Everything coming up roses for artisan soap maker

Cork-based luxury soap producer Hajni Kele of Mianra Artisan Soaps aims to capitalise on recent demand for her products and is keeping her eyes open for potential export opportunities in the long term, writes Trish Dromey.

Christmas roses of a rather unusual kind have been selling like hot cakes for Cork artisan soap company Mianra in recent weeks.

Colourful rosettes, handmade with cold process soap and scented with Frangipani sold out very quickly at the RDS Christmas Fair in the RDS for the second year running.

“They look like cupcakes which are very popular, I think that’s why they sell so quickly,” says Hajni Kele who set up Mianra a year ago.

These recessionary times might not seem opportune for the launch of handmade luxury soap which costs a bit more than standard soap, but Hajni says that from her experience, people are willing to splash out and give themselves a relatively inexpensive treat.

She believes that she is the only one in Ireland producing handmade soap rosettes and says her products stand out because of their colour and the unusual ingredients which include silk, clay and seaweed.

Long-term Hajni aims to capitalise on this and is keeping her eyes open for export opportunities.

Hajni has been making soap as a hobby for over 10 years. Qualified as a therapist for special needs children, she is a Hungarian who met an Irish man on a holiday and settled in Cork seven years ago. Redundancy from her job as a therapist prompted her to look at soap-making as a business.

Although she had perfected the art of making delicate soap roses, she found turning a hobby into a money-making venture was a whole new ball game, one in which she had no experience.

Hajni started by sending her soap to Germany for evaluation by a soap expert. When she received a positive response she decided to give it a go and signed up for the part-time PINC programme for female entrepreneurs at the Rubicon in CIT in early 2012.

“This was my first experience in learning about business — I had to look at everything from a completely different prospective and to learn about costing, pricing and selling as well as creating a brand. I didn’t know how retail worked. This was a short programme but it gave me a rough idea of what was involved.”

Deciding to continue, she approached the South Cork Enterprise Board and worked on drawing up a business plan. Hajni called her business Mianra, the Irish word for mineral. Still working from her kitchen at home she put together a product range and took it to the Christmas Fair at the RDS last year.

Success there gave her the confidence to take her soaps to Showcase in January, a large retailer event attended by both Irish and international buyers.

“The enterprise board supported me and provided me with mentoring so that I could do order forms, pricing and make up point of sale,’’ reveals Hajni.

At the time she was hoping for a few orders to get her business started. “One of my products, a box of fizzing bath truffles was picked in the selected category. Things went amazingly well and I got orders from 25 retailers, which was completely unexpected.”

After Showcase she set to work on filling the orders and also on developing her business. During the summer she located a premises for her workshop at Donnybrook Commercial Centre and, with the help of an employment grant from the South Cork Enterprise board, she also took her partner, Mike Reddington on as an employee.

Hajni had a clear idea of what kind of a brand she wanted to create. Discovering that she couldn’t afford the services of a brand development company, she designed packaging to suit her products. Since then she has refined her product range and increased the number of outlets she supplies to over 30.

The gift box of rosettes which retail at €24 are one of her best selling products, explains Hajni who at this point is completely sold out of rosettes and many of her soaps. “Other best sellers are a soap called witches brew which has wild harvested Irish seaweed, French clay and real silk,” says Hajni, explaining that she has a range of 12 soaps and bath truffles in six scents.

“This year I’m hoping Mianra will get the attention of some bigger retailers or an international buyer, possibly one from the UK,”


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