How to start a successful soap business in Africa? You’re about to find out everything you need to know.
Can you imagine a day in your life without soap?
You’re right, it’s unimaginable!
Soap plays such basic roles that are hard to ignore in our everyday lives. Everybody uses soap; both rich and poor people. No matter its size, form (solid or liquid), scent, colour or price in the market, all soaps are made to help us do three very important things: bathe our bodies, wash clothes and clean anything!
On a continent with over one billion people and the fastest population growth rate in the world, Africans buy millions of soap bars every day.
The variety of soaps on the African market includes both international and local brands that appeal to different consumer budgets, tastes and choices.
This article explores the potential of a small (homemade) soap making business and shares the success stories of two local African soap brands.
I have also included a basic tutorial course in soap making that will help you to hone your skills as you get ready to exploit the lucrative opportunities in the soap business.
Meet Two of My Favourite And Successful African Soap Brands…
With the wide variety of soap brands on the market from global giants like Unilever, Procter & Gamble and several others, you would think there’s no more space in the African soap market.
In this section, we will share the brilliant ideas that have led to two unique African soap brands.
By being unique and using local soap recipes, these two success stories prove that African entrepreneurs can compete profitably with the big soap brands. Here they are…
#1: Dudu Osun – The Local Nigerian Soap Brand That Has Travelled The World.
Before the modern soaps on the market today, Africans used locally-made black soap for centuries.
Made from wood ash, local oils and herbs, black soap is used to cleanse, nourish and protect the skin.
Based on its age-long use and proven benefits, a Nigerian entrepreneur decided to ‘package’ this local product into a commercial success and international hot-selling brand. (image credit: naanisnaturals.com)
Molded by hand and made entirely from natural ingredients (like honey, shea butter, palm kernel oil and aloe vera), Dudu Osun markets itself as a 100-percent natural and biodegradable soap that contains no preservatives or artificial colours.
These selling points have attracted Dudu Osun to millions of natural beauty enthusiasts around the world, especially dark-skinned people within and outside Africa.
Today, Dudu Osun (which literally means ‘black soap’ in Yoruba, one of Nigeria’s major languages), is sold on the international market through Amazon.com and several distributors across the Caribbean, North and South America and Europe.
Looking through some of the product reviews on Amazon for Dudu Osun soap, it’s not a surprise why this product has become such a huge commercial success.
People from all over the world, including white-skinned people, share their positive experiences with Dudu Osun. Several satisfied and loyal customers say it “restores damaged skin and helps to heal acne, freckles, dark spots and chronic skin diseases like eczema.”
By using naturally available ingredients, an entrepreneur took the initiative to transform a common and taken-for-granted local soap into an international delight.
Africa has lots of amazing materials (such as local herbs, wood, oils and spices) that can replicate the Dudu Osun success story. Shea butter, Coconut oil, and Aloe vera are just a few of many local African ingredients used to manufacture different hair, skin care and beauty products around the world.
Can you make a local soap recipe that could change your world?
#2: Jatropha Soap – The Powerful soap recipe from a young Tanzanian girl
At an agricultural festival she attended sometime in 2012, 21-year-old Domitila Silayo learnt about the amazing healing and medicinal qualities of Jatropha, a plant that is in abundance in her country, Tanzania.
According to her, ‘this plant is everywhere in my country and nobody is using it’.
She took action to exploit the opportunities in the Jatropha plant by starting her own soap business. After doing some research into soap making, Domitila rented a single room and got her brother on board.
Today, her small business produces over 1,000 soaps every month and the profits are looking good. Image credit: flickr.com
The oil extracted from seeds of the Jatropha plant is used as the active ingredient in handmade soaps in many parts of East and Central Africa.
This plant extract has proven to be very powerful against skin diseases like ringworm, eczema and dandruff which happen to be very common in many parts of the African continent.
Domitila now has an additional full-time employee working with her in the business and plans to expand to serve clients in her country’s hospitality industry (especially hotels and hospitals).
