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Sustainable Stories: natural soap making workshop with MargaretMaySoaps

Sustainable Stories: natural soap making workshop with MargaretMaySoaps

As someone who makes handmade hair care and shampoo bars for a living, I have always been curious to see how cold press soap is actually made. I recently discovered that Karen Evans of MargaretMaySoaps hosts natural soap making workshops just around the corner from us in Totterdown, so I took an afternoon off. The workshops are listed on Yuup, which is a great website for finding interesting experiences and hands-on workshops in and around Bristol. 

Karen offers her natural soap making workshops regularly from her gorgeous home in Totterdown. Her soap making business is proudly named after her grandmother, a fiesty Somerset farmer’s wife. She has been making her natural handmade soaps and selling them at local craft markets since 2015, and is very knowledgable in all things related to homemade, natural skincare products. We did get to smell some of the soaps she makes, all with natural essential oils, and they smelled wonderful.

The oatmeal soap I made in Karen's soap making workshop

During the workshop Karen spoke a bit about the history of soap and how people once made their own soaps at home. A very sustainable approach of making only what you need and using up what you have already. Her soap moulds are actually up-cycled wooden organ pipes, reclaimed from church! Preferring this traditional way of soap making in her indie business, and as a vegan herself, she keeps her ingredients lists natural, pure and simple.

After showing us some cool techniques of swirling in colours, we made our own small batch of natural handmade soaps to take home with us to cure and cut up at a later date. The pattern at the top was created with repurposed bubble wrap. For anyone interested in a taster session of making cold press soaps to see the process, I’d highly recommend Karen’s artisan soap making workshops in Totterdown.

She teaches in her kitchen that opens out to a beautiful garden

1. Why did you start your eco-friendly natural handmade soap business?

It was important to me that I start a business that cares for the environment, animals and humans equally. This has always been important to to me, and so the business had to reflex these principals. In fact since starting it's become even more important to promote sustainability. The brand ethos is, Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS), so I only use a few straightforward, high quality ingredients.

2. Why did you decide to make sustainability a big part of your small business?

My Grandmother (who the business is named after) was a Somerset farmers wife, she always talked about how important it is to balance farming methods and small independent business priorities. In the 50's and 60's when she was farming this wasn't really a very popular or developed discussion, but much of what she believed in now seems common sense and in that, she was ahead of her time. 

3. How does sustainability come in to the day-to-day running of your small business?

With every decision I make with my business I try to put sustainability first. I have developed recipes that don't contain any harsh chemicals and I use generally natural soap ingredients and check where I source these materials from. As a very small business it's easy for me to keep a close eye on where my ingredients come from and how they are made. I use zero waste packaging, and I pack everything by hand. 

Since hosting my workshops I am now able to reach more people to explain and share my findings on eco manufacturing and zero waste practises. Before the workshops ask everyone to bring their own aprons, latex gloves and bags, so I am not using any single use plastics. 

One of Karen's bestsellers – Bristol Blue (Lavender) soap bars

4. What small steps have you taken behind-the-scenes to be more eco-friendly?

I buy back jars and recycle tins with my regular customers so they can be refilled. This has proved popular, and is something I think can be developed. I print on recycled biodegradable paper for all my own packaging, including using biodegradable parchment for wrapping soaps.

5. Tell us a little about your best-selling eco-friendly products.

My best sellers are the three soaps I developed first. Bristol Blue (Lavender), Luxury Pink Geranium, and Hippy Mix (Sandalwood and Patchouli). After my first year of selling these I developed Natural Deodorants and Rich Whipped Body Butters and these are now very popular, too. 


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For more workshops in Bristol and beyond, follow Yuup on Instagram