The Interview: Samantha Jameson, founder, Soapsmith
Samantha Jameson’s love of scent and beauty was the inspiration for launching hand, bath and body care brand Soapsmith in 2010. Her earliest memories of scent and beauty are weekly visits to a market in Hackney and being fascinated with brands such as Barry M, Sleek and Colour Girl. Jameson also used to find dupes of white musk and other popular scents at the market and sell them to her friends at school.
“I was obsessed with all these new and exciting products I could get and sell to my friends - beauty, fragrance and entrepreneurship came through early for me,” Jameson says. Today, beauty is a sensory experience for Jameson. She believes it’s all about feeling good from within and finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life. “I’ve always loved the idea of making an occasion of day-to-day rituals through beauty, but specifically through scent,” she adds.
A recent piece of research conducted by Hearst backs up Jameson's belief. The research found that 80% of consumers believe the UK needs greater emphasis on self-care. More consumers are focusing on self-care and while a variety of practices and techniques available to us all are free of charge, there is a demand for products that look great, smell great and do what they say on the packaging. As well as being beneficial for the body, the bath and body experience also helps promote a sense of inner peace. With natural ingredients and pleasant scents, these products provide us all with a holistic way to unwind after a long day.
Soapsmith was born out of Jameson’s desire to create something in a more practical way. “My love of scent and natural curiosity for the world and places, along with my ‘busy bee’ nature meant I loved the first two years of the Soapsmith journey. It was great to perfect the art of making our first products and scents. From the moment I launched the brand, I knew this was a craft and a business I loved and could pour my heart and soul into,” she says. Jameson believed in her vision so much that she used all of the money she had made from her last business to launch Soapsmith. She set up a space in the Old Clockworks in Walthamstow, which is still the brand’s HQ today.
Soapsmith’s mission is simple: to bring a little bit of sensory luxury to the everyday, for everyone. When the brand launched in 2010, the bath and body market wasn’t as in demand as it is now. Jameson felt that a lot of the scents on the market were especially limited and overdone. “As someone that has a deep connection with scent and places, my idea to create scents that were inspired by memories of places and moments in time was a little random, and certainly not done before,” she says. Soapsmith’s scents and their stories are integral to the brand’s identity. As part of the brand’s research and formulation process, one of the most important things Jameson had to focus on was ensuring that the scents and formulations stood up to scrutiny.
Jameson describes the formulations as “a labour of love.” She created a checklist of the things that were important to her such as moisturising properties, beneficial ingredients and engaging scents, a process she has never wavered from to this day. “I wanted every scent I created to be unique and accessible. I wanted to stand out in the right way and by spending two years working full-time on Soapsmith without any income coming in worked for me,” Jameson says. Soapsmith was such a success that it wasn’t long before the brand started winning prestigious beauty awards and building partnerships with leading stores such as Fenwick, Liberty and NEXT.
What separates Soapsmith from other brands on the market is their scent, ingredients and packaging. While Jameson acknowledges that the brand’s ingredients cost more, she notes that it’s a fair trade off as it “results in happy stockists and customers which is what Soapsmith is all about.” Scent is a huge drive for Soapsmith and Jameson’s mission is to ensure that their scents are recognisable and noticed by consumers who may not be familiar with the brand, which is something she takes a lot of pride in.
The brand’s high-quality formulations also set them apart. “Our formulations are the reason we have loyal and returning customers as they are paying for quality. This has been reflected in the awards we have been nominated for and won (we won two awards this year and we’ve also been shortlisted for an award this month). Whenever we are nominated for an award, I am reminded of how integral quality is to our success. I refuse to use cheaper quality as this is something that separates us from other brands on the market,” Jameson says.
As well as scent, the first thing a consumer is very likely to notice about a Soapsmith product is its packaging. With the help of leading global brand and design agency Bulletproof, the brand underwent a full-scale rebrand centred on creating a design that was worthy of the products inside the packaging.
Jameson also credits her team for Soapsmith’s success. The brand’s headquarters have remained in the same location since its launch. “Compared to other brands in the market, we are still relatively small. My team is the backbone of this business and I don’t know what I’d do without them. I’m grateful for the love and dedication they put into the brand – we all share the same vision and everyone wants to succeed and puts in so much effort, “ Jameson says.
Jameson wants Soapsmith’s customers to have a sensory experience when using their products. “Life is fast paced and I think that the past couple of years have shown us all what it’s like to take a step back for a minute and relax. I want people to use my products whether they’re having a busy day or a chilled day – they provide a piece of relaxation and luxury in the moment,” she said. The brand’s bestsellers include Bloomsbury Bath Soaks, Hackney Body Wash and Marble Arch Handwash. The Camden and Hackney scents are also popular, with Brick Lane being a firm favourite. “I think these scents have proven to be popular with our customers because they are very specific and that’s what I love about them. The scent stays on the skin for a long time, which is unusual because scents do tend to disappear from certain products, but with Soapsmith, it stays,” Jameson says.
Jameson has experienced many highlights over the years such as seeing her brand in designer department store Liberty. Securing her unit back in 2010 was also a major moment in her journey. “Every time I go into Liberty and see Soapsmith there I pinch myself. I’m really proud of our carefully curated selection of retail partners. Taking it back to the start, the feedback I received from Soapsmith’s customers early on was the biggest boost. I still recognise their names on orders today and I can’t believe they have stayed so loyal to their favourite products,” Jameson said. A new highlight Jameson has had recently is seeing Soapsmith products on property websites. “My product being used in an everyday setting is the vision I have always had,” she says.
Jameson is one of many UK-based, Black and female founders that are transforming the beauty and wellness space, one product at a time. While diversity in the beauty industry has improved in recent years, there is still room for change in order to ensure Black entrepreneurs are offered the same opportunities as their white counterparts. “There are some big brands that have come in and shaken up the beauty market for the better. However, we still have a huge way to go in terms of supporting Black owned brands, whether that’s through funding or just opening doors to businesses that are not necessarily in your immediate network. Bigger companies need to seek them and start meaningful partnership conversations,” Jameson says. Empowering women is also something that Jameson is passionate about. “I’m happy to see more women founders. I have a 70% female leadership team. I believe being a woman is a very real and true superpower. I empower women within my business and ensure I have a good community of other women in this industry so we can grow with each other,” she says.
Over the years, Jameson has faced plenty of challenges with Soapsmith. In the midst of setbacks, she has always believed that optimism is key. “I have a very positive outlook and generally most challenges I face always have a solution of some sort. I am a great believer in everything happening for a reason and all arrows pointing to yes. Business is tough. It’s naive not to prepare for sales to slow down and other things but I think having a strong team that works in harmony and that can adapt, roll with the punches and get things done is the secret to keeping businesses alive,” Jameson says.
So what’s next for Soapsmith? “We have big plans that involve expansion into new territories,” Jameson said. “Las Vegas is my favourite place (after London) so I hope that Soapsmith might make an appearance there at some point – I would love to create a fragrance that represents the energy of that incredible place!” Soapsmith’s goal is to be a household brand globally. “If we can achieve that in a few key markets in the next five years, I’d be a very happy entrepreneur,” Jameson says. If Jameson could give advice to anyone who wants to launch their own brand, it would be to jump in with two feet but don’t try and do it all alone. “Seek counsel from old colleagues, friends and community forums online. It takes a village to build a business,” she says.