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“Be kind to people” With Penny Bauder & Donagh Quigley

Be kind to people on the way up, you might just meet them on the way down- Be as friendly to your cleaning person as to your Head of Ops. Its your relationships, that force field of energy that you bring to each human interaction that will ultimately determine your success. As part of my […]

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Be kind to people on the way up, you might just meet them on the way down- Be as friendly to your cleaning person as to your Head of Ops. Its your relationships, that force field of energy that you bring to each human interaction that will ultimately determine your success.

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donagh Quigley of The Handmade Soap Company. Their story begins in Donagh and Gemma’s kitchen back in 2010. Armed with two pots, some elbow grease and the most natural ingredients imaginable, The Handmade Soap Company was born.

They started out small, selling lovely handmade soaps at farmers’ markets and to kind neighbours… and from there, things just grew and grew. Pots got bigger, our range blossomed, and they added a few more hands on deck; but their mission remains the same: To bring pure, heartfelt joy to your everyday, so even the small things feel precious. Using thoughtful essential oil blends and nature’s pantry, they have lovingly created a range that will boost your mood and your skin in equal measure. And oh, does it smell divine. Put simply, it’s everything you need to grab life by the happy. So, go grab it with both hands.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Music, thatching, bad days on a roof in an Irish winter, dry skin. In my 20’s I played traditional Irish music professionally on a rather obscure instrument called the Uilleann Pipes. It involved lots of touring around Europe in the back of a van but eventually, at some stage, came a desire to settle down. So I bought a barge, met the girl I am now married to and did a thatching (straw roof) traineeship. I worked as a thatcher for a number of years. It was outdoors, physical work but it was also sculptural, creating a beautiful straw roof.

It was a bit cold and wet in the Irish winters though and when the big recession came to Ireland in 2009 it was time for something new.

I had always suffered from dry skin, created stuff with my hands and loved good design. Soap was something I started making in the kitchen for myself in 2009 and The Handmade Soap Company has now grown from 2 pots in the kitchen to a team of 56.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

At The Handmade Soap Company we believe that kindness isn’t just something that’s nice to think about and talk about, it’s a necessary ingredient in everything we do. From the sourcing of our raw materials to the way they are combined, to the packaging, even how we access the power necessary to run our manufacturing facility, it’s all been carefully considered with one thing in mind: kindness.

Offering another human being a helping hand is one of the most caring acts of kindness there is. At The Handmade Soap Company we offer that hand to all of our customers every day, because our products are literally made by our own hands. We know exactly what goes into each one because we put it there ourselves. Each ingredient is chosen to deliver the best possible results.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Kindness is an ingredient in everything we do, it helps to influence all of our decisions.

All of our products are Ecocert/Cosmos accredited which verifies that all of our supply chain and manufacturing practices are certified and all of our raw ingredients are sustainable, natural and green, This accreditation is a big deal, it is very hard to achieve and we are very proud of it.

The first environmentally friendly initiative was with our premises. We upcycled and retro-fitted a 200 year old linen mill in the village where I grew up. It was formerly derelict. Much better than building a new building.

Then we did something really cool, we recommissioned the old electric hydro-turbine so that now we get all of our power from the river, just like when the mill was originally built 200 years ago. We are pretty pleased with that.

Next is our packaging. All of our cardboard is now made from recycled card, this includes the outer cartons for international shipping. Our packing material for all of our online orders is shredded recycled card and paper, our delivery box is made from recycled card, our product cartons are made from recycled card, our plastic bottles are made from PCR (post consumer recycled) plastic, even the packing tape we use is fully compostable, including the glue.

We have a local workforce (I went to school with a lot of them!) including 3 sets of siblings so we are really are family! in a small village in rural Ireland and we sustain a local manufacturing industry.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

For me the question is more about how you define profit…is it simply a number in your bank account or can we quantifiably measure positive impacts we have in a number of areas as well as the bank account. So we use a triple bottom line philosophy which basically means that we have a profit number for our P&L, for our people and for our planet. Yes a business needs to make profit to survive but by making profit AND doing the right thing by your people (leading to lower staff turnover, higher staff engagement) AND by doing the right thing environmentally and showing leadership by telling people how you do it, you then create a positive feedback loop where your product becomes more desirable so you sell more and make more profit and do more right things by your people and our planet.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

I think the most important thing is to lead by example. We are the plastic generation and there is definitely a conversation to be had around who made that so, the individual by their consumer choices, the corporation who provided those choices in the first place or the system that let those corporations pillage almost unchecked. Our kids are sponges, we as parents are the single biggest influence on shaping their belief systems so the most impactful way of doing that is by setting a good example and here are some of my thoughts on how…. Ultimately though it is as simple as live a full life, in tune with your surroundings.

