“It’s a passion for us to make things beautiful,” says Sakina Buoy, Chairman of the Somerset Toiletry Company (STC). Yet beauty goes beyond skin deep for the British luxury company specialised in artisanal bath, body and fragrance lines – behind their exquisitely designed products is a story of community and conscience.
Passionate about being an “honest” company dedicated to sourcing ingredients of the highest quality, STC embarked on a sustainability journey that has taken them from their manufacturing facilities in Somerset to palm oil plantations in Papua New Guinea, tracing the origins of their palm oil and meeting the growers and communities behind the RSPO Certified sustainable palm oil label on their soap products.
An aromatherapist by profession, Sakina talks to RSPO about the company’s evolution since being founded 25 years ago, and how educating themselves about sustainable palm oil has converted them from being palm oil sceptics into sustainable palm oil ambassadors.
Could you tell us about how starting the Ministry of Soap line began your sustainable palm oil journey?
We used to be part owners of an artisanal soap company in Portugal. When we sold our part in that company, we wanted to have a factory right here in the UK, which was also better for the environment by not having to ship long distances.
We really wanted to make soap because it was a fundamental part of what we do. We started our own manufacturing facility here in Somerset three years ago. We purchased the machinery at the beginning of COVID, which delayed things a bit, but we’ve been properly manufacturing soap for two years now.
We realised quickly that we wanted it to be sustainable. That’s when we first researched sustainable palm oil and we were utterly amazed at the difference using sustainable palm – to the animals, to the people who grow the palm. It’s night and day. That solidified our decision to only use sustainable palm.
How has your experience in becoming a sustainable company been beneficial to your company’s growth?
We don’t do a lot of marketing for our products; our marketing is very grassroots, but people find our products and thankfully, they continue to buy them because they like our ethos and like how the products work for them.
There’s no question that it costs you a bit more to become a sustainable company. But then, I’m a person living in a world that clearly needs help, I have children and one day they may have children. We’re a large population on a small planet. If we don’t do our part, things will fall apart even more.
Everybody in the company feels very strongly that we need to do our part as a business. It would be a great sadness to me for example, if orangutans are displaced from their natural habitats and killed just so I could make soap to sell. That would be despicable.
I love the idea that our products not only don’t harm animals, but also help people in other countries have decent lives by growing sustainable palm.
Why was it important for STC to source RSPO certified sustainable palm oil?
We thought if we were going to be sustainable we wanted to go all the way. So we started researching companies where we could buy our soap noodles from and that’s when we first found sustainable soap. We wanted to use certified Segregated sustainable palm oil because we wanted to know exactly where it came from and know the truth.
We decided we needed to visit Papua New Guinea and see what was happening on the ground. But because of Covid, it was my sister-in-law in Australia who visited the plantation in Papua New Guinea on our behalf. And it utterly blew her mind. She had been to Borneo, and some places in Malaysia where she saw plantations that were not sustainable. So she was actually very pessimistic at first about what she was going to find.
She met and visited the villagers, the conservation areas for the trees, butterflies and fish. She met the farmers and it was the most positive experience for her. It completely changed her mind – before, she wouldn’t buy anything with palm oil, but now she knows about sustainable palm.
What insights have you gained that could convince more people to get on the sustainable palm oil journey as well?
I learned the statistics about how much more land you’d need to use to grow alternatives that people talk about to replace palm. Palm has such an extraordinary rate of producing fruit. When you see what people are doing when they’re growing palm, and how they’re making corridors through their palm plantations for animals, how people who depend on the land to earn a living are doing so in a way that’s good for the planet and good for them, everything just points to the fact that this is the way to go.
I used to have a really bad opinion about palm, but I’ve had 100% turnaround both from my personal life and business side as to what is the right thing to do.
What are your aspirations for STC in the near future?
With regards to palm, I definitely see us becoming educators. Aside from selling sustainable soap, I would really like us to be able to educate the local community and beyond, because I think that’s incredibly important for the planet as a whole. It’s always a constant education for ourselves to make sure we’re doing the best thing all the time, and keeping abreast of any new innovation to ensure we’re staying ahead of the curve.
Any message you’d like to impart to convince more businesses and customers to support sustainable palm oil?
I would like to say to anybody using RSPO Certified palm oil, that I’d really like to see more people proudly advertising it. We’re very proud and have it on all our packaging. Businesses shouldn’t hide that, because I don’t think we’re going to educate people unless we stand up and proclaim “yes, we use it – and these are the reasons why”.
I just don’t see any other way. This is a journey, and while it might seem overwhelming for companies to make changes at first, you’re actually working towards something. If you do it bit by bit, the changes really add up – and that makes a huge difference.