France is one of the county in the world that can be automatically linked to soap and soap making. But in a globalized world things are changing quickly and even the French traditional soap business is facing an era of new challenges. I have recently talked about this matter with Annabelle Mathon, soaper and founder of the French Cold Process Soapmakers Association (ASSAF).
Before getting into our topic, could I ask you to describe your story with soap?
I used to be a professional soapmaker in South of France, next to the Spanish border.
I started in July 2011 and ended on February 2013. It was a dream I realized. I just had my first child and this little smiling baby had some skin troubles because I used an industrial soap. So her godmother gave me this brown soap she made with honey and safe oils using cold process. Only a week after everything was ok and my daughter and I enjoyed this “new” product so much that I asked my friend to come back and teach me how to make it myself. I didn’t get it would be such a revelation! Two years after I opened my business the Savonnerie Minervoise.
What is your favorite methods?
I only know three soap making methods and I’m totally a fan of cold process even if making some transparent soaps is always a pleasure. I prefer working on ingredients balancing than making visual attractive bars even if this two aspects can be connected as well. To me a soap is beautiful when its imperfections tell us its story.
Do you have a recipe you would love to share with us?
One of my favorite recipe is a simple one, which can be a nice base for transparent soap if you reduce avocado and add some castor oil:
– 50% avocado oil
– 20% tamanu oil
– 20% hemp oil
– 10% olive oil
A proper amount of water and caustic soda for 8% super fatting ratio
I love incense aroma so I add a tincture of a special blend made with variable proportions (depending on the season) of Styrax, Benzoin, Frankincense and Myrrh.
We have now learnt a little bit about you as a keen, professional soaper but Annabelle Mathon is also a member of the French Association of Cold Process Soapers ASSAF. Could you tell our readers more about this initiative?
L’Association des Savonniers par Saponification à Froid (ASSAF) was created by professionals for professionals. Its goals are to promote cold process, to help professional soapmakers enhancing their skills and answering technical questions which can be specific and technical or more general about business.
Some public projects that will be finalized in a few weeks or months are for instance:
– the website http://www.jaimelesavon.com is aimed to promote cold process in an easy understandable way and it will allow to find a soapmaker easily with a geographic and dynamic plan. It will be targeting costumers but also retailers;
– the acknowledgment of the Diploma of Cold Process Soapmaker awarded by the Université Européenne des Saveurs et Senteurs (UESS) based at Forcalquier (F-04300);
– the acknowledgment of the “Charte du Savon par saponification à froid” (the cold process soap Chart) in order to protect the process and to get soaps a certification. We stated that some sellers do not know the difference between the different soaps and cannot answer costumers correctly. We also wrote to some of them who made some mistakes but they did not change anything so we decided to ask for acknowledgment and certification in order to help and protect costumers – exactly as Marseille soap did. We began this action a year ago now and created a label to go fast.
Actually many more ideas are in the pipeline waiting and they will be developed in the next years.
How is the consumers attitude towards natural, handcraft soap? In Italy, for instance, it is still a minority that understand and appreciate the values of natural soap. Industry-made soaps and toiletries are still the very first choice for many Italians.
It’s the same statment here in France. ASSAF is well-understanding what cold process soap is – because there is a global reflexion about the way we create, we buy and we exchange – and it works in parallele to help costumers to easily locate soapmakers using simple geographic list for example. Many public events, that go on all year long, help soapmakers to get visibility but nothing is better than selling directly to the costumers. This individual approach is precious and it helps people to make the first step and to swap to this kind of soaps instead.
Soapmakers are supported by soapers with their blogs, forums and recommendations. Some medias are also talking about this “new” product and there are a few retailers writing about it too. All these little actions putting together is the best we can have: they are coming from everywhere. But there is still a huge work to be done and ASSAF has been establish for this purpose. Nobody’s alone and together we’re stronger.
Recently on Change.org a petition has been launched to save the Marseille soap from Chinese cheaper versions. What does ASSAF think about this matter? Is your association taking any actions in this matter?
I guess I have already partially answered this question but anyway, no ASSAF will not take any public action because ASSAF only talks about cold process. But we are looking with a good eye to this initiative, even if we know that some Italian and Syrian professional soapmakers are working with this process and do it as well. What is the most important goal is to keep alive the Marseille traditional soap making process.
How does the future look like for soap businesses in your area? Which challenges do you have to tackle?
At first we need to explain and explain again what is the CP soap and what are the differences with the other processes. Too many people do not even know that soap is the first cosmetic and the basis of toiletry. We have to educate the consumer and guide him. Our chance starts when somebody accepts to test a CP soap because he will feel its qualities really easily. So we are moving on, time helps us but today we are in front of another big challenge: communication and media. A large part of our members is very small business owners so we cannot communicate as we would like to. TV and magazines are really the best places to inform and convince consumers to become more conscious but, at the moment, these media are too expensive to reach for our association. We need to find more supportive people and business owners. Money is one of the key even if Internet helps and we are part of this new generation born with the Web and therefore able to understand and use online-based media everyday. I really appreciate if Laurent Bousquet could say a word in this blog about the history of French soapmaking because there is a very interesting fact happening which I can resume as “one city, one soapmaker”.
As ASSAF do you have any international cooperation or contact with similar organizations in Europe or outside?
ASSAF is a small and young association at the moment which have to make its proof before trying to think broader. So we know other associations – in France, in Belgium and in USA of course – but we are focusing on our actions at first, even if a lot of our members are talking about or belong to some other associations. This permeability is an asset and ASSAF encourage its members to join other groups.