A student of Marketing & Business Administration at the Mzumbe University in Morogoro (Tanzania), Domitila received a $12,500 award from the Anzisha Prize Competition in 2013 to support her young business venture. She shares her experience in the short video below…
How To Make Soap – An Introduction To The Important Basics
Anybody can make soap, it’s that simple.
Soap making is quite an interesting mix of art and science. It’s an art because you can play with a huge variety of ingredients; oils, fragrances, colours, shapes, sizes and textures.
Depending on the effect you want to achieve, you could include interesting stuff like herbs, honey, shea butter, cocoa butter and other substances that are known to soothe, smooth and heal the skin.
In the world of soap making, you are only limited by your creativity and imagination. Anyone can develop their own soap recipes just like the successful Dudu Osun and Jatropha soap brands we looked at earlier.
Image credit: theorganicpost.com
Soap making is also a science because it involves some basic chemistry. Soap is made by combining fats and oils with a chemical (Sodium Hydroxide, also known as ‘Caustic Soda’ or ‘lye’).
This beautiful chemical reaction is known as ‘saponification’ in the world of chemistry. Don’t let the high-sounding name scare you, it’s much simpler in practice.
What kind of fats and oils am I talking about?
Some of the most popular oils used for soap making are palm kernel oil, coconut oil, canola oil, olive oil, soya bean oil and several more. These oils are commonly referred to as base oils in soap making and each oil has unique properties that it will impart into the soaps you make.
Coconut oil, for example, produces soap that lathers (foams) very well. Olive oil and shea butter are known to produce very good moisturing soaps.
Caustic soda (also known as ‘Sodium Hydroxide’) is arguably the most common and widely-used chemical in the modern world. Apart from its very important role in soap making, this Caustic Soda is also used in the production of paper, textiles and cleaning agents.
How can you identify it?
However, I must warn you that this chemical is very corrosive. If it comes in contact with metal or human flesh in sufficient concentrations, it could cause serious damage!
Before I share the video tutorial that will get you excited and started with soap making, there are a couple of important points you need to take very seriously before and while you make soap.
Understanding and obeying these elements will give you a firm foundation as you progress in the beautiful art of soap making. Here they are…
#1 – Ingredients and Tools
Interestingly, the only things you need to make soap are:
(1) a couple of ingredients,
(2) a few basic tools, and
(3) soap making knowledge.
You may be surprised to know that the main ingredients used in making soap are: fats/oils, Caustic Soda and water. That’s all.
Things like scents (fragrances) and colour are optional and will not prevent the soap from forming. Amazing isn’t it?
Like the ingredients, the tools you’ll need are very basic too. Below is a list of the major tools:
- Bowls and Spoons – You’ll need a couple of bowls for measuring and mixing. Spoons are also required for measuring and stirring. It is preferable to use bowls and spoons that are made of steel, glass or plastic. Caustic soda will react and eat through bowls and spoons made of aluminum or wood.
- A Measurement Scale – Remember what I said earlier about the importance of measurements in soap making? You’ll need a scale to make sure you get the right measurements. A digital scale like this one on Amazon is a good example.
- A Stick or Immersion Blender – This tool is used to properly stir the soap mixture (oil and Caustic soda). Although a spoon can do the same job, imagine doing an hour’s worth of spoon stirring in only five minutes! That’s the advantage of using a stick blender. If you’d like to know what it looks like, you can view it on this Amazon product page.
- Soap Mould – This is usually any container that you pour the liquid soap mixture into. The soap will cool, harden and eventually take the shape of this container. It can be anything from empty milk cartons to plastic or wooden soap mould.
- Others – There are other basic tools such as knives (for cutting the hardened soap into desired sizes), freezer paper (for lining the mould so the soap won’t stick to it) and a couple of other basic tools which you’ll learn about in the video tutorial below.
#2 – Measurement is the key to success
Measurement is surely the key to success in soap making. If you don’t measure the ingredients or combine them in the wrong proportions, you just may produce something else that isn’t soap.
If the amount of fats and oils in your soap recipe is more than the caustic soda, the soap you produce will feel very greasy and oily on the skin. If caustic soda is in excess, the soap could irritate or even burn the skin.
