A while back, we ran a little Girl Boss appreciation month here on the blog, and featured a ton of local Perth businesses.
I LOVED discovering all the amazingly talented ladies in my own city who were kicking butt at their small businesses. And one of those small businesses I stumbled upon in my research was Sparrow Soap.
But it wasn’t until an Inspire Collective event last year that I actually got to meet Sparrow Soap owner Erin Harrison and hear the story behind the gorgeous handmade soaps I was drooling all over in my Instagram feed!
Yes, Erin’s soaps are arguably some of the most stunningly beautiful things I have ever seen, and I have major heart eyes for her packaging style too! But the best part about Sparrow Soap products? They’re super good for your skin!
Erin’s journey into soap making began a few years ago, when her husband refused to use commercial soap or body wash.
“It really did dry the skin and I noticed too, but simply kept on applying moisturiser to combat the dryness.” Erin says.
But realizing she was just putting a band-aid on the problem, her mind turned to homemade solutions. Erin is no stranger to making things herself from scratch; in the past she has made her own cordials, breads, butters and cleaning products. Soap, however, was a new venture.
“I absolutely loved the idea of making soap completely from scratch using saponification as the method (cold process). This method of soap making has been around for hundreds of years! I found some recipes online and decided on a very basic, fragrance-and-colour-free bar to try first. I followed it step by careful step, and I cannot tell you how excited I was when I was able to cut that first ever batch! I was so surprised that it actually worked!”
From that moment on, Erin and her husband began using their homemade natural soap at home, occasionally gifting it to friends and family too.
Eventually, at the suggestion of a friend, Erin took the plunge to turn her soap making into a business. Balancing her new business with a full-time job, she started slowly.
“I looked into Etsy but the fees were too high, so I just made a Facebook page at first. A friend invited me along to their church’s Christmas night market and I set about frantically making soaps for it. I sold half a dozen that night but I was not deterred.”
She attended another market shortly after the first, and again didn’t make many sales… but still, she pressed on.
“I kept on quietly working in the background, making soaps and working on a website. I did research into other markets and joined networking groups. Things moved very slowly – nothing like what you’d expect a normal business to do.”
However, Erin was happy with the slower pace. In the midst of huge stress with a previous employer, as well as working on and off still, soap making was a happy, calming outlet.
“The branding “Sparrow” actually was born out of these times that were incredibly hard in my life… I needed a complete “tree change”.”
Fast forward to today, and Erin is looking back at two years as a full-time business owner.
“Sparrow Soap is becoming a recognisable brand and I stock in several shops and boutiques as well as selling online – my body scrubs have even made it to London!”
Erin notes that happy customers are one of the most rewarding parts of small business ownership.
“Everyone loves a good hand made soap and they smell amazing, look pretty cool and are good for your skin! So many people are skeptical at first, saying they cant use soap – then once they try it, they are so surprised and have become regular customers.”
Erin remembers one customer in particular whose comment made her day.
“My Dad had taken some down to Albany and sold them at his work. A lady who bought some said later on that she’d had a terrible time sleeping and had problems with her skin, but when she used my soap, she had the best night’s sleep and no skin problems for the first time in years!”
Other exciting moments as a small business owner include being approached to contribute product for Splendour Box in 2017, which generated a lot of interest in her business, and new opportunities too. She also partnered with the Inspire Collective to supply soaps to the attendees at one of their events (I was there!!), which gave her motivation and confidence a massive boost, as well as flow-on business opportunities.
However, she is quick to point out that the life of a small business owner is not always an easy one.
“I only get out of it what I feed in to it. It takes time, emotional and financial investment. Not to mention that it has taken over most of my house, and my lifestyle is very much focused on my business… Being my own boss, sometimes it can feel like I am always “on”. Whilst I absolutely love working for myself, there are some days and some tasks that I do not like. Those are done as quickly as possible!”
As with any small business, there are challenges to overcome. A self-confessed introvert, Erin has had to challenge herself to put herself out there and self-promote. She has also dealt with some unfortunate dealings, with stockists not paying her for consignment stock after it had been sold. And sourcing good quality, affordable raw materials can be a headache, with the quantity that she requires for her soap making.
