We put our values first
When Stevi first started experimenting with cold process soaps, way back in 2011, little did she know that her kitchen-based undertaking would launch a company. Stevi had realised that there were few authentic, regional souvenirs in the UAE and that she could do something about it.
‘When I first arrived in Dubai at the turn of the 21st century, I remember looking in gift shops for gifts to take back to the UK or South Africa when I visited – and everything I saw was made in India or China. Make no mistake, there were some beautiful products available but I didn’t feel they represented the region in an authentic way.’
Over 1 million bars sold world wide
Follow your passion
An idea is nothing without action
I had a successful career in business, working in the electronic payments industry. I had worked for a number of small businesses in that industry, and was intrigued with the idea of setting up my own company. Life changed for me when at 47 years old I had my first child, and I decided that wanting her so badly and going back to the hours and pace I was working were not compatible. I stopped work and tried a few things (that didn’t work).
I curated two art exhibitions, tried to export shoes to South Africa. Both broke even but didn’t make me millions.
In 2008, a visit to an Australian olive oil soap factory sparked the idea of making handcrafted soaps in the UAE. Moreover, having always loved natural soaps, the challenge of incorporating locally sourced camel milk was just too tempting to resist. Mind made up, Stevi left for London to study soap making under the tutelage of Melinda Coss, celebrated author of The Handmade Soap Book.
On her return, Stevi set about creating handmade soaps that would celebrate the tradition of soap-making in the region and which would incorporate local camel milk.
The soap maker within had blossomed.
‘I played around in my husband’s shed for a year or two, my friends tested out dozens and dozens of soaps for me. I tried for months to write a business plan because I knew I’d need one to start the business. Whilst browsing one day in our local bookshop, by chance I found a book called Jump ( Ian Sanders and David Slol), I realized that trying to write the perfect business plan was holding me back. With some not-so-subtle hints from my husband, I made the leap.
I had to see whether there was a market for these little soaps. I wrapped them in beautiful coloured tissue paper, found myself a sort of logo and set off for a school fair at a nursery school. My soaps looked beautiful and I was very proud of my little stand UNTIL… the sprinkler system got set off accidentally. I lost all my stock that night and learned a few valuable lessons about soap and water and packaging!
A few weeks later with new packaging, a little rustic but closer to what we sell today, I tried a school Xmas fair. I thought I’d do two fairs that Xmas.‘
Stevi took these soaps to the first school fair. They were simple, in a little hessian bag with hand cut labels. She sold them all at that first market and had to phone school fair number two and pull out. She’d sold all her stock!
From the very first markets and fairs, Stevi’s home-based ‘Essential Soaps’ soon found a place in the hearts of locals and tourists alike, all of whom wanted to carry a little piece of the UAE back home. With a request from a large retailer to stock her soaps, it became clear that a more practical and formal manufacturing facility was required and so The Camel Soap Factory was born.
‘People often ask me ‘Why soap?’ Why camel milk?’ The truth is that I had no idea how to make soap even though I loved natural soaps and had been buying them for personal use for years. I loved soaps made with milks so thought camel milk might be an interesting ingredient.
So I googled ‘Best Soapmaker in the World’ – I kid you not!!! And one name kept coming up. Melinda Coss. So I signed up for her soap making course in London. My world was about to change!’
Guidance is key
‘I was still making soaps in my husband’s shed in the garden. I’d asked my daughter’s Filipino nanny whether she wanted a chance to learn a new skill and she jumped at the chance. Between the two of us, and the same basic equipment ordered from the UK, we managed to supply a major gift retailer. But we were running out of space, and I knew that the time had now come to write the dreaded business plan.’
Stevi hired Melinda Coss as a business coach and mentor, and the two of them put together the first business plan. Knowing nothing about fundraising, Stevi ran the business plan past her father, a noted entrepreneur in her native South Africa. He was so impressed with the business plan that he took the idea to a family friend and the two of them decided to provide seed funding. This enabled Stevi to move into a proper industrial warehouse in an industrial area of Dubai. It was still just Stevi, her daughter’s nanny Hajila who had now fully transitioned into the business, and a friend of hers. Her nephew, Matthew, flew in from South Africa and joined her in the business, and the four of them set about growing the business.
‘We learned a few hard lessons about premises in those few years in Al Quoz. I had naively assumed that everything we’d need for starting a business would be available, like water and electricity. We discovered that not all was what it seems and learned a few hard lessons about renting premises.’
What's important to me
‘It was when I was writing a document for Dubai Municipality (technical guideline Number 4) to get an industrial licence that I uncovered our purpose. I’d been terrified about having to submit a technical document required by the Municipality. I couldn’t afford a consultant to write the document so in the end I took courage and decided to write it myself. It was whilst I was writing it that I realized… Holy cow! what we do is really pretty amazing. There were lots of questions about effluents, chemical waste, what we do with waste… I had taken what I did for granted, and never thought about the environmental impact.
That’s when I hit upon our early purpose:
We LOVE the UAE and we want every person who buys a product from The Camel Soap Factory to experience that love. We want to create products that reflect the rich traditions and heritage of the region so that every product bought brings a little happiness to the person who receives it. We manufacture products locally, using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, using manufacturing methods that have little environmental impact and generate no waste. Creating a product that is both natural and great to use, without harming our planet.
Having the larger premises allowed the company to really grow massively to become one of the regions premier gift products. Dubai won the rights to stage EXPO2020 and we were awarded the licence to manufacture camel milk-based personal care products for EXPO2020. We moved premises during 2019, to support the products we would be making for EXPO2020 and expand our product range.’
‘Covid hit us hard. Our market had traditionally been to visitors to the region, and suddenly they stopped coming. We knew that the crisis could make or break the company. So, the team embarked on an ambitious journey to create a new product that would enable the company to address new markets directly, and to enter the world of e-Commerce. TCSF launched its beautiful Face Rescue Cream at the beginning of the pandemic, as well as a range of more cost-effective milled soaps for every day use.’
Committed to their principles of sustainable manufacture and products that don’t harm the environment, the company is developing exciting new products to address consumer demand for plastic-free alternatives to everyday essentials such as shampoos and conditioners, lip balms and creams.