On a hazy Ramadan evening, Layla Al-Ammar sat down with the mother-son team behind The Soap Box and was transported to the Emerald Isle of Ireland.
When asked what three words best describe their enterprise, Astrid Al-Hadidi, the creative force behind The Soap Box, answered ‘Pure, elegant, beautiful.’ There are no better adjectives with which to describe the atmosphere of their home. Astrid and her son-slash-business partner, Yousef Al-Hadidi, are the embodiment of authenticity and charm. Their manners, like their business, seamlessly marries effortless European elegance with Arab generosity.
Astrid, a nurse with 35 years of experience, speaks with the quiet confidence of someone who’s been in the medical field for a very long time. She’s also someone who doesn’t shy away from hard work, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s spent years honing her craft. The result is obvious as soon as you use their products. The soaps contain no harsh detergents or EDTA, but are made using only the purest and most ethically-sourced botanical oils and 100% pure essential oils.
Layla Al-Ammar: Where did the idea for The Soap Box come from?
Astrid Al-Hadidi: It started because of my husband actually. As a surgeon, he’s always had dry, irritated hands. And though the products he used were meant to be moisturizing, he was nevertheless very sensitive to them. So, on a trip to Ireland we bought a few bars of handmade soap. We absolutely loved it. When we returned, we had about 25 bars of soap, which is the size of a shoebox. So I said to him, ‘Your soap has taken the space of a possible new pair of shoes for me (laughing)!’ I decided then that I could make soap here in Kuwait, so I got some books and set about making my own batch.
LA: And how did it go?
AAH: They were…. questionable (chuckling). The batch was a mixture of basil, pine, lavender, and green clay. I didn’t just try to make soap; I made the colored one and the scented one all at the same time! Now, when soap is poured, you’re meant to leave it undisturbed, but I was peeking at it like a cake in the oven (giggling). I was fascinated! I don’t know if that had any effect, but the soap was beautiful to use. Still, I worked and studied and refined it, and the next batch I made I was delighted with. I never looked back.
LA: Was the soap meant for home use, or did you straight away have the idea of selling it?
AAH: Home use initially, and I gave some away to friends and family. People really seemed to take to it, so I began to sell. I also gave some boxes to family back in Ireland, and everyone said how lovely it was. Now I know they wouldn’t have said it was rubbish, but if people keep coming back for more, you know you’re doing something right.
As we’re chatting, I keep glancing over to a large print leaning against the wall. It’s a beautiful shot of the Al-Hadidis’ lavender farm in Avoca, Ireland, a small town about an hour and a half from Dublin. My eyes, so used to the beiges of Kuwait, are starved for color, and the photo has it in abundance. The sky is clear and blue with big, white clouds. There are lush green hills and rows of brilliant, purple lavender. All of the lavender in their products is sourced from this farm, where they return, year after year, to tend the crops. They also donate some of the lavender to the local cancer hospital where Astrid met her husband, an act which in some small way is like drawing to close a beautiful circle.
LA: I first came across your products in Qout Market, how did your participation in that begin?
AAH: Well, Yousef discovered Qout Market, and said we should sell there. And our concept seemed to marry really well with theirs. They have this idea of farm-to-table, and we are basically farm-to-bathroom. And that struck a chord with Qout as well as Mimi Al-Nisf whose market, Shakshooka, we also participated in. So, the beauty was that our products were being exposed in a big way to different audiences through these novel and popular markets.
Astrid has a strong pay-it-forward mentality. In no way is this more epitomized than in current and future plans for The Soap Box. Yousef, who handles the business end, tells me they are recipients of seed capital from The National Fund for SME Development, with which they hope to expand operations. Although they currently focus their sales on local consumers and spas, they hope to expand GCC-wide, and thereby help elevate the exposure of quality products crafted in Kuwait.
Big things are coming up for The Soap Box, including the launching of a website and retail store this September. We can also expect to see new products and new scents. No matter what though, The Soap Box will remain what it has always been; pure, elegant, and beautiful.
To find out more on The Soap Box, visit their instagram
– Layla Al-Ammar