Eat real food- By this I mean cook all your meals from scratch and include your kids young and old. This covers the environmental fundamentals, where does food come from? How is it grown? How does it get to us?

Grow food and indoor plants- This could be some herbs on the windowsill to raised beds in the garden. Of course this won’t save the environment but it is the best way to learn the cycle of life, the seasons, the effect of weather and the effect of humans on the weather.

I have been obsessed with indoor plants for years, our house has always been a bit of an indoor jungle, my pets that don’t talk back. Once you learn what it takes to keep a family of indoor plants alive you develop appreciation for what it takes to keep a forest alive.

Keep Bees- This isn’t possible for everyone but it’s a great way to take an environmental health check. I have one hive at home and three at the factory and yes the kids and myself have been stung (numerous times in fact but it is very good for the immune system, there are reports from beekeepers in China saying that none of the beekeepers around Wuhan ever contracted COVID 19). I remember as a kid going on car trips in Ireland and the windscreen being covered with squashed insects. It just doesn’t happen anymore, there aren’t enough insects left to splatter the windscreen. Bees are absolutely amazing creatures that can teach us so much about a lot of things… pollen, bloom, flowers and foliage and colony management. They give us a direct view into the insect and the natural world.

Live an active outdoor life- What better way to be in tune with the environment than by spending time in it. Get out there. Run alongside that river, swim in that lake, surf in that sea, ride over that hill. Breathe deep, smell, observe. Develop an intuition for what’s going on. Then act.

And finally- don’t dismiss Extinction Rebellion as the extremists, they might just be the smartest guys in the room. If you have a spare fiver give it to them.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

The question is would I have listened? Some things can only be learned through experience and for me a lot of the joy of growing the business has been through my personal growth and development and I would like to think that in 10 years time (the business is now 10 years old) I will be 10 years wiser and smarter than I am now.

All that being said here are the 5 things I wish someone had told me…

Visioning- this is a concept and tool I always knew about but it was reintroduced and reinforced and taught to me in a beautiful way by Ari Weinzweig of Zingermans on a wet winters day in Dublin. Make writing and journaling and visioning a daily habit. Once your thoughts are clear and crystallised it leads to much better communication which leads to much better outcomes on just about everything. “If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there” (Lewis Carroll)

Things will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think they will- This was probably said to me, in fact it definitely was, by my father-in-law but it has been proven time and time again. I think it is the perfect example of the tension between the entrepreneurs optimism and the accountants caution. And while this saying is true sometimes you need to let the entrepreneurial optimism prevail. If the true cost and timelines for new ideas were known at the start how many would never get past go? It’s a good saying to keep in mind but should be balanced with “Nothing happens unless first we dream” (Carl Sandburg)

Do things right the first time- There are not too many short cuts in this world and I have learned through experience that it is quicker and cheaper in the long run to get it right the first time round (even if it does cost twice as much and take twice as long as you think it will!) And don’t be scared to pull it if it is not right.

Don’t get too excited on the good days or too down on the bad days- I really wish I knew that in my first few years.

Be kind to people on the way up, you might just meet them on the way down- Be as friendly to your cleaning person as to your Head of Ops. Its your relationships, that force field of energy that you bring to each human interaction that will ultimately determine your success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had a lot of help along the way, have learned from and continue to learn from lots of people and would hope that I can also give back in some way but there is one mentor in particular who had a great influence upon me.

When I was 19 years old I was living in Australia. I needed a job (as you do) and answered an ad for a vacuum cleaner salesman (cliché alert). Turns out it was a company called Kirby, they cost about $3000 AUS at the time and you had to sell them door to door. That was my college education. I happened to be very good at it and was an even better van manager but it was mostly down to the guy who trained me, Gerard Cusack.

Gerard was an Irish guy, a few years older than me and had been living in Australia for a couple of years. He was charismatic and very funny. Gerard taught me a lot of life lessons but one of the ones that stands out was how to bring your A+++ game to any situation. We used to canvas for leads during the day and do in-home demonstrations during the evening. Gerard used to say that the sale was made (or not made) in your head in the van before you even entered the house. There was a lot of “fake it til you make it” psychology but it worked.

Gerard also taught me a lot about what we would now call creative visualization. He called it “live in the answer” What he meant was first define the question, then decide the outcome you want and then act like its already true. Simple but not easy.

He really was a master at his trade and a magnificent teacher.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

May as well think big…. A movement that brings about a systemic change which realigns the values of capitalism as we know it today to include a more rounded and balanced definition of success, that goes beyond financial success only to include social and environmental metrics.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi)

I have read his biography by Louis Fischer three times, it really is a remedy for a subdued state of mind. Even just thinking of him evokes a desire to do better because there is a better way.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

Instagram @thehandmadesoapcompany

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