Two cousins embark on an aromatic affair with hand-made soaps

V. Renuka and J. Devi love everything handmade. They bake cookies at home and make chocolates. Six months ago, they heard about hand-made soaps. A course in Bangalore later, the cousins have embarked on an aromatic journey.

Devi makes cold process soap from scratch using oil (coconut, castor, sesame or olive) and lye. Renuka takes a slight short cut; she uses glycerine-rich soap base. Then, the experimentation begins. Both of them are from farm-owning families, and so have access to all the fresh herbs and fruits they need — from papaya and aloe vera to neem flowers and rose petals.

As we speak, Renuka gently peels off the outer skin of a freshly-plucked aloe vera stem and scoops out the flesh. This she adds to a glass beaker with soap base and melts it in the microwave. In go some essential oils and herbs. She pours this into two soap moulds. Time taken: less than a minute. She needs about an hour to make a kilo of soap, made up of different flavours.

Devi, on the other hand, takes about two hours to make about a kilo of soap. That’s because there’s a whole lot of calculation involved in mixing the ingredients. It also needs enough resting. She has also experimented making soaps using goat milk sourced from nearby farms.

Devi makes shampoo bars too, using a similar process. “Oil-based soaps are very moisturising. They just need to be cured for four to six weeks before use,” she says.

The cousins don’t use alcohol or any artificial fragrance in their soaps. They use a drop or two of essential oils and lots of interesting ingredients such as pink salt, oats, honey, orange peel, cocoa, grapes, beetroot, saffron, almond and sandalwood powder. Devi also uses annatto seed, which lends the soaps a rich yellow-orange hue.

Though they have ready stock, they prefer customising soaps based on the client’s skin type. Renuka retails her soaps under the brand name Zi (it means beautiful in Chinese). They cost between Rs. 60 and Rs. 100. She also makes gift packs using different flavours.

Devi started off by gifting samples to friends and family. She retails under the brand name of Auraa. Her soaps are more expensive and range from Rs. 100 to Rs. 150. Till now, Renuka and Devi have stuck to word-of-mouth marketing. It’s slow but effective. Only those who like our soaps speak about them. So, it’s a validation of our efforts, they say.

So, what does soap making mean to them? “An all-consuming passion that I love,” says Renuka. The appreciation makes Devi happy, but she’s delighted about “rediscovering math and science”.

For details, 99762-84844 or visit www.facebook.com/Auraahanmadesoaps and 88833-30033 or mail zihandmade@gmail.com