Photographs and story by Eilidh Whiteford
Step into the world of Hebridean Soap Company and you step into a world of all natural ingredients and fragrances as owner Linda Sutherland and team create an array of soapy delights and lotions from the Breasclete-based business.
Established in 2002, and the first commercial soap producing company in the Western Isles, Hebridean Soap came about as Linda, a former IBM systems programmer, looked for a new challenge in life.
“I was working in Germany with IBM, travelling to and fro from the UK every two weeks,” she said. “I was burnt-out and I needed a change, so I came here [to Lewis] for a holiday.
“I loved it here, and bought my house without thinking of what I would do for a living...”
Having previously made soaps for friends and family, Linda decided to set up her business with the aim of producing natural soap made in traditional ways, from local ingredients where possible.
A year later and Hebridean Soap Company products were being supplied to local and mainland hotels, as well as taking off world-wide via the company’s website.
And in 2005, the Company moved out of Linda’s custom-built kitchen and into its present home – a renovated century-old stone barn. “Around a hundred years ago the building was originally a dwelling house and then was used as a hardware store I’ve been told,” Linda said.
“Renovating it was a big investment, but all the neighbours were so helpful and the crofters say they’re pleased to see the building in use again.”
With a retail space and dedicated workshop for Linda and her three employees, the new premises also allows visitors the chance to walk around and witness the soap making for themselves.
Mixed, poured and moulded by hand, it’s clear that Hebridean Soap Company products offer something different to the mass-produced products.
“We use a variety of vegetable oils for the base, but because we hand-make the soap, there’s no need to add chemicals,” said Linda. “And this lack of additives means the soaps are not only gentle to use, but the precious glycerine in the soap is retained throughout the process.”
Made from sustainable palm and coconut oils, with pure essential oils for glorious scents, permitted colourings and the ‘Angel Tears’ of soft Lewis rainwater, the Hebridean Soap Company offers 16 different fragrance soap bars, as well as a range of liquid soaps.
Most recently, Linda developed the Gaia skincare range, with Precious Hand and Body cream and a Rosehip and Chamomile face cream already proving popular.
And she is now looking into expanding into face serums, undertaking research into serum preparation with a view to launching more Hebridean Soap Company products.
“It’s the researching which can take time, but there’s so much you can do with the products and it’s important to use good ingredients; the Chamomile and Rosehip face cream for example, it’s excellent for calming and rejuvenating the skin.”
“It does take a long time to develop something new though as I’ve to find out about it, test it and then have it certified for sale, but I need the research to keep my brain active and it’s great to keep trying something new.”
She added: “I’m amazed by how well things have gone for us over the years, and so pleased by the response we get back from customers.”
To find out more about the Hebridean Soap Company, visit the shop and work area at 25 Breasclete (clearly signposted from the main road) or log onto www.hebrideansoap.co.uk