Interview with Samantha Jameson, founder of Soapsmith

How far would you go to bring your business dreams to life? Read how Samantha Jameson pawned her wedding and engagement rings to launch award winning artisan soap brand Soapsmith.

What’s your career background?

I’ve always worked for myself. I started my own events company aged 24, supplying bucking broncos and chocolate fountains to huge brands like Arsenal, French Connection and BP, following a Business Studies degree at Liverpool John Moores and working shifts at the QVC Channel as well as on cruise ships.

That was twenty years ago, but the tenets for running a successful enterprise still remains the same. It’s all about relationships, contacts, doing business with people you like, and offering something different from the norm. I quickly learnt these elements are so important, especially if you work on your own without the reputation of bigger businesses.

Following five years running my events company, I went on to become the first person to design and produce a mini chocolate fountain machine, which retailed nationwide and scooped a Good Housekeeping Award. The entire stock and assets were then purchased by Thorntons chocolatiers, and I used most of the proceeds to turn my real passion for Soap making, into a viableartisan soap and toiletries business. Soapsmith was born in 2012. 

How did your career change after having children?

My career has remained the same since having my daughter. I just have to be mindful and continue to juggle! In the past I would not even think about timings for meetings; it would just be a case of where, whyand for how long? Now, with my work schedule, I have to consider the logistics of picking my daughter up from nursery as well as dropping her off. It’s a constant balancing act.

Where did the idea for Soapsmith come from?

I remember once listening to a news item on LBC saying that manufacturing in the UK was dead. It intrigued me. Where others might have seen this as a threat, I saw it as an opportunity.

I love working with my hands; I’ve always been crafty and creative. I’d been making soaps at home for about 15 years. I love the old artisan way of doing things – slowly, mindfully, methodically. It’s the opposite of mass soulless manufacturing.

That’s when I knew I wanted to run a business where I could gain true enjoyment. I didn’t want to do something just for a pay cheque. So, I thought, why not transform my casual hobby of soapmaking into a viable business.

Everybody needs soap and I’m obsessed with fragrances. The science of soap making is so magical; the way in which liquid can be turned into solid matter is fascinating. It’s pure chemistry mixed with art. 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I conducted a lot of research into the market, assessing the competition to see if I could offer something really different. It turned out I could! I also spent some time road testing my idea to determine whether people would really take to my product concept, as well looking at various pricing models. 

What’s your USP?

I’m a Londoner through and through, born and bred in Hackney. Soapsmith is a reflection of this provenance – both in terms of the scents of the products and the names that have been given to these.

I remember speaking to various people and industry experts on the likelihood of being granted a trademark for a place such as “Lavender Hill” and I kept on being told, “You can’t trademark a place!” But I took the risk and won. I’m glad I followed my gut instinct.

The scents of my products are very much inspired by London – a city that continues to fuel my creativity, with all its heritage, diversity and contradictions.

The first scent I created was aptly christened “Lavender Hill” – after a major area in SW London known for growing and distilling lavender essential oil back in the 18thcentury.

Scent has an uncanny way of resurrecting vivid memories that you might have otherwise forgotten, and so “Brick Lane”, the second scent I developed, was inspired by happy times I had in my youth, bopping around to tunes in the Old Truman Brewery? and then having a curry later. For me, scents have to meansomething.

There is nothing like Soapsmith in the soapworld. It’s great hearing feedback, like: “Damn, this Hackney lotion smells so good!” and eliciting curiosity in people: “Ooh I wonder what Brick Lane smells like?” Then they smell it and say, “Ahh, I get you!” It’s exciting, it’s sensory, it gets people interested. 

Who’s your target audience?

Our consumers want that feeling of everyday indulgence and they’re curious and open minded. They are visually driven and they care about sustainability. They appreciate handmade products, artisan processes and brands with a strong sense of provenance. 

Soapsmith is luxury but accessible. Our fanbase is very diverse – aged 25 – 65+; the younger demographic are especially drawn to the composition of the products and the simple, modern brand design while the older fans just love how distinctive our scents are and how the fragrances linger for ages. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Up until now, we have mainly grown through word of mouth marketing, a touch of social media and our stockists are happy ambassadors for our products. Being seen in the right places also helps.

For example, being stocked in Harrods led us to being stocked in Selfridges; being stocked in trendy Soho nail bar WAH Nails led to talks with an investor, and being spotted in an E17 boutique led to an invitation to be pitched on Dragon’s Den

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

There have been a few but winning the first ever QVC Beauty Awards really got us out there into the wider cosmetics world. Winning a week-long pop up in Piccadilly Circus a few years back also really gave us visibility and awareness with both tourists and commuters.

