West Riding Soapworks: The creative Yorkshire mum making up for lost time by selling natural soap
Trudy Harrison is at home in the natural environment. Beyond the back door of her Upper Hopton home, fields stretch out into the distance, providing her with the inspiration for her traditional hand-made soaps.
Settling down on the comfortable sofa in her conservatory with her “branch manager” Button, a cross-breed Labrador and Golden Retriever, stretched out asleep by her side, Trudy explains how her yearning to learn the methods and process for creating a natural home-made skin-care range began through her own sensitivity to synthetic fragrances.
“I have problems with my skin. It is quite sensitive and my daughter has, so I thought I would make my own skin care,” explains Trudy. “In Huddersfield there is a Soap School and I thought I would go and find out how to make soap naturally. I wanted to go to the people who are experts and learn how to make soap in the traditional way.”
Trudy’s course involved learning the methods and the process to create cold processed soap. “After the course I experimented with different oils, butters and ingredients to find what recipes worked, then I shared them with family and friends.
"You can only make so much before you end up with a soap mountain! After giving it away to family and friends they were really encouraging and said ‘You should be selling this.’”
Encouraged by the support and positive feedback, Trudy embarked on a business course. While discouraged from pursuing a creative career during her schooldays, she is now busy making up for lost time after launching West Riding Soapworks.
“The legislation around selling it is a minefield. You have to have safety assessments, which is quite intensive, and it is strict guidance on how you can package it; formulating your recipes – how they are made right through to the ingredients – people need to know what is in there if they have allergens or health issues,” explains Trudy, who is also a member of the Guild of Soap and Cosmetic Toiletry Makers.
With her paperwork in place Trudy began marketing her products on Instagram and Facebook.
“I got it all in place then Covid hit and I couldn’t do anything.” With support from The Mirfield Emporium in Huddersfield Road, Mirfield, who continue to stock Trudy’s range, she was able to keep trading online through lockdown. “Donna’s shop is the shop I envisaged where I could see it – everything in there is so pretty,” says Trudy.
The relaxation of lockdown rules and life getting back on track led Trudy to take her business to her growing audience. She set up a website and began doing market stalls in Hebden Bridge, Mirfield, Northallerton, the Piece Hall in Halifax and other locations around Yorkshire.
This year she has also taken her products to her first agricultural show at Penistone and is taking part in the Christmas Market at The Hepworth in Wakefield.
“I have been doing markets now for two years. I do lots of different ones. It is taking off at a nice steady pace that I can manage,” says Trudy, who also works as a clinical coding and data-quality project manager for Mid Yorkshire Teaching NHS Trust.
The process of producing her natural hand-made soaps using traditional methods is something that cannot be rushed, as Trudy explains. “It is as old fashioned as you can get. It is a lovely process. It is a scientific process and it is really cathartic.”
She weighs out her ingredients, including olive oil, caster oil and cocoa butter, which she melts and mixes with lye. “It goes through a chemical process call saponification. It changes from a clear fluid to a cloudy fluid which I pour into moulds. I wrap and insulate it and leave it overnight until it is a solid loaf.”
The soap loaf is then sliced into 20 bars and put on to a curing rack for six weeks for the water to fully evaporate, leaving a beautiful, traditionally made bar of natural soap.
“It’s worth waiting for. It is like no other soap. It is really luxurious, it is moisturising and not greasy. Hand-made soap isn’t drying. It is packed with the goodness you get in a luxurious product.”
She spent time researching her formulations, sniff testing each essential oil to decide on the combinations. Her regular range includes 13 soap varieties including bergamot and geranium; orange and patchouli; teatree and lavender; peppermint and spearmint and citrus burst.
Some of the soaps contain clays, which are a natural ingredient commonly found in facemasks. “It gives the soap a nice feel on the skin. It is called slip – it glides on your skin.”
Spices create natural colour. Poppy seeds and calendula petals provide a gentle exfoliant. Bath teas, hand and foot lotions and shampoo bars which, according to Trudy, last for about 40 washes, are the equivalent of two plastic bottles of shampoo and can also be used as a shower gel, are among the unisex range.
Trudy has a collaboration with a local brewery to create a beer soap, formulated from vegan stout and fragranced with cedar wood and eucalyptus for Father’s Day.
Festive inspiration led to the Christmas Cookie Bar soap, formulated with ginger and cinnamon and topped with star anise.
Trudy says achieving a silver award in the Best Soap category of The Green ParentNatural Beauty Awards for her RockpoolSoap Spa Bar in July this year “is a really big honour. I was blown away. I couldn’t believe I had won.”
All the products are vegan apart from Trudy’s goat’s milk and honey soap which, she says, is soothing for skin, making it a popular choice for customers with sensitivities.
“Customers tell me they are really soothing and I have a lot of customers telling me they won’t go back to normal soaps or shower gels because of that.”
Trudy describes her reach as a “wide demographic.” Mature customers can reminisce to the days when the bar of soap was the skin-care staple that sat on bath and basin sides in bathrooms and kitchens, while the young, who have been spoiled for choice with pump-action beauty care bottles, are seeking something different and Trudy’s planet-friendly ethos makes her products a popular choice.
“I think my demographic is really wide. Young people love it – they have done a lot of awareness in school about zero waste and natural products.
"Older people who have been brought up with a bar of soap are open to it as well,” says Trudy, who is as mindful about the Scandi-inspired packaging she chooses for the products she produces.
“When I was looking at packaging my business, I knew I didn’t want to be a contributor to any more plastic in the environment or harming the environment. I knew the products were natural and it felt like my products should be gentle and kind.”
Extensive research led her to the biodegradable boxes and recycled paper she uses for her gift sets and the glassine bags she uses for her bath teas. “Everything I am doing I try and find the eco-friendly solution.”
Such is Trudy’s environmental consciousness, she and her husband, Brian, who she met in the RAF while she was serving as a kennel assistant, have sourced recycled pallets and wood which Brian has re-fashioned into display shelves for Trudy’s market stall displays.
“There is nothing new. I am trying hard to stick to the principle and the ethos,” says Trudy. “At the end I have made something really lovely and I like that people are really enjoying my products. It is also something for my soul. It takes me out of day-to-day life.”