Soaps Can Be Kind To Your Skin And The Environment
Leonara is the founder of TANAKA, a handmade natural plant-based soap brand based in the UK. Aside from the lovely soaps Leonara creates, we love that the name TANAKA means ‘we are good’ and symbolises both beauty and gratitude.
How did you start TANAKA? TANAKA was born out of experimenting in my kitchen in the summer of 2019. It was when I posted photos of what I’d made to Instagram and received some very encouraging feedback that I realised this could be a business opportunity, but in its inception, it wasn’t very strategic.
What do you love most about TANAKA? What I love most about my brand is the simplicity of the products. I started TANAKA because I was looking for simple, natural skincare products as I was becoming more aware of the impact my lifestyle choices have on my health, which extends to what I put on my skin. I wanted to avoid harsh chemicals and also limit my consumption of plastic, so I decided to try making my own soaps. I hadn’t thought that this niche hobby would become a business but once I realised that people were interested in what I was making, I got excited to share what I was learning and TANAKA was born.
We love the name, can you tell us a bit more about what it means? The name TANAKA comes from Zimbabwe and means ‘we are good’ and is also used as an expression to symbolise beauty or a state of gratitude. Reflecting on the name TANAKA, its meaning is central to my brand values which extend to encouraging people to be kind to themselves, the people around them and in turn, the environment.
What are some of the milestone moments you have had since starting? I’ve had a couple of milestone moments and am hopeful for more in the future. The main one is having my soaps stocked in a couple of independent shops in London. That recognition gave me confidence that I was onto something good that retailers believed in enough to sell in their shops. I’m now also working on a couple of collaborations which will be for sure a huge milestone, but more on that later.
Any mistakes and learnings along the way? Mistakes and learnings - there have been so many. One thing I know for sure is that it’s a lot of work to build a brand that relies on the physicality of making products and from this I’ve learnt to be gentle with myself and do the best I can. I’m a one-woman show and often my biggest mistake is forgetting this. The process of soapmaking has taught me patience - I make soap using the cold process method which takes up to 6 weeks for each bar to cure. This helps me to remember that some things take time, and that’s okay.
Where do you see TANAKA in 5 years time? In 5 years I see myself working in a dedicated space/studio. I would have grown the business, been working with more retailers and expanded the range of products I offer. I’d also like to be hosting soapmaking workshops and continuing to encourage people to take a less harmful approach to their skincare whilst also having a positive impact on the environment.
We’d love to hear more about the process behind creating your soap. During the research phase, I spent a lot of time reading about the specific properties of the oils and butters that make the base of each soap. I used a combination of olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, mango butter and castor oil. The result is a rich lathering soap that cleanses thoroughly whilst leaving skin feeling soft and supple afterwards.
Once I have the base oils melted and combined, I then select the botanical and essential oils based on the desired benefits of the soap. I mix them together with a lye solution (sodium hydroxide mixed with water), which turns the mixture into soap through what’s called the saponification process. After that, the soap is poured into some moulds, cut after 24 hours and then left to cure for 4 - 6 weeks before it's ready for use. It’s quite a long process from start to finish but so worthwhile.
Such an interesting process, thanks for sharing. How important is sustainability to your brand? Natural soap lasts longer than store bought liquid soaps and shower gels making it an easy way to get back to basics whilst being intentional about what you put on to your skin. My intention to create a sustainable brand is a direct response to the climate crisis and through my business I want to promote ways in which people can make small changes to their lifestyle which will have a positive impact on the environment.
Where do you get inspiration from for TANAKA? I get my inspiration from nature. I was born and raised in Zimbabwe and moved to the UK when I was 11 which is pretty young but still, my most vivid and exciting childhood memories are of time spent outside playfully making what I truly believed in my mind to be healing tinctures from the herbs and flowers from my garden. It's from these early days that I can now see how my obsession with the magic of plants and natural minerals to heal has led me to create a soap company which allows me to keep exploring the ways in which plant-based, natural ingredients rich in all their vitamins and antioxidants have the ability to benefit and improve not just skin health, but also support our overall well-being.
Do you have a mentor you work with? I don’t have a mentor at the moment but I do have a strong network of other like-minded businesses who are very supportive and encouraging.