By Eilidh Whiteford
Celebrating 15 years of business this year, the Hebridean Soap Company has sumptuous new products on the shelves for visitors and islanders alike to treat themselves this summer.
Established in 2002 as the first commercial soap producing company in the Western Isles, owner Linda Sutherland delivers a world of all natural ingredients and fragrances when customers step into the company shop and workspace in Breasclete, Lewis.
“I'm amazed already this year how many people have been in so far,” Linda said in March. “And we're looking forward to welcoming many more with a busy summer ahead.”
A former IBM systems programmer, Linda was working in Germany and travelling to and from the UK every two weeks prior to embarking upon her 'new challenge in life'.
“I was burnt out and I needed a change, so I came here to Lewis for a holiday,” she said. “I loved it here, and bought my house without thinking of what I would do for a living.”
Luckily the idea of opening her own soap making business soon struck Linda, who had previously only made her natural soap products for friends and family. Now the Company produces a huge variety of fragranced bar soaps and liquid soaps, along with scented candles, and the exclusive Hebridean Soap Company 'Gaia' Chamomile and Rosehip face and body creams range.
New this year are a range of body-washes as Linda caters to her customers and responds to their feedback.
“We often had people asking if we had our soaps in a body-wash or something like a shower-gel,” she said. “We didn't, but we do now, bringing out our new body-wash range this year in response to our customer feedback.”
Linda continued: “Our Gaia range, introduced last year, has also been selling really well and we're getting people from Japan and America ordering through our website.
“The feedback we get is that people say it's as good as, if not better, than what you'd pay £20, £25 for, but of course it is, as it is made from all-natural ingredients selected specifically for the creams.”
All-natural, produced where possible with local ingredients, and mixed, poured and moulded by hand, the Hebridean Soap Company products certainly offer something different to their mass-produced contemporaries.
“We use a variety of vegetable oils for the base of the soap, but because we hand-make the soap there is no need to add chemicals,” Linda explained.
“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.”
“Pure essential oils are used to give our soaps their glorious scents, and the peppermint and comfrey herbs used come from my own garden,” she continued, adding: “And of course our soaps are made extra special by using the 'Angels Tears' of soft Lewis rainwater which falls softly (and abundantly!) over the hills.”
And the chance to view the process of soap-making in the Hebrides is available for visitors at the Hebridean Soap Company, with Linda's workshop housed next door to the shop in a century-old stone barn which was renovated in 2005 to create the Company's dedicated Breasclete home.
But more orders are coming from her website – www.hebrideansoap.co.uk – recently redesigned and beefed up on security. “I used to do the website orders in the evening after work, but they've become a permanent job now.
“Each year you have people coming into the shop and then you find they come back on the website. We've a lot of repeat customers and it is just so great to see.”
You can find out more about Linda, her soaps, and the Hebridean Soap Company via the website, or enjoy a visit to the shop and work area at 25 Breasclete, clearly signposted from the main road.