I walk into Charly’s shop – the scents in the air, immediately make me feel like stopping a moment, close my eyes and take a deep breath. She’s there to my right, putting some boxes in the shop window, greets me with a smile and asks me if I feel like a tea.
She shows me to her sitting room at the far end of the shop as she prepares the brew. I sit on one of the two, dark pink armchairs, the one facing the door, I want to take all of this in. The walls are painted teak blue. The dark yellow chandelier, above the cash just in front of the door brightens up all the colours in the shop, at a sharp contrast to the winter darkness outside.
She comes into the sitting room with a teapot, blue, just like the colour of her door, with little droplets of white and two matching cups. “It just needs five minutes to simmer,” she tells me.
And so we begin our chat. “There’s no specific beginning to all of this,” Charly explains. “It’s been a whole lot of events which stitched together to make up this. When I was a teenager, I struggled with various ailments – IBS, aleopicia and eczema. At that age, you know how it is, you’re not your own boss, everything has to go through your parents. They took me to doctors, so I went through various diagnoses, different treatments which didn’t make much difference, so I became interested in self healing.”
By the time she was in Junior College, she started a course in make-up. “That tutor, my make-up tutor. There was a moment, she told us – ‘In the morning I wake up and have a banana – I put half of it in the plate and half of it on my face.’ I feel that was the moment which defined who I am. It inspired me to look into alternative remedies – natural and healthy.”
Charly started researching and creating her own beauty products at home. “I was making them for myself, then my friends started liking them. I then moved from studying beauty to Product Design. What I loved about it was that it is really hands on and it explored more materials – we worked on ceramic, glass, welding. You learn what to do from start to finish – how to work raw material to make the product and then work on its presentation to put it out on the market.”
“See, I grew up feeling I wasn’t brilliant, I wasn’t smart. I discovered as a grown up that I am dyslexic – so I realized at an older age that how most people learn and teach didn’t work for me. I used to get good marks anyway, I was curious to learn, but I always had to find my way of learning them, like video libraries,” she explains to me as she pours the pink brew into the small, cute, earless cups.
“When it comes to tactile I grasp it immediately, to me it’s so obvious, so logic. Sometimes I create something and I think to myself ‘How the hell did I do this?’ It just comes so natural to me.”
“During the 4 years’ course in Product Design I continued exploring herbalism, started looking at the holistic view of beauty products. Then I was offered an opportunity to work at an eco-resort in Thailand and stayed there for 3 months, as long as the Visa permitted me.”
“When I came back, I started working with this particular company which had a very new concept for the time. Ten years ago, promoting work from local artists was a novelty. We were going to import soaps from abroad but there were bureaucratic issues so we thought – why not make them ourselves?”
“We started with very simple mixtures, then we got creative and started looking into the therapeutic side of them. The company faded out as the only things that sold were the soaps. So I continued researching alone and decided to start this adventure. I worked on it from home and started taking part in events such as Earth Garden and Patches to get exposure.”
Eventually Charly opened her first shop in Rudolph Street in the seaside town of Sliema. It was a small shop so the products still had to be made at her house and then transported to the shop. So in 2013, Soap Cafe’ moved to the bigger premises on St. Mary Street.
“It’s much more practical here for me. I have the workshop upstairs so mornings are my creation time and in the evening I open the doors to the clients. I’m not a morning person,” she tells me. “So I wake up around 7am and take my time to think out stuff and get myself organized, in the relaxation of my home. Then when I come to the workshop I can simply dedicate myself to creating, cause the thinking process would already have been done earlier.”
All of the ingredients Charly uses are natural and organic. She sources locally as much as possible, especially when it comes to herbs and honey. “The awareness about natural and organic is growing,” she tells me. “What people still struggle to understand though, is that there’s more than just a label on a product. Buying an organic product from abroad is good, but if you look at the bigger picture. Having it flown in creates a carbon footprint. We are concerned about the pesticides on our food and we wash it before eating, but we rarely think of the pollution in the air.”
Soap Cafe’ products are tested in labs which check the values of the elements in the products. “There has to be a balance in everything,” Charly tells me. “Being natural, doesn’t mean you can over use it either. Tea tree, for example, can be applied directly on the skin to dry a pimple or treat an insect bite, but if you have a skin condition, then you need a more complex remedy that treats that specific ailment.”
“When someone comes through that door, I ask what they’re using it for. I want to go home knowing that I helped people not that I sold just for selling. I want to sleep with a clean conscience. Then it’s so fulfilling when clients send me emails, messages and even cards of gratitude for helping them overcome their ‘cosmetic’ needs , such as keeping their eczema, acne and psorises in check.”
“I really enjoy the soap-making workshops too – it’s a very tactile experience – I incorporate the smell from the essential oils, primary colours and learning how to handle the elements needed. I let the participants try out stuff and learn hands on. You see kids holding onto the pipette and wondering why the liquid isn’t going up, for example, so then they let go and see that it works. Or they learn that a spray pump will never work upside down – it’s physics, but in a fun practical way.” She explains. “Then, at a certain point the soap is very fragile, so they even learn how to adjust their body to handle it. It’s art and abilities combined together.”
So we wrap up, and I have a slight problem – I need to try each and every soap in the shop, the beauty products and the perfumes, then try making my own soap in a workshop and, of course, get a Soap Cafe’ massage, because you know – shopping and learning Physics are very hard work.
More by the author – www.denisecassar.com
Check out what Charly had to say during the European Week for Waste Reduction:
Video by Sprout Media
Facebook – Soap Cafe’ Malta