In the first of a new series, we take a look at the background story behind some Irish businesses; first up is The Handmade Soap Company run by Donagh & Gemma in Meath. We find out what inspired them to start their business and what the future may hold for them.
MANY people change career direction in their lifetimes – even more so during difficult economic times – but Meath man Donagh Quigley’s story of transformation is both fascinating and inspiring.
A thatcher by trade, Donagh found that his business, Thatcherman, was really feeling the effects of the recession by 2009.
“The gaps between jobs were growing and I found myself out of work for weeks at a time, so it was imperative that I found something new and exciting,” says the 36 year old.
So Donagh and this then-partner-now-wife Gemma McGowan (the couple married in September 2011) decided to get thinking and get creative.
- While on a six-week road trip in Australia in January 2009, the couple visited a market in the rainforest in the Atherton Highlands (near Cairns) and discovered a vibrant cottage industry in the making and selling of delightful handmade soaps – something that at the time was rarely to be seen at home in Ireland.
- Donagh had always suffered with mild psoriasis and had never found any soap or cleanser that suited his skin – until then. It was a real Eureka! moment.
The Handmade Soap Company
On their return home, Donagh threw himself in to learning all that he could about making soap. However, he soon realised that it’s a more complex process than you might think!
“You can determine how well a bar lathers, how big the bubbles are and how firm the bar and the therapeutic effects of the soap by the different types and ratios of oils that you use,” he marvels.
Donagh’s mission became to make the perfect bar of soap, a quest that would take him as far afield as the US and then on to the UK to study with two leading soap gurus that he’d learned about through reseach and reading and had grown to admire.
“By December 2009, after enormous amounts of trial and error, we had a handmade soap product that we were really happy with. Our first outing in to sales was the Christmas Crafts Fair in the Naul, Co. Dublin. We were anxious and did not know what to expect, but we sold out by lunchtime.”
The next step was Showcare 2010 – and that is when things really started to take off for this fledgling company.
“We suddenly had lots of large orders to fill. As a result, we spent endless nights filling (with ladles) and labelling bubble baths, making and cutting soap, gluing soap wrappers etc. – and all from our kitchen at home.”
Donagh soon realised that it was time for the rapidly expanding company to move out of their home and in to a designated workshop. Let’s just say that Gemma was extremely thankful to have her kitchen and house back!
The progress of The Handmade Soap Company has been nothing less than meteoric in a few short years. They have quickly established themselves as industry leaders, notching up an impressive slew of awards in the process.
100pc Natural Range of Skincare Products
Their 100pc natural range of skincare products has expanded from the original medicinal and other soap ranges to include:
- Bubble Bath
- Body Butters
- Hand Creams
- Shaving Soaps
- Pamper Kits
- Shaving Sets
Their lip balm (which comes in three flavours) was voted Best High Street Lip Balm by Irish Tatler Beauty Awards in April 2012, for example.
New for Summer 2012 is a gorgeous Mini Travel Kit of five products, while an exciting Mother & Baby Range is also on the cards – watch this space.
Donagh is modest about the company’s success to date. “We believe in using only the finest natural ingredients, making new stuff the old-fashioned way,” he suggests.
The truth is that their great products – aligned with their brilliantly creative and vintage-inspired packaging – has inspired huge loyalty amongst their customers. Once you’ve tried one of their products, you are hooked!
I’ll happily admit to some bias here. I’ve known Gemma since she was a child as we were neighbours – and I have got to know Donagh over the past few years. Both are very interesting and creative (very musical, for example) people and I have not been one bit surprised at their success. It was Gemma’s mum who first gave me a product (pamper kit) as a present from The Handmade Soap Company – back in December 2010 – and I’ve loved the products ever since…
Donagh’s latest achievement is to sign a contract with a major Japanese company. It’s hard to keep up with this man’s creative vision – but how wonderful to see an Irish artisan company start from small beginnings and go global, whilst always remaining true to its Irish and 100pc natural ethos.