With piped swirls, layers of colour and creativity, Zoe Strassen's soaps and scrubs are reminiscent of her days as a pastry chef. The Natural Spa was a dream of hers, founded when when she was just 18 years old. Since then, Zoe has created a growing collection of soaps inspired by stories, seasons and memories - all vegan, all plastic-free from her home in Aylesbeare.
It's a real pleasure to be working with The Natural Spa on our November Bars theme. Here's our interview with Zoe:
Tell me about The Natural Spa
I offer plastic-free, vegan and affordable cosmetics. I want great, natural products to be available to everyone - no excuse!
How did it all begin?
Since I was 15 I worked in kitchens as a pastry chef. I've always had a practical mind and I was curious. I've taken nutritional courses and cosmetic courses. I read all about soap and it started from there!
Soap has always been special for me. I collected it as a child - probably a bit of a weird hobby! Once I got a recipe book, I stopped collecting and started making.
What does sustainability mean to you?
We're living right on the coast in Devon. There's an organisation we all support called Surfers Against Sewage. They've helped the little towns become as plastic free as possible. We get tokens for when we return packaging.
The effects of plastic are starting to show up in the busier beaches around here. I'm lucky because the beaches are cleaner and more isolated where I live, but I want The Natural Spa to be plastic free so we're not part of the problem.
How do you go from idea to product?
I go against the grain. I think first of all about what I'd like.
Take the Lemon Sorbet Soap, that's based on living by the coast and treats you can get here. I have marigolds growing in the garden which is where the calendula in the ingredients comes from. I add turmeric for colour. Then I use some of the skills from my time as a chef and hand-pipe each soap.
The Citrus Blossom Soap is special to me because I donate 50% of profits from it to an animal sanctuary - Jacob's Ridge in Spain. The smell reminds me of when I volunteered there and the colour is of the sun as it set over the mountains. They care for loads of different animals and we would feed and look after them. Every morning I could take the donkeys for a walk! It's a week of checking out of the world.
All my soaps are based on stories and memories. Each takes a year of planning. There's no going back on the recipe once you have the certificate!
First I'll get the inspiration, then I'll think about which essential oils will blend nicely and will be affordable. I create the blend and make a test batch. It takes 3 months for it to cure! Then they're ready to be tested and go on sale.
What's your favourite blend?
Mine is the Breathe Soap Bar which has a green swirl through it. The scent is eucalyptus and rosemary. It's a good pick me up on a hard day!
What's it like running your business?
My parents have always been self-employed and my partner too. I'm used to it! I like the freedom to work as I like and make soaps as I like.
My customers are amazing. They're all so nice and loyal. I was at Torquay for a market a couple of weeks ago and a customer had travelled in just to see me.
I'm a young entrepreneur - I turned 21 last week! I opened The Natural Spa back when I was 18. People can find it confusing. When my mum's with me at a market stall, they think it's her business? It doesn't matter how old you are. It's ok to start out young.
What have you learnt so far?
My dad says, 'You need to start as you mean to go on.' If you stick with what you're doing right, you're more likely to succeed.
You're a plastic-free brand, how does that apply back at home?
My partner and I are both constantly trying to reduce our waste. It's eye-opening when you see the packaging in the supermarket. How can people be so blind? Since I've been making soaps, the shower has been gorgeous and there's no plastic.
All in all, it's been life changing. I feel like I'm allowed to be who I want to be. It's life changing.
We've worked with Zoe to make some brilliant gifts for our November Home Box - get yours here.