A few years ago, I decided I wanted to leave my job and be my own boss.
I’d been making soap as a hobby and friends would say, ‘you should do this for a living’. But I never took that seriously.
Then, one day, I stumbled on a newspaper article about a forgotten aspect of Portsmouth’s history.
I learned my home city was once known for soap-making.
The industry started in the 1600s, providing a laundry service for ships. By the 1930s, Portsmouth was home to two large family businesses which exported around the world. Both collapsed in tough economic times.
A new chapter
I imagined the next chapter in that story: turning my love of soap-making into a business and reviving a long-lost aspect of Portsmouth’s heritage along the way.
Everything I made would be natural, vegan and cruelty-free. After all, I love animals and I don’t think soap would be high up anyone’s shopping list in the event of environmental apocalypse.
Finding the right recipe
I got to work developing unique recipes. On a chilly Saturday morning in April 2015, I pitched up at a street market to try my luck, trading as Southsea Bathing Hut.
If you want to build a business selling products, I highly recommend markets. You get access to the best focus group around: real shoppers.
Markets and events – from garden shows to music festivals – were the mainstay of Southsea Bathing Hut for its first three years. They’re a great way to road-test products, get direct feedback, and establish a customer base. I taught myself to grow beyond soap and make all kinds of skincare products if enough people asked for them.
Growing the business
During those years, I gradually moved production from the kitchen table to a small sub-let room, to an industrial unit.
I built a website for online sales and developed a small network of stockists.
After three years, I had enough of a range and track record to secure investment to open a shop.
A year later, on the eve of the business’s fourth birthday, I expanded into the shop next door.
Hard work pays off
I have to be clear: every step has been tough. I’ve given up evenings, weekends and normal working hours, and often paid myself a pittance (because when growing a business from scratch, so much of the money that comes in gets invested rather than banked). No decision ever felt easy.
Every move forward was a risk. The support of family and friends was crucial. There is nothing easy about being your own boss.
But I didn’t become my own boss for glamour, riches or prestige. I did it to be in charge of my own destiny, to do something I could be proud of, to create products that help people.
An inclusive skincare brand
One decision I made early on. As a female entrepreneur, I had no interest in calling this a ‘beauty’ brand. It’s about natural skincare. Why? Because taking good care of your skin has nothing to do with making yourself ‘beautiful’.
I want every Southsea Bathing Hut customer, whatever their gender identity, to feel comfortable in their own skin. Because to me, that’s beautiful.
For more information, visit: www.southseabathinghut.co.uk