Meet the Founder of Durham-Based Colliery Soap Studio
Rachel Smith, founder of Durham-based Colliery Soap Studio, is juggling motherhood with running her business and working as an engineer three days a week
While you might not see the connection between mechanical engineering and soap making, it was a passion for sustainability that attracted Rachael Smith, the face and hands behind Colliery Soap Studio, to both. ‘Working in the construction industry as a mechanical design engineer and a low carbon consultant, sustainability has always been a huge part of my life,’ explains Rachael.
‘Outside of “big picture” industrial buildings, and with a niggling unease about my own carbon footprint at home, I wondered how I could further contribute to positive change. The plastic in our bathroom bothered me and I began making soap, shampoo bars and solid lotion bars for our personal use around six years ago.’
With the support of her husband Paul, Rachael took the leap and had her products safety-assessed by a cosmetic chemist which meant she could set up Colliery Soap Studio as a business. Her main aim was to make plastic-free living more fun.
Based in Sacriston, the concept of Colliery Soap Studio is to produce fun, colourful soap, bath and skincare products which are also eco-friendly. ‘Our fragranced square soap bars combine our Northern heritage with modern sustainability principles,’ says Rachael. ‘Our connection to the North can be seen in our history and business name, while sustainability shines through our products.
‘Everything we make is plastic-free and packaged plastic-free too. “Spoil yourself, not the environment” is our ethos and it really is our whole identity.’
Colliery Soap Studios’ products range from lip balms to bath salts, but they’re probably best known for their soap slices which are all made by hand. ‘Our soap is made completely from scratch, right here in the North of England,’ explains Rachel. ‘We use our own blend of oils and butters, all chosen for their skincare properties, and mix them with a sodium hydroxide solution, producing a chemical reaction called saponification. This basically means the fats and oils are turned into soap.
‘We blend in colour and fragrance, then pour the soap batter into our handmade moulds. Once the batter has firmed up, usually after around 24 hours, we can cut it into our soap bar shape, and then spread them out and leave them to cure for a number of weeks before they're ready for sale.’
Rachael’s favourite product is another nod to her Northern heritage. ‘My favourite is definitely our Lump of Coal soap. It’s just so fun, makes an excellent stocking filler or secret Santa gift and it's also made with brilliant ingredients, including cocoa butter, shea butter, apricot oil and activated charcoal.
‘We source as many ingredients as possible from the UK and many of our botanicals are grown right here in the North of England. Some ingredients aren't able to be produced in the UK, such as cocoa butter, so then we use specialist suppliers who can provide the correct paperwork and details of the supply chain.’
Colliery Soap Studios supply their soaps to shops and tourist attractions across the North East.‘We primarily sell to other businesses either under our own brand or as a white-label arrangement (where we package the products as per their own specifications),’ Rachael explains. ‘We've got some wonderful customers, including Beamish Museum, Lilidorei at The Alnwick Garden, Durham Cathedral and Discover Durham to name just a few.’
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Rachael is really happy with where her business is right now, both geographically and within the market place. ‘What I love most about being based in the North East is the camaraderie between all the other local small businesses, that we're never more than 10 minutes from the countryside, and that our coal soaps are so popular.
‘For the future of the business, at the moment, we're hoping things stay pretty much the same. We love the pace the business is growing, but have no aspirations to become a huge entity. We enjoy being able to speak to our customers on a truly personal level.’
Rachael will be bringing Colliery Soap Studio to Living North’s Christmas Fair, and you can meet her there. ‘At the Fair we'll have lots of gorgeous soaps, bath salts, hand butters, lip balms and gift-sets available,’ she says. ‘We’ll make sure we have lots of Lump of Coal soaps this year too, as we sold out in the first day last time. Because we make everything ourselves from scratch, we know everything there is to know about all the ingredients, so please just ask if you have any questions!’