The secret of measurement in soap making lies in your understanding of ‘Saponification Values’.
What does this mean?
I’ll give you a simplest explanation I can find.
You see, every fat or oil requires a different amount of Caustic soda to turn it into soap. For example, coconut oil requires more Caustic Soda to form soap than olive oil. As a result, the Saponification Value for coconut oil is higher than olive oil.
Knowing the saponification values for the oils you use will help you measure the right amount of Caustic soda.
#3 – Safety, Safety, Safety!
Making soap is not the same thing as preparing dinner in the kitchen. You will be working with some very dangerous substances, Number One of which is Caustic Soda.
You will need a couple of cheap and easily available safety gadgets to protect different parts of your body.
Because Caustic Soda releases some toxic gases when it’s added to water, you need to protect your eyes with goggles and a face mask to avoid breathing in the gas.
Caustic soda can also cause damage to your skin if it comes in contact with it. So you’ll also need a pair of gloves to protect your arms. It’s also good practice to avoid exposing parts of your skin during the soap making process. (image credit: positive-parenting-ally.com)
Another good safety practice is to properly label all the tools and ingredients you use in your soap making business.
Especially if you live with other people, you don’t want somebody else using your soap bowls or spoons to eat food. That could be very dangerous.
And of course, if you have children or pets around you, make sure you store away all your soap ingredients and tools out of their reach.
#4 – Practice makes perfect
Like I mentioned earlier, soap making is an art as much as it’s a science. There are a wide variety of oils, scents and herbs out there for you to try out.
To find a successful recipe for your target market requires a significant investment of your time, energy and commitment.
Use the resources provided in this article to further your knowledge and skill in soap making and apply them through practice until you find that recipe your market will love.
How To Make Soap – A Video Tutorial
The short (8-minute) tutorial below is a great introduction to the art and science of soap making.
Watching this video tutorial will not make you an expert overnight. It’s only an introduction that will provide the firm knowledge base you can build on through further study and practice.
Below the video, I have included links to a couple of websites that specialize in home-based soap making and have a thriving community of experienced and amateur soap makers.
Here’s the tutorial. I hope you enjoy and learn from it!
- A Beginner’s Guide To Soapmaking – www.smallnotebook.org/tutorials/beginner-soapmaking/
- TeachSoap.com – Soap making recipes, tips and tutorials – www.teachsoap.com
- How To Make Soap – www.channel4.com/4homes/how-to/craft/how-to-make-soap
- How To Make Basic Bar Soaps – www.thesage.com/recipes/recipe-exec/.State/Display/id/212
Now You Know How To Start A Successful Soap Business. What’s Next?
If you appreciate the value of soap in our daily lives and how much money people spend on soap everyday, you would realize there’s a huge potential in the soap business.
With your new knowledge and skill, you could focus on producing ordinary and cheap bar soaps for laundry, washing and cleaning.
On the other hand, you could explore different colours, scents and herbs to produce exotic and special soaps for discerning customers. (image credit: roguevalleysoap.com)
It’s also important to consider the tastes, preferences and demand of your local market.
Some people (especially the poor) are mainly concerned about price and will be interested in a soap that is cheap, yet effective. For other discerning consumers, the shape, packaging, fragrance, colour and size will usually determine what soaps they buy.
With your creativity, you could appeal to and win a sufficiently large base of loyal customers who may like your soap for its uniqueness.
You could also get some tips on how to find customers for your soap products by reading this article: 10 Cheap and Interesting Ways to Attract More Customers to Your Small Business
Are you excited about this business idea/opportunity? Please leave a comment, share your views and ideas or ask any questions you may have in the Comments section below.
We would also appreciate that you share this article with your friends using the Facebook, Twitter and Google+ buttons below. You never know, you could inspire and change somebody’s life today!
You could also check out other interesting business ideas in the Business ideas section of this website.
To your success!
And by the way, if you enjoyed reading this article and you’re thinking of raising capital to start or grow your business, you’ll love my amazing and life-changing FREE course.
Click the course banner below or click here to get started with the course.