Overall though, Erin is extremely happy as a small business owner. She is grateful to only answer to herself these days, setting her own goals and using creativity to overcome her challenges.
Plus, she loves being able to produce all-natural product.
“I have never wanted to come across like a crazy person advocating only natural stuff. We do live in a world surrounded by all sorts of unnatural things from the paint on our walls to the clue in our carpets and flooring. If there is some small thing that I can do that helps people have less irritated skin then I am a happy person. Every single one of us is different and I believe variety and alternatives should be more readily available to everyone.”
A day in the life of Erin starts around 6:30am with a (much-needed!) cup of coffee.
From there she could be checking emails and social media, pouring and cutting soaps, mixing scrubs, packaging orders, checking in with her stockists, networking with other small business owners, and experimenting with new product ideas. Environmental friendliness is a huge priority for Erin, and so she spends a good part of her week researching alternative packaging and wrapping solutions too.
“Zero waste and plastic free is very important to me.”
Friends and family play a big role in Sparrow Soap.
A number of Erin’s friends actually helped with branding, trademarking, accounting advice and even photography when her business was in its initial stages, and now family members happily get involved by helping to prepare Erin’s signature denim and string packaging… and even product mixing in a pinch!
“My poor mum helped me make 300 odd body scrubs for the Beauty to a Tea event last year (they approached me and asked me if I would like to do the scrubs, I said yes, then at the last minute, they asked me if I’d like to attend the event too as another exhibitor had pulled out! I couldn’t believe it!) and it was quite a feat!”
Erin hopes to eventually use Sparrow Soap as a platform to educate.
“My dream is to help educate folk about the benefits of old fashioned soap; how it does not dry your skin out and you get all the benefits of the oils used in the soap, about how using block soap is zero waste and plastic free, using locally made products reduces the kilometres it has had to travel and keeps the local economy ticking over nicely. And I’d really love for people to think “Sparrow Soap” when they think about an awesome alternative to commercial soap products.”
She also hopes to expand into more wholesale opportunities, and would love to move the business out of her home and into larger premises that can accommodate a larger-scale production.
“Currently I am spread around my house and am using existing furniture and second had tables to store oils and materials, and I make all my products in my kitchen.”
Erin’s thriving business has even inspired her husband to get into electrical work, and the two have recently gotten electrical contracting licenses in order to run a second business together.
“I’ll be handling all the business and marketing side and he gets to do all the fun bits… like actual electrical work hahaha! A lot of the things I learned about setting up a business for the legalities has helped me get through the course, and I’ll be drawing on that experience again whilst we set up our new electrical services business. Maybe we could market ourselves together… Soapy Sparkie? Spark Soap? We’ll see about that.”
For other women wanting to launch a passion-based business, Erin offers this advice:
“Don’t be afraid of what others may think of you or your business and ideas. My motto has always been ‘build it and they will come’. Juggling other responsibilities can be challenging, but all you can do is just go for it – the time will pass anyway so don’t lose sight of your dreams!
Expect advice from people who are not and have not run a business before. We all have that one friend, hey! They have strong opinions on the only right way to do everything – and none of it is from actual experience. Don’t be offended at their advice. Take the advice with a pinch of salt then go and do what you want to do. At the end of the day only you know what you can do at that time and only you know all the contributing factors and influences to the success your business. Success by their definition might not be the same as success by your definition.”
When I asked Erin which of her soaps she likes the best, she struggled!
“That is such a hard question! I love all the soaps I make and wouldn’t sell one I don’t like – they are each a reflection of me personally! However, since I must choose, special mention must be made to one of the first soaps I made. Coffee Cinnamon, with fresh, hand ground coffee and Cinnamon Essential oil – it is a spicy delight.”
Uh, sounds amazing to me!
Erin is kindly offering Her Happy Heart readers free delivery on orders over $25.00 using the code HappySoap. The discount is valid until 30th April, 2018.
Want to connect with Erin?
I highly recommend that you check out Sparrow Soap on Instagram – when you see her beautiful photos, it will be no surprise that most of her orders come from this platform!