The pop up was a competition run with and TFL; a lot of companies applied, and Soapsmith was one of three businesses chosen. It was a very fun experience! We sold a lot of our products to tourists and commuters and, surprisingly, a great deal to TFL staff.

We later found out that they loved the products so much they raved about them on their internal website. That led to them buying all of my remaining stock on the last day of trade. At the same time, getting attention from Patricia Bright, the famous Vlogger, who has over 2.7m subscribers also helped. She tried and loved our body butter melt! 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Setting up Soapsmith has seen me invest all my time, money and passion into the brand – up to the point where I had to sell my most meaningful possessions to purchase equipment and just make the business work.

I barely went out and socialised, and I resorted to very creative ways of raising capital. I sold a beloved designer handbag I invested in for double the price I had originally paid for it.

I also sold a personal number plate for £3,000 that I had bought six years prior for £900, and I even pawned my wedding and engagement rings – buying them back 14 months later with the profits I had made from the business.

I’ve worked with some amazing organisations which have taken a chance on me, usually because they liked my ideas or the way I worked. I’ve also met my fair share of people who wouldn’t give me the time of day because I was a one-man-band. 

And your proudest moment so far?

It took me two years to develop Soapsmith, with the support of The Fragrance House, who only manufacture very high-end scents for some of the most exclusive fashion houses in the world.

Soapsmith set a precedent as the smallest brand The Fragrance House has ever worked with. Again, despite being a one-man-band, I saw a big organisation have faith in me as an entrepreneur and faith in my products.

Shortly afterwards, my products were selling in Harrods and it soon became the store’s top three best-selling bath and body products. After that, Soapsmith was stocked in Selfridges and Whole Foods and soon other London boutiques followed. 

But I think getting significant investment from Bulletproof – a global brand design agency – has been a real stand-out moment for me. Brand design is such an important part of a luxury proposition.

As a small business, I knew I would never be able to afford the services of a creative agency used by some of the world’s biggest brands, yet I knew that a revived brand identity and approach would unlock the door for wider distribution and premium expansion.

Bulletproof proposed to provide business support and brand design in return for a stake in the business. I see that this as more than just a straightforward investment of resources; it genuinely feels like my own family have come on board into the business with me.

The founders are extremely supportive and kind, not just in their approach to me but in the way in which they treat their team. That quality is rare in the business world where dynamics are often cut throat and the dog eat dog attitude prevails: every man for himself.

I mentioned earlier how quality relationships are integral to how I do business. I have found currency in kindness and collaboration in business, and it has got me places.

Lastly, I’m really proud that I’ve been chosen to produce a soap making book based on my experiences. So, as well as developing Soapsmith and running the business, I’m currently writing a book too!

Why is work so important to you?

Creating soap is like an escape for me. I get pleasure and refuge from it.It’s a release, it intrigues me and it is what I am. This passion energises me. My brain is always working, even when I’m on a rare holiday, I’m working and jotting ideas down. 

I think I’ve been true to my goals ever since I ran my first business in my early 20s. I just wanted to do things that made me happy and smile. If I can profit from that pursuit, then it is a dream come true.

Who inspires you?

My mum inspires me, as she is a real go-getter and hard worker, even in retirement! In the business world, my friend Sharmadean Reid MBE, founder of WAH Nails and an advocate for women’s empowerment, as well as Colette Newberry, CEO and founder of Inkey List, both inspire me with how they support women in business and just women in general.

How do you balance your work with your family?

As I am a start-up the balancing act is quite tricky, but I am coping and I ensure I spend as much time with my daughter as possible as well as with my family.

I involve them in what I am doing wherever possible, but I am also mindful of the fact that I haven’t had a real break in quite a while, so that needs addressing! Rest is important, especially if as an entrepreneur you have an ‘always on’ mindset. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Research your idea

Research your idea thoroughly and ensure you get objective feedback. You might love it, your family and friends might love it, but will the man or woman on the street love it? They will not care about your feelings and will tell it to you straight!

2) Plan your launch

Carefully plan how you are going to launch your product or business: consider the basic logistics of who will buy, how will they buy and where will you make your product?

3) Just do it!

Don’t wait around or procrastinate, just do it. You could spend ages trying to get things right and never actually launch anything. It’s better to start from something and build on it instead of agonising over small details, which your audience may not even notice.

You can find out more about Soapsmith here.