Keeping Bangkok beautiful, naturally

Ukrainian Maria Kalita and her husband own and operate Bangkok Soap Opera, an online shop that specialises in natural cosmetics. Kalita is a passionate soap maker with a great love for natural and health products. Her firm belief is that "Natural should not be expensive", so her handmade soap bars are priced at one baht per gram. Choosing local Thai herbs and old fashion methods help Kalita create 100% natural products, full of active ingredients and love. She also conducts workshops to help spread her vision for making and using natural cosmetics.

Why soap and why the name Bangkok Soap Opera?

I started my soap-making journey seven years ago in Poland. I was doing my second degree, not in cosmetology, but I was in love with chemistry. My chemistry professor asked me if I would like the join the cosmetology faculty to learn to make natural cosmetics. After two months, we had the first class in cosmetology and I fell in love with it. I thought maybe making natural cosmetics was a way to educate people because everyone loves cosmetics. Getting people to move to natural medicines takes time and it's hard. But cosmetics, everyone can enjoy and get good benefits from nature. I started as a hobby and after this the faculty made its first soap. It was good but wasn't right. I started to read about soap online. In one week I made my first batch at home. Since then it became my hobby and people saw that I was excited and passionate about it. Soon people invited me to conduct workshops on it. I moved to Bangkok three years ago and Bangkok Soap Opera was born. We name it Bangkok Soap Opera since soap is our main product and we are in love with the city. We find that Bangkok is a huge city with a natural flow in it. So we decided to share our love for soap with it.

Bangkok Soap Opera is edible -- 'If you can eat it, you can apply it on your skin' -- what's the philosophy behind it?

We use edible ingredients. The philosophy is simple: I was the person who wanted to make natural cosmetics at home. Since I was a student, I did not want to buy tools and I wanted to educate myself and find home recipes and ingredients to go with. This is how my philosophy was born and then it was moved to Bangkok Soap Opera. If you can eat it, you can apply it safely on your skin. Nowadays I don't think you need to be a chemist or a manufacturer to create natural cosmetics. All you need is to be interested in it. You open the fridge, take the products, know their function and the ingredient list, and then you produce highly professional cosmetics at home. This is what we follow when we produce and host workshops.

We use products that don't have any chemicals. We also use old-fashioned methods. We like fruits, flowers and oils and we also produce essential oils that you cannot drink in big amounts, but when consumed in small amounts they are possible to drink. We are 99% vegan. The only non-vegan ingredients we use are bees wax and sometimes goat's milk, but the latter is only when we get a custom order. These days there are many possibilities to stay green and take care of the planet, so we need to put them into use.

Which product is your best-seller?

I can name best-sellers in all the different types of products we sell. For soaps, it's definitely those with lemongrass, aloe vera and avocado. I have my own avocado tree and you can find aloe vera everywhere here. I use freshly distilled essential oil of lemongrass to make the soap. It's tri-coloured, three shades of green, very good for dry skin and is also anti-bacterial. For hydrosols, we extract our own using old distillation methods and style to extract essential oils like rose water. We make hydrosols from Thai produce like pomelo, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, galangal, kaffir lime, lime peel and others. Hydrosols are definitely our best-sellers, because in this weather we need a moisturing mist, which is natural and beneficial.

Where does your customer base lie?

I think the farmer's market is the best way to look at our market. Because online is hard to see who your customers are: The profile picture will be of a cat but the order will be for face cream. At the market, I see that our customers are more women than men. Though in Thailand there are many men who like to take care of their skin and themselves, unlike in Europe. The customer age range is between the ages of 25-45, though this is not about age. These are people who have the energy and knowledge to take care of not only their health, but beauty, too. They want to be green and plastic-free. They want to be chemical free because they understand that what they apply to themselves also affects the environment around them. These are really open-minded people. But little by little, after educating we get people from different branches of life who had never thought about all this and they join our workshops and change their thoughts about their lifestyles.

Why hold workshops, don't you want people to buy your products rather than make them?

I am a strange person. When I first started many people told me, 'Oh you teach people. They won't buy products'. But, that's not how it works. My main idea is that people should start doing it at home and then it can go from being Bangkok-wide, Thailand-wide and maybe one day worldwide, if we work together with this as the main aim we educate people to make them at home. I am okay if everyone stops buying chemicals and makes their own cosmetics. If they succeed and become professional, that would make my heart happy.

Do you think solid soap still has a future, because of the popularity of liquid soap?

I am old-fashioned. I like soap bars. However, we will soon have a station with liquid soaps, which can also be made naturally. We plan to have a big canister of liquid soap and you can bring your container and fill it with natural liquid soap. We recycle plastic so you don't need to buy new bottles and you will use good quality soap. Though nowadays, people are going back to the old ways and we appreciate that our customers like our old-fashioned techniques and look of our products. They are happy with the soap bars, which may not look very fancy but are rich in benefits.

Where do you source your ingredients?

Not all the places where we source our ingredients are certified organic. We try to stick to small local farms as much as we can. This means that we can control the quality of the ingredients as we have a one-on-one relationship with them. However, ingredients like apricot blossom, cherry blossom, rose, lavender, lemon balm and pine needle we get from bi-yearly trips to Europe. I still wouldn't use the term '100% organic', but we try our best. We also always recycle bottles and containers, if they are plastic. Any plastic we use in our workshops are sterilised and reused. We also ask our customers to bring back the bottles so they can be used again. Hopefully one day we will use ingredients that are 100% sustainable.

Where can Bangkok Soap Opera be found?

The only time you can find us 'live' is at the Bangkok Farmer's Market, where we will be on March 10-11. We are working on improving our online shop. We ship globally and our products are being sold in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Belgium and Poland. Our main aim is still Bangkok. We will be holding soap-making workshops on March 24-25, which are generally at Steps With Theera in Ekamai. Every first Saturday of the month we host a workshop at The Commons on Thong Lor, where we take 10-20 litres of waste cooking oil from Roast restaurant and convert it to liquid soap for the bathrooms. We also teach small eateries and roadside stalls how to recycle their waste cooking oil by turning it into soap. g

Visit http://facebook.com/bangkoksoapopera.