By Roz Skinner
What do whisky, seaweed and nettles have in common?
They are all ingredients in the beautiful soaps lovingly handcrafted by Fiona Meiklejohn, founder of the Isle of Skye Soap Company.
Fiona's shop, tucked in at the northeast corner of Somerled Square, Portree, opened in 2001 and is crammed full of scented soaps, bath bombs and gifts.
Fiona remembers creating soap during her high school years and although she went on to work in IT, her love of crafts and chemistry never left her. Her soap-making skills resurfaced when she became a mother as she sought a purely natural product – one that would be soothing for her children, who suffered from eczema and asthma.
“My son had especially bad asthma and I found that the less chemicals we used, the better,” explains Fiona. “I began to look into aromatherapy and discover what plants and herbs worked best to soothe the skin. I started selling the soap at craft fairs and the business took off.”
The process involves combining pure distilled essential oils and pouring them into moulds until the substance thickens. Natural herbs are later introduced into the mix. The richly coloured, scented slabs of soap are then hand-cut and wrapped in biodegradable paper by Fiona and her team.
A qualified aromatherapist, Fiona is determined that her soaps remain pure and natural. “We don't use any dyes or colourants,” she explains. “Our handmade soap will moisturise and nurture the skin. Our most popular soap is Lemongrass, but everyone's sense of smell is different. I like our Rosemary and Nettle soap.”
Another popular soap is the Whisky soap, a nod to her husband, Dougie's job at the Talisker Distillery. Says Fiona: “We had a lot of customers asking what they could get for a man, so I came up with this. We use real malted barley and fresh oranges. I hand-grate the oranges.”
A new development in Fiona's life is her recent purchase of Bothan Eòrna, a property at Hungladder, Kilmuir, in the north of Skye. “It's the last house before the Isle of Harris,” jokes Fiona. “It dates back to the mid-1800's. We took a year to renovate it and it's now a quirky cottage which we have turned into a holiday home.”
Fiona's obvious love for her craft means that she will remain highly involved in the soap-making. She says: “I make soap every day. A lot of my experimenting takes place late at night. I love the fact that I can make as much mess as I want and clean it in seconds with a little hot water! I never switch off from my business and even when I am on holiday, I pick up soaps and get inspiration! I'm very happy with where my business is and don't want to change a thing.”