At Creators Nest we’re not just about selling products, we also like to share the stories behind the products & makers.
We first met Mick trading at an event in Canberra, the smell of their beautiful soaps was so enticing & the conversation shared over the course of our trading day… and well after pack up was a sure sign we’d found a new friend… and potential contributor to our business.
We invited Mick & Lianne (whom we met later) to sell their soap through Creators Nest when we moved into the Oddfellows’ Hall, and we’re so glad we did.
They’re very professional, take their work seriously & have a passion to do more than simply make money from the sale of their soaps.
We’re big advocates of ‘for purpose’ businesses, especially businesses trying to affect positive changes through their work. Witnessing the journey these two have been on since we first met, in their very early stages 2 years ago has been inspiring.
They’ve embraced every opportunity that’s come their way & learnt a lot in the process. Many conversations have been had over deliveries about our entrepreneurial journey’s & learnings, it’s invaluable being able to share challenges and celebrate wins with people who understand.
Creators Nest hosted a Base Soap bar making workshop last month, it was such a great success we’re hosting another!
Before we get into more details about that though, I thought it’d be really nice to get to know Mick & Lianne a little more, so I asked them a few questions to give us some insight into what’s behind their brand.
BEHIND THE BRAND Q&A
How did you guys meet? (Lianne being Dutch & Mick being Australian)
We first met in 2007 in a tiny place called Leconfield on the outskirts of Tamworth. Lianne was at the end of a backpacking adventure, having come from the Netherlands. Mick was on holiday in between Army postings. Together with a handful of locals and tourists, we spent a few days on a property enjoying horsemanship lessons, fixing fences and generally soaking up the hot summer. Naturally, backpacking visas end, we stayed in touch and after Mick’s resignation from Defence our story together really started.
What was the inspiration behind starting Base Soaps together?
Lianne had returned to work after maternity leave and Mick’s PhD was finally done. Given our very different work lives, we were looking for an activity we could share that didn’t revolve around Iris (toddler). The conclusion was a small business that could generate revenue for reinvesting in community health programs within Australia. Soap making seemed a natural fit given Mick’s background in green chemistry.
How long has BASE Soaps been operating?
We’ve been making and selling since early 2017.
How long before you started the business did you have the idea?
The business went from itch to production in a very short time frame. It seemed right at the early fire-side discussions and the timing must have been right. Mick went straight into experimenting and we sold our first product at a market in Bungendore a few months later.
Soap worked on many levels. It’s a simple everyday item that just about everyone uses in one way shape or form. Mick had made soap for a Christmas gift many years back and the outcome was surprisingly good. We quickly learned our region had access to fantastic natural soap making resources. Finally, we realised soap offered a great way to talk to people about environmentally friendly living and the power social enterprise, using normal consumerism to positively impact on improving our communities.
Can you give some insight into what your ingredients are & their importance?
One of our focus points is ingredients. All products are vegan and free of the usual nasties. On top of this, we take great care in understanding the origins of our ingredients to ensure we’re using the most gentle and sustainable options the market has to offer. For instance, our region is blessed with a plethora of high-quality olive oil. Unfortunately for the producers, this has a shelf life and there’s significant variation from one harvest to another. Whenever the oil doesn’t meet the food-grade high standards, we scoop it up to create wonderful soap products. In doing so, we support the farmers in paying for what is otherwise a waste product of their industry.
What conversations or thoughts do you hope to trigger through your products?
Simple. Where are my products coming from? Are they suitable for the environment and my family’s use? What are all these strange chemical sounding ingredients, and should I be worried? Is there a way I can activate my purchasing power to do good elsewhere?
Is there something you wish you knew before you began this journey?
Had we’d understood from the start, the power of mentors and encircling yourself with the right people, we’d be much further along in our journey. Additionally, its taken us a long time to learn to say ‘no’. By sticking to what we do best, and avoiding distraction in trying to satisfy the minute demands of every new idea, more successful product would be out the door, allowing us to be further along on our journey.
What’s been the biggest challenge in sustaining & growing your brand?
Keeping up with demand. We’ve got a great group of individual and wholesale customers that keep our moulds full all year round. Clearly, expansion is needed to reach a broader market ultimately allowing our profits to have greater social impact. We’re growing slowly but surely. New, much larger moulds are currently being trialled and things are looking exciting. If we could only find somewhere to store the extra curing soap!
What’s been most rewarding about embarking on this journey together?
The most rewarding experience is two-fold; everything we have learned and everyone we have met along the way. We knew absolutely nothing about running a business when we first started, so we took it upon ourselves to figure it out. And while we are growing, we are still learning so much every day. Doing markets and building relationships with wholesalers and other entrepreneurs really has opened up a whole world we didn’t know existed. There is a great community out there with people that care about where their products come from, and people that are passionate about creating these products, and we are proud to be part of this community.
We started extremely small, and the nature of our business was that we could do this, there were no massive investments to make to start it off, which probably gave us the confidence we needed to do it.
How do you manage working elsewhere, running your business & caring for you family, what strategies have you put into place to make it possible & not burn out?
This is certainly work in progress. Mick’s paid work is much more flexible than is Lianne’s, yet raising kids needs ultimate flexibility. We do what we can, when we can and know when to rest before breaking down. Given our girls are now roughly 4 and 2, we try to work when they’re down or otherwise preoccupied. However, it’s difficult to avoid weekend work. We certainly ensure we’ve both got a few hours dedicated to work-free family activity every day. This helps with grounding. We’re also careful to make it known when a task or deadline just can’t be achieved. We’re not superhuman, not yet anyway.
What’s the driving force behind your bigger picture vision? What inspires you to keep going?
We’re driven by a two-fold passion. We want to demonstrate that the market for everyday consumer products can be repurposed to support not-for-profit tasks. What better way to tackle the big issues around us we’re otherwise helpless to impact? We believe sustainability in this sector comes from generating your own income, rather than relying on external funding or donation. Secondly, we also want to learn to work together. For a couple to share a workspace as well as a home isn’t common, in part because it’s tricky. We’ve certainly discovered we think and operate differently which we think will ultimately lead to our success.
What has running your own business taught you?
Running our own business has repeatedly demonstrated that you get out what you put in. Good planning, foresight and a commitment to a schedule seems to be the only way we can effectively be our own boss.
What do you enjoy most about running workshops?
Workshops are a great way to encourage, demystify and educate whilst imparting our social enterprise passion. We love interacting with our customers and workshops allow a more intimate opportunity to gauge what drives our customers. Workshops are also a great way to get free product development, you never know what fantastic formulations people dream up!
Big thanks to Mick & Lianne for sharing their business story with us, it’s such a pleasure soaring along side both of you… & selling your beautiful soap too!
WANT TO ATTEND THE NEXT SOAP MAKING WORKSHOP?
Saturday November 30th, 10am – 1pm
More details here.