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You’ve likely seen those “is it cake” challenges where bakers make hyper-realistic cakes. Now, here’s a Singaporean business that makes cake-looking items that aren’t cakes, but rather, soap.

Called Clean Folks Club, it was founded by friends Rebecca and Siyan. Bonding over a shared passion for business and creative endeavours, the two launched a fashion label straight out of university.

Unfortunately, the pandemic forced them to shutter their retail store. But rather than see this as a setback, the two considered it to be an opportune time to try something different.

“After years in the fashion industry, we were looking to pivot to something more sustainable and environmentally friendly,” they shared with Vulcan Post.

From that vision, the duo would end up finding their calling in solid soaps.

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

As someone with sensitive skin, Rebecca has long been restricted to using specialised body washes. However, these products often lack in scent and appeal, and sometimes even texture.

“This inspired us to explore the possibility of crafting an enjoyable product that is gentle on the skin and also able to enhance the shower experience,” the two shared.

They landed on solid soaps as a solution, as they are one of the easiest eco-friendly switch consumers can make.

With no experience making solid soaps, Rebecca and Siyan spent over a year doing intense R&D. During this time, they learnt about how soaps were made, how to formulate their own soap recipe, and how to tweak it to enhance different attributes of the soap.

After perfecting a soap recipe, they launched Clean Folks Club mid-2021.

Starting out, they focused on solid soaps as the main products, alongside a line of sugar body scrubs and body lotions that were also formulated in-house.

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

An accidental success

Initially, Rebecca and Siyan focused on art soap bars with arches and sunset designs, as well as basic bars tailored to specific skin needs. Wanting them to be recognisable, they didn’t veer too far from the standard shape and look of soap bars.

At the last minute, though, they decided to add two cake soaps to the line-up, a strawberry shortcake soap and a lavender mango soap.

“It was just supposed to be a fun thing created out of our love for desserts, and we thought why not include them,” the co-founders recalled. “We definitely did not expect them to completely sell out quickly and every time we restocked them.”

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

Recognising the potential, the duo decided to pivot in April 2023, scrapping the original range to fully embrace dessert-themed soaps.

With that, they launched a full line of six new cake soaps as well as a mix-and-match macaron soap set.

To celebrate National Day, Clean Folks Club also collaborated with a local perfumer to create limited-edition ice cream wafer soaps as well as Ang Ku Kueh soaps, complete with “authentic fillings” also made from soap.

These were well received, so much so that they added the Ang Ku Kueh soap to their permanent collection.

Another unique soap design are the Mahjong soaps, first launched two Lunar New Years ago. Siyan and Rebecca revealed that they didn’t have many expectations because they didn’t think people would want to gift soaps for the occasion.

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

“To our surprise, they sold out really quickly and we had to make a lot more than we expected to keep up with the demand,” they said.

With these successes, Clean Folks Club aims to expand their collection of heritage soaps. They’re already working on more local delicacies (perhaps a pandan waffle or tutu kueh) and are developing a technique to create a peranakan house soap bar.

Functional gifts

With how beautiful the soaps are, it’s no surprise that they’re primarily bought as gifts.

“When we meet people at fair/events in person, the general consensus is that they can’t bear to use it themselves but find them delightful gifts,” Rebecca and Siyan mused.

However, the duo does try encourage customers to use their soaps, highlighting the value of “creating small luxuries for oneself”.

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

“We would like to think we have convinced quite a few people to do that as we do have returning customers who purchase the soaps for themselves,” they said.

Aside from their usual offerings, custom orders are also a big part of Clean Folks Club’s business. This may be for personal events like parties and weddings, or corporate orders for door gifts or PR packages.

Some notable companies that Clean Folks Club has worked with include Uniqlo, Magnum, Discovery, Adobe, Lenskart, and homegrown brands such as Cheak and Lemuel Chocolate.

Last year, they even got an opportunity from a government agency to produce 1,000 pieces of their Ang Ku Kueh soaps.

“These soaps were selected to be included in a curated gift set representing Singapore, which was sent to countries all around the world, so that was very exciting and humbling to be part of,” they expressed.

A sustainable business in all aspects

When asked about the financial performance of their business, Rebecca and Siyan shared, “If you asked us this question in the first year, we would have told you that selling solid soaps is an uphill task and we’re unsure of the long-term financial viability.”

However, they now see the business more positively. Over the past year, they’ve been able to identify areas with potential for growth. The duo also said that they’ve had healthy profit margins, despite the increase in raw material costs.

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

For now, Clean Folks Club only has two staff members—Rebecca and Siyan themselves. Being a lean team, things can get overwhelming at times, especially during peak gifting seasons.

“During those periods, we often find ourselves putting in 12-hour days back-to-back and enlisting the help of friends and loved ones to manage the workload,” they said. “So we’re definitely hoping to expand our team this year to alleviate this.”

In any case, it’s not like the duo plans to turn their business into some highly corporatised business.

“We think CFC ultimately, being born out of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the burnout of hustle culture, was always meant to be a reminder for us to take things slow and is created out of a want to change things for the better, to embrace the small ordinary moments in life,” they explained.

Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

“Our unofficial motto is ‘discover joy in the everyday’. So big ambitious plans like opening multiple chain stores or global expansion was never seen as an end goal.”

Rather, success for the two would be to balance supporting themselves in a sustainable way while continuing to mindfully create things and experiences that are delightful.

  • Learn more about Clean Folks Club here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Clean Folks Club

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)