The Oxford Soap Company, based in Oxford’s iconic The Covered Market, are best known for their popular zero waste items, soap and shampoo bars, as well as a wide range of minimised plastic packaged products such as shaving soap, moisturising lotion, hand and face cream, bath salts and beard oil. They also offer private workshops where customers can create their own, bespoke products using a variety of chosen ingredients.
Founder Ervin Tomkys Valteri, tells us how the business began “It all started as a hobby. Going back to 2008, I was frustrated with the mass production of products as well as the lack of environmentally friendly products. I began to explore making my own soaps and creams. Following positive feedback, I realised this could be a really good business. So, I started to sell my products via a small website. I also sold them locally at market fairs and during the summer months on Oxford’s High Street from a converted ice cream bike. From here it grew from strength to strength and with the support from my wife Emily, I was able to open a shop in The Covered Market in 2018. It was the right place at the right time, but it was still a big leap for us, a huge risk financially. But luckily it paid off.”
The Oxford Soap Company are committed to producing natural and environmentally friendly recipes. Ervin elaborates on how they do this
“Yes, the environment is very important to us. We make sure that none of our products are tested on animals and we also source our ingredients from local suppliers who also don’t test on animals. All our products are vegan and the colour in them isn’t artificial, it comes from natural mineral micas. Plus, we only use RSPO certified palm oil in some of our soap recipes, and also offer a completely palm free soap range. Producing products that are good to the planet is something I always wanted in the business and I think it’s helped our appeal to the market also.”
Demand for The Oxford Soap company’s products was rapidly increasing. Ervin explains “I think Covid propelled soap coming back into fashion, suddenly everyone was using it again. We were getting lots of interest from consumers, but also from businesses who wanted to buy our products in bulk and sell them on. It was a natural progression. We were getting a lot of attention in that direction. But this required us to produce products on a much larger scale.
"Our future is looking really positive and we are very excited about the next phase. The OxLEP team have played a key role in our growth."
Alongside the one-to-one mentoring, the team at TOHC engaged with OxLEP’s Peer Networks and were also successful in receiving a grant from Cherwell District Council’s Business Adaptation Fund (CBAF) delivered by OxLEP Business. Pete discloses “We also joined the Peer Networks programme, and in those environments, chatting to peers, you can pick up a lot of ideas and tips and extract information from other businesses. So much knowledge is transferable between industries and sectors.
It was off the back of all of this we were informed about the matched financing opportunities available. We were eligible for the CBAF grant and applied. It was a good process to go through as it makes you think what you are trying to achieve and why you are trying to achieve it. I actually found it quite therapeutic completing the application, because it makes you put down an external facing business plan, so you question yourself on your own aims and goals which is a good path to go down.
We were successful with our application and with this funding we built a new mezzanine floor in the factory and bought some new specialist manufacturing equipment. This has allowed us to grow quite quickly off the back of that. If we had to find that money on our own it would have taken us another two years. These grants have enabled us to speed up getting the projects we want and have massively increased the capacity of products we are producing. Plus, we can now do it all in house, under one roof. This speedy growth has allowed us to create more jobs as well which is great. 5 years ago we only had 12 staff and now we are over 60 members of staff.”
“OxLEP’s support has helped us reach a point where our future is looking really positive. They not only helped on that initial phase of growth, but it’s the knock-on effects for our next phases as well. We’re going to continue expansion, get another 5 or 6 members on the team at least. And, we want to increase our night shift production as well to make our production more efficient.
OxLEP have been everything you could ask for a local support network. If you’re not sure what support your eligible for, don’t be put off, they have an online business support tool that you can use which helps you see what support is a viable option for you.” says Pete.