How can I leave my day job? How do I start my own soap business?
These are questions I get asked a lot and the answer is 'not easily' and in the current economic climate it takes determination and tenacity as well as a good business head but today I want to bring you a feel good story of how someone else has done it. I am loving the opportunity to be able to share this inspiring story of a lady who has created an amazing business out of her passion for a particular rare breed of sheep and is proof that it can be done, you can follow your dreams. I will hand you over to Lucy herself to explain how an engineer became a soap maker amongst other things. You can also find links to her website and social media at the end ( I am very tempted by the sheepy felted key rings - gorgeous 😍
Who are you and what is the name of your business?
Hello, I’m Lucy and my business is Naturally Woodland. Everything I create is made with a little help from my flock of rare breed Whitefaced Woodland sheep, who, as the name suggests, are my inspiration for the business. I make sheep’s milk soaps and various other handcrafted products made using their wool.
How did you get started in the soap and skincare industry?
I actually spent 10 years working as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry, and coincidentally also spent 10 years trying to think of something that could get me out of engineering. Then in the summer of 2022 I was at a local agricultural show talking to a bloke after purchasing some goat’s milk soaps from him when I suddenly had an idea.
I’ve always had sensitive, eczema prone skin and so I’d used goat’s milk soap for years after finding that it helped reduce flare ups, but up to then I’d always ordered it online. When I found out that he was only local to me I was a little surprised as I didn’t think anyone nearby did or could do that sort of thing (don’t ask me why!). So I thought, well maybe I could make soaps myself, but use milk from my sheep instead!
Later on that day the internet kindly told me that sheep’s milk soap was in fact a real thing, and as I fell down the Google rabbit hole I thankfully stumbled across an amazing resource, which was The Soap Coach website and blog. The rest, as they say, is history, but in the following 9 months I learnt to make soap, concocted my sensitive skin friendly recipe, completed the Soap Business Bootcamp, bravely quit my job, learnt to milk sheep, and successfully launched Naturally Woodland!
What do you love most about your business?
I genuinely love every bit of it, even down to the mountains of admin - being a project engineer had its benefits and gave me many, very useful transferable skills. The best bit however is that my business is based around my sheep and they’re at the heart of everything I do. I am immensely passionate about Whitefaced Woodlands - being able to promote and showcase the breed at the same time as making a living (or part of one, for the moment at least!) from them is amazing and an absolute dream come true.
What sets your soap or skincare products apart from others in the market?
As I said previously, all my products are made with a little help from the sheep - it really is them that defines my brand and sets my products apart from others. I am absolutely sure that I am the only person silly enough to even think about milking Whitefaced Woodlands and so my Naturally Woodland soaps really are ewe-nique!
What are your future plans and goals for your business?
I have so many plans and ideas for my business! But what I’ve learnt is that you can’t do everything. I am, like so many others, a one woman band, and there are only so many hours in a day.
Up to now I've kept my soap and skincare range to just soaps, however this year I'll hopefully be adding several new products to my range. After trading for the best part of a year, I now feel that I’m ready to bring the right products to market in the right way for Naturally Woodland. I'm also looking to expand the business in other ways too, which certainly includes wholesale, and potentially includes offering workshops. Growth won't come without efficiency improvements though and so this is also a key goal of mine for this year.
Do you have any advice for aspiring soap and skincare entrepreneurs based on your experience?
At the beginning I stressed that opening for business with only soaps available wasn’t enough and that my website and market stall would look bare, but I was wrong. Through investing time and energy in sharing my story alongside the soaps I gained confidence and began to feel more comfortable with everything, realising that this side of things was actually more important to a lot of people than just purely what my soap looked like.
My advice to others would be to take things steady and don’t feel like you need to have every product under the sun. Getting started with a small baseline of products and getting real life experience of your business will enable you to cement your business values, engage with your customers and so allow you to more easily predict and decide what products will fit your brand.
Do you have a favourite sheep or one that is especially funny or naughty?
Although there are many characters within the flock my favourite has to be the matriarch, Vesta. She’s going to be 8 years old this Spring, which is quite old for a sheep, but she doesn’t look or act like it.
She was a bottle fed lamb all those years ago and because of that she’s so tame and pretty much like a dog. She’ll come to her name for a good old scratch and if you stop or walk away then she’ll follow you and demand more. The reality of farming though is that you can’t keep every animal and most are sold on for one reason or another at some point in their life. However, there are exceptions and Vesta is one of them - she certainly has a place in the flock for life so here’s hoping she keeps on producing brilliant lambs for a few more years before she then lives out her retirement with plenty of treats and fusses.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about the flock and keeping up to date with their goings on then I have a fortnightly newsletter that you can sign up to via the website. You will also get a nice little 10% off code for the website as a thank you as well!