You might already be following Saltwater Atelier on Instagram — perhaps attracted by their curated pictures of mesmerising crystal-infused bar soaps, also known as Reiki Bars. It’s all thanks to the hard work of the 28-year-old founder Miya Chong. To her, shower time is a simple “luxury” that she indulges in; it’s when she truly winds down. And it’s this daily personal hygiene ritual (which is never more important than during the Coronavirus pandemic) that inspired the mother of three to launch her soap-making business, as a way to encourage even the busiest of individuals to take part in this easy form of self-care.
ELLE Singapore: Soap-making as a business is rather rare in the beauty industry. What is your inspiration for starting this business?
Miya Chong: I stumbled upon this craft by accident when I walked past a shop selling a melt-and-pour soap kit in Kuala Lumpur in 2017. I was instantly intrigued by the complexity of the process — melting, mixing, cooling — the making of such [an] everyday product is actually so interesting. Being fond of beauty and art since young, I knew this was something I had to experiment with. Before Saltwater Atelier started as a business, the Instagram account was my medium to document my trials and errors. Then, people started messaging me to enquire if my soaps were [for] sale — that’s when I realised I could sell my craft.
What’s up with #rethinksoap?
That’s the tagline of Saltwater Atelier. It represents the mission to spread the beauty of quality handcrafted soap bars, and to share that self-care, which is for everyone; there’s no gender or age group to it. It’s to encourage people to wind down after a long, hectic day with a holistic bath experience. You know, the thing about bar soaps is that they tend to be… ugly. The ones with “good stuff”, like glycerin, are all in unattractive colours. They’re so misunderstood! So, to get people to start using bar soaps, they have to look good.
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So, with crystals in soaps, you get to cleanse your body and mind when you shower.
That’s right. As a mother of three young kids, shower time is truly “me time” that I enjoy. I’ve also always been fascinated by the pristineness of crystals and the colour transition of fluid art, so my designs are very much based on these two concepts. No two soap bars look the same. Different crystals have different vibrational properties that help in one’s place-keeping — for example, rose quartz in Faire to promote self love; bloodstone in Helio to inspire inner strength; and honey citrine in Solla to improve self-confidence. Hopefully, these soaps [will] enable users to gather a fresh, new perspective on everyday life.
Are bar soaps more environmentally friendly?
Yes. The carbon footprint of a bar soap is 25 per cent less than that of liquid soap. A trip to the sink uses seven more times liquid soap than bar soaps. Bar soaps also requires less energy for packaging production and disposal.
How else do you encourage people to come on board with bar soaps?
By being transparent with the ingredients used. Sharing the knowledge involves consumers in the process, so they’ll have a better understanding. I buy my soaps in small batches — clear-base hot process soaps from the States, where it is FDA-certified, or from a local maker in Kuala Lumpur who uses natural products like coconut and saffron oils. To add colours, I’ll inject soap-grade colouring into the mould. The full ingredient list of each soap is on the website. Crystals are sourced from a local seller that I trust.
Why is soap-making so time-consuming?
It’s art. And with art, you cannot rush things. You’ll have to do it slowly. If the soaps don’t turn out the way I want them to, I’ll redo it. The maximum I can make in a day is maybe 20 pieces. Different soap-making techniques require different drying times, which could range between four to 48 hours. The drying time is also dependent on the ingredients that are used to make them. Cold-processed soaps (soaps that don’t look glassy), for instance, need to be dried for 48 hours, then left on the rack to cure for 42 hours before [they] can be sold.
How do you manage the time needed for the business and spending time with your family?
That’s actually my biggest challenge. I even have to juggle my day job in the mix, as a business developer executive for a US cruise company. It was so tough, initially, but I gradually learnt the importance of planning ahead and scheduling. It also helps to be flexible when issues arise. The key is to be genuinely present in the moment, be it [at] work or family time.
What is the most heartwarming thing you’ve learnt in being your own #girlboss?
The most important source of inspiration is self-love. Juggling my many roles has ironically taught me to slow down, and take time out for myself once in awhile. What I’m doing is art with a purpose, and for people to see that, the inspiration behind my work has to be genuine. There’s nothing more genuine than self-love.
Miya Chong is featured as one of our Beauty Game Changers in the March 2020 issue of ELLE Singapore. Pick up your copy at selected newsstands and bookstores today.