Main story: As technologies advancement is rapid and things are widely mass-produced, handmade products such as natural soaps have taken up a special place in the market today.
Understanding how something is made and why it is made that way has become vital to modern life more than ever. Now people worldwide are beginning to value and appreciate things that are crafted by hands. Public desire for authenticity has never been greater.
Through centuries, craft has acted as a language – to allow people to learn and to understand the value of the things that are created by hands.
Even in the capital, a few entrepreneurs have taken up this mantle to create things on their own and to help Bhutanese appreciate the various handmade products they have brought in the market.
A newbie in the market and founder of Pelbar Natural Soaps, Sonam Pelden, is creating something that is straight out of fantasy – an assortment of decorative hand-made soaps ranging from pink, purple, white and yellow, of different shapes and sizes.
Initially started as a hobby, Sonam Pelden started making soaps from organic raw materials such as aloe vera plant and tomatoes for her personal use two years ago.
“My family started loving the soaps I made from these ingredients and soon I found myself experimenting with other local materials,” Sonam Pelden said.
Today, she makes these soaps from dandelion, turmeric, palm oil, essential oil, flower essence, lemon grass and coconut oil, to name a few. They are chemical free soaps.
Although new, Sonam Pelden has made three home deliveries in Thimphu so far.
“Most seem to love the soaps because of the colour and buy them as decorative pieces instead for use,” she said. “Many think that handmade products are expensive and I hope to change this impression through my business.”
In the coming years, she plans to open up a home-based business to teach others how to make soaps, not only through the organic raw materials, but also from used oil to make dishwashing soaps.
“I plan to let my niece run the business and ensure that there are organic soaps for every Bhutanese, and also hope that local products will substitute the import products,” Sonam Pelden said. “There are increasing number of people that appreciates such handmade products today.”
For now, Sonam Pelden makes these soaps at home when she receives orders.
For Ugyen, general manager of Bio Bhutan, making soap has never been more profitable. Along with his team, comprising of 15 people, they have been making natural soaps since 2008. Today, they export their products to countries such as Germany, Taiwan and Singapore, among others.
With a help of a soap expert from Thailand, the employees learnt how to create soaps based on the rich flora of the country, Ugyen said.
The assortment of soaps, neatly wrapped in desho paper, contains mustard oil, spices, bee wax, natural scents, essential oil distilled from lemon grass and wormwood.
The organic soap contains plant based natural antiseptic and skin care ingredients such as mustard oil, ginger, turmeric and essential oil. It doesn’t contain any synthetic colours, preservatives or chemical foaming agent.
“We are dedicated to promote sustainable use of natural resources and support rural communities in remote places. All the soaps are hand-cut and hand-wrapped,” Ugyen said. “The raw materials are supplied by communities from rural areas, which generates income for the rural communities.”
Raw materials such as sliced and dried turmeric are brought from Dagpai and Takabi women groups in Zhemgang, while sliced and dried ginger are brought from Dekeling in Sarpang and Lhuentse. Cold pressed mustard oil is brought from Dekeling in Sarpang. Artemisia and lemongrass essential oil are brought from Dozam, Uzorong, Baepam and Phunsum community forest management groups in Trashigang.
We pay a premium price for ingredients supplied by our rural communities. For example, the price for 1kg Artemisia essential oil is Nu 2,500, and Nu 1,000 per kg for lemongrass essential oil. Coconut oil is imported from India, Ugyen said. Natural handmade soaps not only cleanse, but also restore the skin moisture.
“Since the soap doesn’t contain any synthetic or chemical foaming agent such as sodium lauryl sulphate, it is safe and biodegradable. On the other hand, industrial mass-produced soap uses lots of chemicals and synthetic additives, which is not good for the skin,” Ugyen said.
There is huge scope for natural handmade soap business, both in domestic and international market, Ugyen added. “However, the realisation of market potential depends on the amount of investment made.”
With such products available in the market, many are now appreciating and using these handmade products, Ugyen said. “There’s something essential when one buys handmade products, one becomes more responsible and mindful consumer. One appreciates the skills, time and effort put into every product.”
There are a whole bundle of different values as well. One can become anti-consumerist, go-green or embrace environmentally friendly approach, Ugyen added.
A corporate employee, Tandin Wangmo, said she makes a point to buy local handmade products.
“Whenever I buy a handmade product, I think about who might have made it and appreciate the effort they took to create it. I love knowing I am supporting someone’s passion,” Tandin Wangmo said. “Buying handmade product is a conscious decision and helps me be more conscious of where I am spending.”