Small Business Spotlight: Oakwood Soaperie

This month in the blog I'm starting a little feature where I'll interview & talk about some of the small businesses that inspire me. Today's interview is with a favourite of mine, Oakwood Soaperie. 

I first met Ceri at Gibside Farmers Market in County Durham and our paths kept crossing after that until I eventually moved into the studio next door to her, like the creeper I am. Although I no longer work next door to her, Ceri's business continues to inspire me. Not only is her branding and business ethics on point, the products she makes are absolutely diving. I'm an absolute lover of her Honey and G'Oat Soap! That's my recommendation for you. So now we're going to get down to business with the interview:

First off can you tell us a little about your business.

Oakwood Soaperie was launched in October 2010 and has been slowly building since then. I design and make natural soaps, luxurious bath products  and natural candles using traditional methods and plant based ingredients. I currently sell my products online via my website, and through my Etsy and Folksy shops, through selected local gallery’s and gift shops and at many events around the North East of England throughout the year. In the last couple of years I have launched a second business ‘Ghosts of Nature’ in which I use grown and gathered leaves, flowers and other botanical elements to make beautiful original prints onto silk and paper, Earlier this year, I set up a second Etsy shop dedicated to my paper prints and hope to add more to my range when time allows.

Where can we find you?

I’m lucky enough to have a studio within a converted stable block in the National Trust’s Gibside Estate, just a few miles from Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s set within a huge rural landscape of woodlands and fields, I have to pinch myself sometimes!

What motivated you to start your business?

Growing up in the countryside and being a nature lover with a passion for creating, I’ve always loved learning about the properties and uses of plants and natural materials, their natural beauty and versatility. I became increasingly interested in essential oils too, reading up on their uses and benefits and gradually became a little obsessed. I studied a Diploma in Essential Oils which gave me a good general knowledge of how to use them safely in skincare and a taste of making some simple products. I was hooked, and over the next couple of years, while working full time, began formulating, experimenting and developing products and soap recipes from scratch getting them all certified by a cosmetic safety assessor.

What has been your biggest challenge since opening Oakwood Soaperie?

Gosh that’s a tricky one, there are so many challenges running your own business, even more as a maker too. I think it’s probably allowing myself to take time off every now and again. I become so focussed on what needs to be done in my business, I forget I need to rest. I’m a dreadful sleeper and rarely allow myself a lie in, so this for me is a huge challenge.

What would be your favourite thing that you enjoy making? 

That’s got to be cold processed soap, It’s almost like a meditation for me, the careful measuring and quiet preparing, the process of combining the ingredients to a tried and tested method, and the playtime when the soap is in the mold and starting to saponify, it’s then I get to swirl it and make patterns, my favourite bit!

What’s your favourite ingredient to use when making a soap? Is there a scent of natural product you can’t live without?

My favourite ingredient has to be the raw cocoa butter that goes into all my soaps. It gives a beautifully creamy rich lather to the soap and is full of wonderful nutrients to feed the skin. It’s deliciously chocolatey scent and finty texture when chopped are delightful too, I’ll never get tired of chopping cocoa butter.

What do you love to see people buy from you? 

I love it when people buy my products, but especially when they come back for more and are so full of enthusiasm for my creations, that is wonderful. It makes all the hard work worthwhile. 

Outside of your own products what’s the thing you can’t live without?

I love to try other maker’s products too, and have recently treated myself to a facial scrub from Angela Langford (she was a Masterchef finalist don’t you know). It’s truly lovely and not the kind of product I make for my range but a really indulgent treat for me.

What do you do when you lose your motivation?

It happens to the best of us, and usually to me every winter. Once Christmas is over I’m pretty exhausted with all the events and orders before the big day so come to expect a bit of a post festive New Year funk. The best thing for me is to take it slowly, get outdoors, rest well and take a little time out. Inspiration comes back when you’re ready to embrace it, and it can’t be forced.

Last place or thing you did that took your breathe away?

Last summer, my husband and I went to the Isle of Skye for our holiday. I hadn’t been since I was about 12, my hubby had never been before, we were totally blown away by the landscape and scenery. I’d love to go back again very soon, a week was nowhere near enough for us to explore everywhere we wanted to.

Name another maker/small business that you love?

I have a few local talents for you to choose from:

In The Silver Room

Michelle Johnson, silversmith based at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle upon Tyne

Kate Van Suddese

North East Artist working in oils and acrylics

Wooly Peddlar

Sue Reed – Wooly Peddlar, N.E creator of upcycled knitwear, saving woollies from landfill.

 

You can find Ceri's website here and a list of where to find her in person here

I really recommend finding her in person in her studio at Gibside National Trust Estate in County Durham. You'll be able to see the maker in action and smell all the amazing natural ingredients that she uses. Check her Facebook and website for details of her studio days.