A day in the life of an eco-friendly soap maker
PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 March 2020
Clara Challoner Walker is the founder of Cosy Cottage, an artisan company in Malton which produces eco-friendly soaps and skincare products.
I wake up in our cottage in Ganthorpe, where I live with my husband Philip, and get straight into work mode. I make a coffee and then sit at the kitchen table to look at our inbox and our website to see what’s happened overnight and how many messages and orders have come in. The business is still relatively young but growing quite rapidly, so it’s very exciting and one of the first things I think about when I open my eyes.
Philip and I both work for Cosy Cottage and travel to work together. It’s one of our favourite times of the day. We have one of the best commutes you can imagine as our route takes us through the Castle Howard estate, passing the lake and seeing the view of the house behind it. No matter what season it is, the journey is always beautiful and it puts us in the right frame of mind for work. In Malton we have a lovely old work space just round the corner from Talbots Yard, which is a vibrant location with lots of people passing the door. Getting in before the rest of the team gives us time to take stock and tidy up before things start to get too frenetic.
The rest of the team starts to arrive and we plan the day, discussing which products are to be made, which are to be processed and packaged. The business has come a long way in just four years. I started making soap in the kitchen at home in 2016 because I wanted to combine my background as a professional chemist with my passion for natural products. I started with hand-made soaps, using coconut oil instead of palm oil, and gradually increased the range to include shampoo bars, conditioners, deodorants and skin creams. We even produce shampoo for dogs. Before long I had outgrown the kitchen and started looking for premises, which eventually led to this lovely period building in the heart of Malton.
By mid-morning we are processing orders from individuals, independent shops, hotels and guest houses all over the UK who stock our products. At the same time Philip will be manufacturing the soaps, using the kind of bowls and whisks you would find in the domestic kitchen. The soaps are made using coconut oil, olive oil, other plant derived oils and sodium hydroxide, which are mixed together until they form the consistency of thick custard. The mixture is poured into rectangular moulds, left for 24 hours, cut into squares and left to ‘cure’ on wire racks for around three weeks until they are ready to wrap. They are made daily in eight batches of 60 bars – that’s 480 per person, a day.
We are surrounded by fabulous artisan food outlets in Malton, so we always make a point of going into town across lunch time and bringing back something so that we all eat together. We are spoilt for choice. There are so many fabulous artisan food shops on the doorstep and in summer there is rarely a day goes by without one or other of us coming back with a delicious ice cream or a great coffee. There are 14 of us in total, but not all of them work full time and some work from home. However, we believe in team work and encourage the social aspect of our job. Working with other people and developing ideas together is a really important part of what we do. We also like people to just call in and have a look at the products. We have a small retail area and welcome customers dropping in throughout the day. They can smell the products, see the ranges and talk to us about what we do and how things are made. It is all very transparent.
After lunch we process more orders, package up deliveries and, depending on the weight and amount of things being posted, I then drive or walk to the Post Office as we use Royal Mail for all the deliveries.
By mid afternoon I will often be experimenting with new ideas and fragrances based on customer feedback and data. At the moment our fragrances include lavender, geranium, orange, patchouli and lemon grass, among others, but I am always to test new fragrances and combinations. People are buying more and more solid soaps as a way of reducing plastic waste, so we feel we have come into this at the right time. Our customers are very aware of environmental issues and our products, which are all free from palm oil, are particularly welcomed by customers who share our principles. I started the company because I’ve always been fascinated by the effect skincare, cosmetic and bathing products have on our bodies and the environment. I wanted to provide customers with an ethical choice and high quality alternatives to high volume, commercially produced products. The concept is founded on end-to-end sustainability, so all our ingredients are sustainably sourced and natural. The fragrances are all made from steam distilled flowers and fruit, and our packaging is all recyclable or compostable.
By the end of the day we are all ready to clear up and go home so we can recharge for the next day. However, I don’t stop once we get back to the cottage. When I’m not working in the business, I jointly run writers’ workshops and retreats in Yorkshire and France, with my friend and fellow writer Janet Dean, so that keeps me busy in the evenings and at weekends. Called Awakening The Writer Within, the workshops are very different to the day job and provide an outlet for some of the other types of creativity I can’t always bring to the business!