any age.

“She had the condition since she was a couple months old back then, so the doctors prescribed her with steroid cream and other medication to help battling the condition,” she said.

Genevieve then told that the medication that was given did help with Eczema for a while. Then the condition came back to her daughter and it went on until she was about seven years old.

“So every time that happened, we had to take her to the doctor and we had to constantly give her the steroid cream and other medication.

“Initially, I was very reluctant with the steroid but then there was no other outlet unless told otherwise by a doctor. So we decided to follow what the doctor said,” she added.

She then told that the steroid did help at first but the conditions kept coming back and it got even worst.

Genevieve then recalled that she had read somewhere that handmade soap is actually good for one’s skin.

“So that was when I decided to buy some handmade soap from some lady in Malaya. Back then we tried the carrot soap and other few types.

“And we tried the carrot soap on her because it’s good for Eczema prone type of skin and it did help; we saw some improvement on the skin. The problem was the shipping cost. It was expensive,”she added.

She then said that was the moment she decided to start making her own soap, doing her own research on how to make her the soap.

“All I had back then was the internet. I didn’t have smartphone. So I did my own studies and researches on how to do it. I learned by watching YouTube and reading a lot on soap making,” she pointed out.

She explained a little bit of the method where she bought some soap paste, melt it and mixed it with essential oil.

“When we finally switched everything to handmade soap, my daughter’s skin became much better, clearer. She didn’t  have to use lotion,” said Genevieve.

That was where her soap-making journey began. She also started having her own soap-making classes and started promoted her soap through social media such as Instagram.

How the soap helped others

Genevieve then found out one of her friends whose child had worse Eczema than her daughter.

“It was truly bad. The condition was on their elbow, knees and the skin. It was worst. So I introduced my soap to the parents and it did make a change on the child’s skin,” she said.

She then also recalled that her niece experience the same condition as her daughter’s. 

She told the parents to not to go to the doctor or the skin would become much worst. She then handed her cousin the handmade soap that she made.

“After seven days my niece’s skin became much better,” she said.

She also clarified that she’s not health expert nor a doctor or dermatologist but just the mum who is speaking from her experience.

Ingredients and methods used for the soap

Genevieve said that she uses most of the local produce that can be found in supermarkets.

“I’m using mostly cooking oil in my soap making and it’s actually safe. I use also use certain oil such as castor oil purchased from a soap supplier,” she said.

She is also very thankful that she is able to get the ingredient from local suppliers and supermarkets. Therefore she doesn’t  have to worry about getting the ingredients from other states and most importantly, she won’t have to worry about the shipping cost.

“I also use coconut oil in my soap making and I always buy it from local suppliers at Stutong market,” she said.

She then added that she also use local fruit such as homegrown papaya, pineapple in her soap-making process.

“Almost anything can go into your soap. So you can use ingredients such as papaya, pineapple and even banana which are good for your skin,” she said.

Local products are good for the soap; so when it comes to the methods in making it, she said that the soap must be preserved all the way and must not be mixed with other commercial product.

“If you want to go natural, go natural all the way,” she said.

Common misconceptions of soap

Genevieve explains that there are a little misconceptions when people talk about the soap or even hearing the word soap.

“They immediately think about dry soap. And to the skin, it is dry, but that isn’t the case.

“The definition of soap is quite simple. Anything with an oil, butter base, fat or even animal fat, if it’s mixed with sodium hydroxide, which causes chemical reaction that causes

‘hyponification’ it will turn into soap,” she added.

She continued to say that when people use the soap, it actually feels like a real soap. But it’s actually not. It is actually laundry detergent, one that we use to wash the clothes.

“Detergent is the correct definition. There are a lot of misconceptions and mislabelling when it comes to soap. Real soap won’t cost any harmful thing to your skin and actually have some benefits to it,” said Genevieve.

Types of soaps

Genevieve explained that there are three types of soap that she made.

“The most basic one is the co-process. It is simple and any oil, whether it is vegetable oil, you mix it with sodium hydroxide together and it turns into soap.

“There’s another process called the hot-process. That’s  the type you have to cook it. The texture will be much rougher but you can use it immediately.

“You just need to cure it or kasam (ferment) it for at least two weeks whereas the co-process, one I mentioned earlier, you have to cure it for at least four weeks,” she said.

She then said there’s another type where it can turn into liquid soap that is custom soap paste, where the paste is cooked and for about four to five hours, it must be diluted with still water and it will eventually turn into liquid soap.

“From that liquid soap base, you can turn it into shampoo, toilet cleaner, laundry detergent, liquid body wash and others,” she added.

She then said there’s another process which is melt and pour that she was not able to master even after multiple attempts at it.

“For that process, you need to use alcohol and lot of it to make it clear and that was the reason I

wasn’t able to master it,” she added.

She at first succeeded at it two times, but because she lost the recipe, she couldn’t reproduce the process.

Soap prices

Her soap business is known for the parents whose children has skin issues where they come to her looking for solutions, and people who just want to go natural or go green, she explained.

“Most of the time when you buy natural handmade soap, and if you make your own soap, you cut down a lot of plastic use,” she said.

She also explained that when she packed her handmade soap, it must be in paper-bag, paper box, and bags that are reusable.

When being asked if her soap ever being exported outside of Sarawak, she laughed and joked that if it included her family members who brought it back to Australia, then it does.

“For now, no. I haven’t exported any of my soap outside of the state and the country because I don’t have the capital and I don’t see a point of doing it.

“You see, handmade soap, handmade skincare are very well known in Western countries. But for us, it is still new. So when I talk about handmade soap to other people, they will be shocked and scared and question its benefits,” she said.

She then said if she has the opportunity, she will do it.

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