Young couple venture into eco-friendly, homemade soap business

Sorting recyclables in Christchurch, New Zealand, changed Anna Lee’s perspective of the world, as she knew it.

Sep 30, 2022

Multipurpose soap wedding favours.

By Gwen Manickam
Sorting recyclables in Christchurch, New Zealand, changed Anna Lee’s perspective of the world, as she knew it.

The UTAR, Kampar, English education major worked as a facilitator at a home school in Subang for a year to save enough money to travel around the island country in Oceania for a year. There she worked odd jobs at kiwi orchards, packing lily bulbs at the factory and milking cows at a dairy farm with her then-boyfriend, Louis Koh.

“It was my last job at the recycling factory that opened my eyes,” said the 26-year-old. “The mountain of trash they sorted through was astounding, and how much of it could be recycled was uncertain.”
When they came back to Malaysia in 2019, Anna felt lost.

“I didn’t want to return to teaching or facilitating. I wanted to do volunteer work or something close to nature,” said the Church of the Holy Redeemer, Klang, parishioner. But the pandemic struck and Anna resorted to working as a freelance translator and copywriter. Along the way, she ventured into creating handmade soaps on a small scale, using essential oils and plant oils.

Next, her mother highlighted that they had a lot of used cooking oil in their home, as Anna’s dad could only eat food cooked in new oil due to his eczema.

This led the entrepreneur to research and experiment with making soaps with the used cooking oil. Anna eventually found a recipe that worked well. She shared the end product with family and friends and received positive feedback. The multi-purpose soap concoction is not to be used on the body but works well with washing grease from plastic containers and dishes.

The demand for the soap grew through word-of-mouth, and more people were also offering them used cooking oil. “There are large companies that collect used cooking oil, but there is always a minimum requirement. We just keep note of who offers, and when we are going to that vicinity within Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, we inform them and pick up the used oil.”

Anna adds pure coconut oil and sodium hydroxide to the used oil to make the soaps. She said it takes up to two and a half hours to make one loaf of soap, which must then be cured for four weeks before it’s ready for sale.

“Sometimes products run out and we are not able to supply immediately because of the curing time. We recently invested in a dehumidifier; it helps but it still takes four weeks for the water in the soap bars to dry up.” A loaf weighs 1.2 kg and can be cut into 10 bars. Each bar goes for RM3.70.

Anna, who works out of her home, takes care of the production and packing while Louis, her husband of two months, manages the marketing and finance of their business, aptly named Soapan Santun.

In addition to making soaps from cooking oil, she makes shampoo bars, and body and face soaps. In light of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and his call to ‘love our common home’, all their products are packed with plastic-free material and available on the Soapan Santun website, Shopee and zero waste stores

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