Soap from Scratch
Local Business Man Creates Jobs Through a Unique Island Souvenir Company

November 1st, 2010
by Giordana Toccaceli

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One of the four types of soap bars offered by Roatan Natural Soap Works for sale

One of the four types of soap bars offered by Roatan Natural Soap Works for sale

Inspired by his grandmother’s soap making in South Africa, and his passion for herbology, Mathew Harper, owner of Green Hill Energy Solutions and Roatan based Roatan Natural Soap Works (RNSW), describes his newfound work as “therapeutic.” Harper is an electrical engineer who recently has become an artisan soap maker.

Harper discovered a niche market in island-made souvenirs when he observed that nearly all island souvenirs were brought in from the mainland. The untapped market and a desire to keep his workforce employed in a slow year led Harper to reinvent his company and create a new business model. While the demand for electrical contracts has dwindled, several of his electricians are now making soaps once a week and happy to still have a job.

The company was founded as an artisanal business that will generate jobs, training and at the same time provide natural, vibrant, high-quality island souvenir products locals can be proud of. “Municipality has been no help to me whatsoever. I’m trying to create jobs, generate revenue. The main reason I voted for Pepe Lobo and Julio Galindo was because of their support towards local business” says Harper.
For someone with sensitive skin choosing the right soap, shampoo or any body care product to use can be a delicate thing. Artificial perfumes, chemical additives and over-processing in commonly used soaps strip the skin potentially causing dryness, itching and inflammation. Buyers of RNSW in Plan Grande, can be at ease when using their products because of their old fashioned, back-to-basics approach to soap making.

The ingredients and home-made remedies used in these soaps are already benefiting islanders. Cindy Peterkin, a Six Huts resident and a fan of RNSW says: “I can finally sit on my porch and enjoy the view without smelling of DEET.” She uses No See Um, one of the more popular types of soaps specifically formulated to repel sand flies and mosquitoes. Peterkin had been searching for over 20 years for a soap that would not give her rashes. She finally settled on Neutrogena gel but it was difficult and expensive to get on Roatan. She has been using RNSW soaps since August and has been recommending the locally made soaps to her island friends.

The RNSW soaps are medicinal, anti-allergenic, and all natural. They are cold-processed to preserve the integrity and quality of all the ingredients. Cold process soap making originated in ancient Rome and is the ‘true’ art of soap making, using lye, base oils and essential oils. The soaps found on supermarket shelves are usually made through a melting and pouring process which reduces the benefits of naturally derived ingredients. The only preservative used is grapefruit seed extract. The company’s aim is to use ingredients that are healing, soothing and moisturizing while limiting any negative impact on the island.

Aside from the No see um line, there is a highly therapeutic and healing Avocado soap, Lemongrass soap with astringent, antibacterial and antifungal properties and Madre de Cacao soap, whose main ingredient Madre de Cacao has been used by islanders for centuries as a comprehensive cure for all types of skin ailments. A fifth soap made from Jack Ass Bitters is on its way as well as a pumice stone scrub and lip balm. The soap packaging is made from recycled paper and tied with a string of sisal. Eventually the company plans to offer other body care products.

Harper wants to stay as local as possible, but in some cases has to import products like coconut oil from Nicaragua and essential oils from Guatemala.

In the first month after their launch, RNSW sold 150 units and last month sold 300 units. RNSW Soap bars come in two sizes, two ounce bars priced at $2.50 and four ounce bars at $3. Gift packs with samples of all the products are available for $10. The soap bars can be purchased through a stand in Mahogany Bay, at Barefoot Charlie’s internet shop in West End and at Bananarama Resort in West Bay. [/private]

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