A Conversation with Morgane Brierly of La Belle Soap Co
Morgane Brierly grew up as the third child of eight in a busy family she describes as fun and crazy.
Her Dad and Grandad both ran their own businesses and it was her Dad who encouraged her to start her own. “He said when I was eighty I would regret not doing it,” says Morgane.
She had always loved creating things and initially thought that she would make cupcakes, but suffering from eczema led Morgane to make her own soap, which eventually grew into the business that she has today.
Morgane had first-hand experience of the irritation some soaps could cause. This gave her a determination to create a product from natural ingredients, with no animal products or nasty chemicals, which would be safe for both herself and her customers to use.
All her soaps have a glycerine base, essential oils for aroma and ground stone mica for colouring.
“The most difficult part of starting my business was learning how to make soap in the first place. Soap-making is a rather closed industry. It’s a bit like a secret society! Soap makers were quite guarded with their information about how to get started and where to source ingredients.”
In choosing a name for her business Morgane turned to her love of history. She was inspired by a scene in a documentary about the Tudors where Henry the VIII calls Anne Boleyn ‘La Belle, Anne’.
“I looked up the French word for soap, savon and thought ‘the beautiful soap’ had a nice ring to it, so I called my business La Belle Savon. Unfortunately, I had made a mistake with the feminine and masculine, French not being my native language. It should have been Le Belle Savon.”
Morgane was surprised by how many people told her they were not happy about the mistake. Eventually, she decided to rebrand her business as La Belle Soap Co.
Morgane makes all the soaps by hand herself. “I’m working very hard to get my own studio space, but for now I work in the kitchen of my home. As they are all chemical free, it isn’t a problem.”
The soap loaves are set on the top within half an hour but fully set through the whole 1kg loaf in four hours. Then they are sliced into individual bars, wrapped and labelled ready for sale.
If there is one thing Morgane could outsource in her business it would be labelling. “It’s a fiddly job, but I am such a perfectionist that I would probably find it hard to give the job to someone else anyway,” Morgane says. She tells me her siblings have helped with the labelling task on occasion and admits that she has been known to pull the odd label off and re-do it if it’s not quite straight.
Morgane sells her soaps at markets and through her website. “I try to do at least one market every week. My mum comes to all my markets with me. She is very supportive. At my first market I was painfully shy. In fact I couldn’t speak at all, I just nodded or shook my head! Thank goodness for my mum, she can talk to anyone about anything!
If I had all the knowledge I have now three years ago when I started, I wouldn’t have spent as much time and money on trial and error. Speaking to my customers has helped me learn about what they actually want. For example, in New Zealand we are more likely to shower than to bath. I spoke to another soap maker in England and she was making bubble baths and bath bombs. They were selling like hot cakes. The English are a bathing nation. So I thought I would make some bath bombs too. They didn’t sell for months. I ended up giving them away to friends and family.”
I asked Morgane to describe her typical day. “My typical day starts with exercises and a run, shower and breakfast and then I will check my online orders, answer any questions that have come in overnight on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I will pencil down ideas for recording videos or photos to upload to You Tube, which is something I have just started doing. It could be a clip of me making the soap, cutting the soap, or even, as one lady requested recently, how I pack my car for a market!
Next I check stock levels and see what soaps need to be made, print out order forms, pack orders, take those orders to town to post, research new aromas, re-order raw materials and update my website.
Anything can happen in a day. I might get a call from a client with an urgent request and that will completely change the schedule of the day. I once had a call from a lady in tears, who had been let down by another company and she needed 500 soaps made to use as favours at her wedding in one week’s time!
I got the order out to her in time and she was so happy and grateful. She rang me a couple of weeks later to thank me and told me that she had received a lot of compliments about the soaps from her guests.”
Morgane tells me the thing she enjoys the most about running her own business is the making.
“I love art and creating, designing, choosing the aromas, all of that. I enjoy doing something that I love every day…it’s wonderful.
The thing I don’t like is the selling, but in every business you sometimes have times when you don’t feel like doing some aspect of it, like going out to sell at markets in the rain. I motivate myself by remembering why I started and why I love it, and what the alternative is…I don’t want to go and work in an office!”
Morgane says she would like to start selling in retail stores. “I see it as a step for the future. I have been focussing on the scaffolding of my business to this point. I really wanted to build a good reputation and have good branding and get to a level where retailers would look at La Belle Soap Co and want to represent it in their stores.”
Describing herself as a tech baby, Morgane says social media is something she uses extensively in her business. She utilises Youtube, Facebook and her favourite platform, Instagram. “I use social media to enable customers to learn more about La Belle Soap Co and to showcase the products. I enjoy making videos and taking lovely photos of my products and the behind the scenes action! It is also great for me to make friends in the soap community and talk to other soap makers about developments in the industry.”
As a young businesswoman Morgane can be proud of the thriving business she has grown in the three years since she started La Belle Soap Co. I asked her if she had anyone she looked to as a business mentor.
“I have a couple of women that I really look up to as business mentors. Anne-Marie Faiola, in the US, has a business called Soap Queen. She started just how I did, in her twenties, selling her soaps at markets and she now runs a multi-million dollar soap business. She is one of those that will tell you everything you need to know about the industry. She is absolutely amazing, so supportive and openly shares her knowledge.
Sophia Amoruso, also American, is another very smart and inspiring businesswoman. She started from nothing; she was dumpster diving when she was my age. She picked up some vintage clothes and sold them on e-bay. Ten years on, she has more than 400 employees in her $250-million-plus fashion retailer Nasty Gal. A total inspiration.”
Finally, I asked Morgane if she had any advice to offer those wanting to start a creative business. “The advice I would give would be to just do it. It might sound mean, but you are going to fail….every single time, until you don’t. It’s never boring and you are always entertained…and tired!
It’s hard because you are doing every single thing for and by yourself, but it’s wonderful and amazing when you can enjoy the success that you have personally created.”