In April hadden wij Ailish Lalor op bezoek van Act Aware, Sustainability Committee van het Leiden University College. Voor het magazine ‘Aware’ interviewde ze Anne-Fleur over zeep zonder plastic, duurzame bedrijfsvoering, en over kleine veranderingen die groot resultaat opleveren!
The following interview was written by Ailish Lalor for Aware Magazine, a LUC The Hague publication.
Werfzeep is a handmade, organic soap company based in Utrecht. I discovered their products through the local zero-waste market in The Hague, Lekkernassuh, and have been using their shampoo, dish soap, and a variety of their soaps over the past year. I wanted to find out more about their origin story, the place of sustainability in their production process, and of course, which bar of soap is the best. I mainly spoke to Fleur when I visited the workshop, who has been working there for two years.
Ailish: So tell me: how and when did Werfzeep start?
Fleur: It was started by Evelien in 2009 when she visited a family in Canada who made their own soaps at home. Usually, soaps would irritate her skin, but these ones didn’t. Evelien learned how to make soap with this family in Canada, and continued experimenting with recipes and scents in the Netherlands when she returned. She didn’t plan to build a soap empire, or anything— at first it was just for friends and family, but gradually demand increased. She started working commercially in a cellar on Utrecht’s Oudegracht canal. We are now located in a studio that houses several other ethical, sustainable brands.
A: What aspects of Werfzeep are sustainable, or environmentally friendly, in particular?
F: First of all, we only make bars of soap, so there are no plastic bottles or plastic packaging. We only use organic ingredients in our soap, and we recycle as much as possible. Evelien also has a forest-garden attached to her home, where she collects ingredients for the soap. We also don’t use palm oil, sandalwood, or rosewood.
A: How do you make the soap?
F: Well first, it’s very important to follow the recipe exactly. We start with the oil, and slowly melt that down. Then we add the lye, which basically turns the oil into a soap. It becomes opaque, and thicker. After that we add the plants and essential oils. Once it’s thickened up, we pour it into the mould and allow it to set for a couple of days. The process actually creates quite a bit of heat, you can still feel it from this mould here. We then cut the cooled-down block into bars of soap, and put these in drawers for about a month, so that the soap’s liquid content decreases. Finally we package it up and send it off to our various distributors.
A: What kind of advice would you give to business start-ups that care about sustainability?
F: I think it’s important to pick a thing and just go for it, focus on it completely and make it perfect. For example, Evelien used to make creams, but then she decided she really wanted to focus on soaps. Also, if your focus is on sustainability, then don’t make any concessions in that area that you don’t absolutely need to. Go for what you would want to buy yourself.
A: What are you most proud of at Werfzeep?
F: I really like that we’re such a small team. It feels like a family. I love working here, I think we all do— we all specifically wanted to work here, it’s not just any job. We’re all really fulfilled and happy working here, also because we stand behind the idea of the company. I’m really proud that we make organic, sustainable products, and that we’re transparent, as a company.
A: Do you have any plans to expand in the future?
F: I think Evelien really wants to stay in this building, and really likes how it’s working now. We’re sort of in a phase where everything is going smoothly, which means we have the time and resources to experiment with new products and ideas, like this shaving brush that we decided to make. We’d like to do more collaborations— for example, we work with the Utrecht Botanical Garden, and use their autumn cuttings to make three different soap scents.
A: Final question, and it’s a big one: what’s the role of companies like these in alleviating climate change, or just making the world a better place to live?
F: Businesses like Werfzeep are one of the biggest ways we can make a change, because the change doesn’t seem all that big to the consumer— in this case, sustainability can even be an upgrade. You can see people making these sorts of changes quite a bit at the moment, also with packaging free stores, for example. And as these small lifestyle changes become more visible, more people learn about them, so it’s a snowball effect. It’s a little change that does quite a lot.