Start the week with a startup: Soeder

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Soeder hopes that its practices can showcase how other beauty and personal care brands can start to establish fully circular processes
Soeder hopes that its practices can showcase how other beauty and personal care brands can start to establish fully circular processes

Related tags Startup company Indie beauty Personal care Soap Cosmetics Sustainability green beauty circular beauty

Every fortnight we talk to a game-changer startup brand about why it exists and how it plans to change the industry. This week we spoke to founders of the personal care brand Soeder, Hanna and Johan Olzon Åkerström, about its circular business model, how it is disrupting the industry and future plans.

Swiss startup Soder is an all-natural brand that says it aims “brings a completely sustainable approach to high quality soap and personal care products.” Its overarching purpose is to democratise personal care products that take a natural and circular approach, so younger people are able to regularly use these products. In turn, the brand also hopes to make the industry more circular in its approach.

How Soeder is changing the game…

Sustainability is top priority in all our business decisions. We strive to make everything – from manufacturing processes and purchasing models, to supply chains – as planet-safe as possible.

Our soaps are based on the ancient recipe of True Soap, which dates back 5,000 years, and offers natural cleansing and nourishment for the skin without relying on preservatives or chemicals. Most modern soaps are detergents, therefore synthetic versions of soap. They often contain sulphates, parabens, and other chemicals which can potentially irritate the skin or harm the environment. We have proven that it’s possible to eliminate any such element, and that this is a business model that can also be very successful. We want everyone to have access to planet-safe options for products they need and use on a regular basis.

To date, we have two primary product lines: our heritage line and our recently launched SO Natürlich brand, which is set at an accessible price point, without compromising on quality. Our goal is to democratise sustainable skincare, especially for the younger consumer. Together, our skincare lines ensure that a more sustainable way of living is within reach for the widest audience possible.

Our future goals for the business

We have always aimed high. In our first year of producing soap, we partnered with Swiss International Air Lines to reformulate its onboard products to become truly natural and sustainable. In just six months, we have managed to go from producing 200 products a day to one million in a year.

This year, we are redeveloping a new 2,000-square-metre factory situated in Werkstadt Zürich, a beautiful historically protected former Swiss Federal Railways building.

As Soeder’s co-founder Hanna Olzon Åkerström is an architect, she is leading the project, which will feature a glass room within the space, so visitors can observe the soap-making process transparently. In January, we also opened a new flagship store in Zurich's central station, and in February, we launched our new brand, SO Natürlich.

Our goal is to make our responsible and natural approach more widely felt within the personal care industry. We believe it is important to educate the market on how modern beauty products affect the planet, as well as provide a solution with 100% natural and truly transparent products and processes.

Our overarching aim is to cleanse the industry from unethical practices and reshape consumer perceptions of daily care products. Ultimately, we want to create a ripple effect, inspiring both other brands and as many customers as possible to contribute to a greener future.

How we started out…

When we decided to start a business a decade ago, we wanted to create a sustainable product for everyday use. We decided to analyse daily commodities, including over 100 different items, ranging from lamps, shoes, and furniture. However, we realised that everyone washes their hands at least five times a day, and that the beauty sector is incredibly polluting. Recognising that we could make a real difference in the industry, for the climate and for consumers, we began our soap-making journey, experimenting with formulas in our kitchen.

From the beginning, we always wanted to understand every single step of skincare making ourselves, from start to finish, so that we could control each process. Today, we have hands-on involvement and complete oversight over development and design, as our entire production takes place in our factory and laboratory in Zurich.

Now, 10 years later, we are setting a new standard for what consumers can expect from brands in terms of environmentally safe production processes and transparency. All ingredients in our products are sourced from responsible farmers; our bottles are made from low-CO2, locally sourced recycled plastic or glass, and even our soap-manufacturing energy is reused, powering parts of the production line. Once the soap bottles are empty, all customers are welcome to return for a refill at any of Soeder’s refill stations across Europe.

Our transparency in every business and product decision is something that sets us apart from the crowded eco-products market. We believe that an informed consumer is an empowered one, and we want our customers to make conscious choices about the products they use on their bodies.

The challenges we’ve faced…

We have encountered a series of challenges, from mastering soap-making to navigating a market flooded with greenwashing, to redeveloping a state-of-the-art factory while keeping the business growing. Every step has demanded a strong commitment, teamwork, and for us to understand how to be steadfast leaders.

We’re proud to say that we have managed to keep the leading positions with us as founders and built the right team. Even when confronting the everlasting problems of an expanding business, we know that we have a backbone of people embracing the same values and dedication to the planet as us.

For example, we only use raw materials from nature, incurring a cost that is rather high and impacts the final price for the customer. Despite the competitive disadvantage this poses, we have not compromised on the authenticity of our natural care products.

How we are set to disrupt the beauty and personal care industry…

In today’s crowded world of skin care, where many businesses claim to be eco-friendly, we want to genuinely disrupt the existing norms. We believe that the market's abundance of products and brands often leads to greenwashing, where claims of sustainability and organic practices are misleading or exaggerated.

Many skin care brands fall short in delivering truly sustainable and organic solutions. The reality is that the beauty and personal care sector has, to a major extent, contributed to environmental pollution through the use of microplastics and harmful chemicals, harming both the skin and the planet.

Our dedication to responsibly sourced ingredients, innovation in raw materials and quality control of all processes is rare, even among high-end brands. For instance, refill systems are not yet widely available, which is something we aspire to change. What's more, our new SO Natürlich body soap contains only eight to 12 ingredients – a list that we fully disclose, and we take pride in stating that all components are of natural origin. By prioritising sustainability and transparency, we aim to create a substantial impact on the industry, pushing for positive changes in personal care practices, and guiding the way for consumers seeking planet-friendly and ethical alternatives.

Where we are heading next…

We are noticing how more and more people are actively seeking out healthier and environmentally friendly options. People are becoming increasingly mindful of their impact on the planet and thinking twice about the environmental effects of the products or brands they support. There's an obvious and growing scepticism towards environmental claims made by business, indicating a clear call from consumers for greater transparency.

Right from the beginning, we've consistently shown that soap can seamlessly embody both eco-friendliness and skin-friendly qualities. In response to the escalating demand for healthy and planet-safe options, our commitment to entirely sustainable practices and high-quality craftsmanship, gives Soeder a genuine advantage.

There is a slow move towards completely sustainable cosmetic products, and with the EU's new greenwashing laws, we might witness a more rapid shift. However, climate-harming ingredients, such as palm oil, are often still hidden in the technical ingredients of products. Presumably, the transformation in the industry is slowed by the fact that people believe they are buying climate-safe products, making it difficult for genuine, good brands to stand out.

We understand that making a positive change for the planet is achievable with dedicated effort and time, not only in the realm of soap but across various sectors. We believe that we can say that Soeder is not only providing skincare – we are actually showcasing how brands can take the lead in establishing fully circular industries.

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