This Malaysian Couple's Handmade Soap Business Started From Used Cooking Oil

The idea of Soapan Santun kickstarted when Anna's mother presented her with a huge problem at home: used cooking oil.

Cover image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

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Meet Anna Lee and Louis Koh, the entrepreneurs who started their handcrafted soap business from an issue with used cooking oil

Soapan Santun is the creation of 26-year-old Anna Lee and her husband Louis Koh, who are dedicated to crafting natural handmade soaps and shampoo bars.

Speaking to SAYS, Anna told us that she started making soaps after returning from New Zealand. "We worked odd jobs, from picking kiwi fruits in an orchard, to sorting out kiwi fruits in a factory, to packing flower bulbs in a warehouse, to milking cows in a rural town, and finally sorting recyclables in Christchurch."

Their last job as recycling sorters struck them the hardest, as that was when they realised how many plastics were coming down the belt and how many were rejected due to contamination

"A year after our life abroad, we came home hoping to make small positive changes and impacts on the environment, but we were still clueless and at a loss at what we could do," Anna said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, Anna picked up a new skill — making handmade soaps. At first, it was her attempt to help ease her husband's eczema flare-ups. She was also struggling with an itchy scalp and had dandruff that would cause her to scratch her head incessantly.

The idea of Soapan Santun kickstarted when her mother presented her with a huge problem at home: used cooking oil

Due to eating food cooked with used cooking oil, her dad developed hand eczema that would peel and blister. 

"I was already making body soaps at the time using the giant aloe vera my mother planted at home, so I already had the basic knowledge of soap making," she shared.

Her idea came to fruition when her first ever multi-purpose soap creation made from used cooking oil worked well with washing out the grease from plastic containers and dishes.

Elated, she shared the breakthrough with her friends on Instagram, who began donating their used cooking oil to be recycled into dishwasher soaps.

Since then, Anna has learnt how to make her own pH-balanced shampoo bars.

"Unlike traditional soap bars, Soapan Santun's shampoo bars are made from mild and gentle surfactants derived from coconuts."

Soapan Santun's Body Soaps and Balms collection.

Image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

Aside from being made of mild and gentle coconut surfactants, the soap also contains plant powders, clays, nourishing plant oils, butter, and essential oils.

"With my initial intention of reducing plastic waste from my previous work in New Zealand, I decided to combine sustainability and functionality in starting this soap business, making the products both gentle for the skin and putting as little pressure on the environment as possible," she said.

Their shampoo bars are KKM-approved and are currently available in selected zero waste stores.

Their bestselling Solid Shampoo bar collection that has three variations: dandruff-prone, itchy scalp, and hair loss.

Image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

Their Calendula soaps before they are cut to smaller pieces.

Image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

True to its mission to stay plastic-free, Soapan Santun uses eco-friendly packaging for all its soaps

Their wedding door gifts packaged using boxes and recyclable paper.

Image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

The multi-purpose soap as wedding favours from Soapan Santun. However, multi-purpose soaps are not available for wedding door gifts, but you can order their other soap variations!

Image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

Soapan Santun's Calendula soaps as wedding favours.

Image via Soapan Santun (Provided to SAYS)

Regardless of the struggle, she found it tremendously fulfilling as she enjoyed every second of her time poring over study materials about the process of soapmaking

When asked what the most difficult challenge was before starting Soapan Santun, Anna told us, "On top of my part-time job as a freelance translator, I had to do a lot of research and fork out huge amounts of money for the startup."

When Soapan Santun finally launched, however, it was difficult to find suppliers who supply raw materials in reusable containers. Most suppliers refused to let her use her own containers and insisted on using plastic bags for easy and quick packing.

Eventually, she managed to find a few who would accept their 'quirky' requests, thus reducing plastic usage and wastage.

Soapan Santun aims to be a sustainable alternative for the community

They hope that through Soapan Santun, the society will also start making positive changes in their bathroom essential choices. 

"Although this is still a work in progress, we also aspire to bring a positive impact to the community by uplifting the lower income and marginalised community, one step at a time," she shared with us.

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