Soap maker's pure goals

Soap maker's pure goals

Bella Ip's ethically minded company employs lower-income people who can work from home


Soap maker Bella Ip
Soap maker Bella Ip
Photo: David Wong/SCMP
For years, Bella Ip has been trying to live a waste-free life. She lived on boats and organic farms to reduce her environmental impact, or carbon footprint. She ate organic food and bought organic cleaning products - that is, until she started to make her own.

"I became a soap maker and later started teaching others to do the same," Ip says. "I started my own business called Bella Sapone in 2008. I took out a personal loan. After 30 months I was able to pay off the entire loan and sustain a business, so I thought it was time for expansion."

However, Ip did not expand her business in the usual way. She looked to the local community to spread her success and help others. While Ip made soap at home, she was also working part time for a local school.

Ip found many of the students' parents were working long hours in factories or fields. She saw a need for jobs that let parents work from home, and decided to create opportunities for them with her growing soap business. She reached out to people with lower incomes, especially women. Making money was not as important to Ip as the idea of helping others. She offered to teach them how to make soap at home so they could start their own small businesses. The approach is called a cottage industry.

Today she helps single parents and disabled people, such as the deaf. "I would like to keep training more soap makers to start their own businesses like mine - to have different production centres in every district in Hong Kong," Ip says.

With the community in mind, So...Soap! was born. The project has grown to become one of the most ethically minded Hong Kong products on sale. The ingredients are all natural. "Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies. It is fragile, so it makes sense that we would be careful about what we put on it," says Ip.

So...Soap! is made of plant-based oils, natural essential oils, filtered water and alkaline substances. Even the containers holding the tea-tree hand soap and lavender, orange-ginger body soaps are recycled plastic soy-milk bottles.

Ip is using So...Soap! to educate women about the ethical production of cleaning materials. Too often, households use harmful chemicals and wasteful plastic materials, which are quickly thrown away.

So...Soap! has come to represent an ethical and community-centred business in Hong Kong. Its products are available in stores everywhere.

More importantly, the business offers women the chance to be at home for their families, earn a living and improve their communities - all at the same time.

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