Trendy or Timeless? - An insight into the handmade bar soap industry

Trendy or Timeless? - An insight into the handmade bar soap industry

All types of bath and shower products basically have the same function - to dissolve or dislodge dirt and debris on the surface of the skin. We know that a mix of dirt, sweat, and the body’s natural oils can settle into pores potentially breeding bacteria. This bacteria can lead to a decline in skin health and, of course, increase unpleasant smelling body odors.

While there is debate as to its exact origin, handmade bar soaps have been around since the time of ancient Babylonians. While constantly evolving, the process of crafting solid bar soap for washing has sustained the personal hygiene industry for a millennia. However, with the advancement of modern chemistry, liquid soaps and surfactants were initially invented as a means to mass produce a washing product for greater application in public facilities such as hospitals, prisons, and schools. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s, over a hundred years later, that manufacturers began marketing liquid soap to the general public as a personal product and alternative to bar soap. 

The rise in popularity of liquid soap, body wash, and shower gels can be linked to convenience and attractive packaging. Another factor is that there is a perception that bar soap is less hygienic because it may touch the body directly. Yet, studies have shown that it is unlikely that bar soap may be exposed to germs or could potentially transmit harmful bacteria. Not surprising though, the liquid soap industry exploded in the 1990s and eventually became a tough competitor in the personal hygiene market. This led to a decline in handmade soap sales during the 20th century. 

That being said, handmade bar soap has seen a resurgence in popularity and innovation in recent years. driven by several trends. Currently, 64% of all American consumers report a preference of bar soap over liquid according to Fortune magazine. While challenges exist, the ongoing trends and future opportunities present a positive outlook for the market. The sustainability of the bar soap industry can be attributed to many things. Here are just a few key drivers for market growth:

Natural and Organic Ingredients: Consumers are increasingly concerned about what goes into their skincare products. Bar soaps that use natural ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and essential oils are becoming more popular. Organic certifications and cruelty-free labels also appeal to eco-conscious consumers.

Minimalist and Sustainable Packaging: With growing awareness of plastic pollution, there's a preference for bar soaps packaged in minimal or plastic-free packaging. This includes options wrapped in paper, stored in reusable containers, or sold without any packaging at all.

Artisanal and Handcrafted Soaps: There's a rising interest in small-batch, artisanal bar soaps that are handmade by local producers. These soaps often highlight unique ingredients, craftsmanship, and are perceived as more luxurious.

Customization and Personalization: Some brands offer customizable options where consumers can choose scents, ingredients, or packaging designs to suit their preferences.

Historical and Nostalgic Appeal: Bar soaps evoke a sense of nostalgia for simpler times and traditional skincare routines. This sentimental appeal resonates with many consumers seeking a break from the complexities of modern life.

A Break from Capitalism: A growing number of consumers report increased dissatisfaction with the American capitalist society in which only a handful of mega companies control the market. These massive organizations continually report higher profits while seemingly ignoring current economic crises. Additionally, many people fear that rampant consumerism has and continues to irreparably damage the planet.

Combined, the bar soap and liquid soap industry account for roughly $50 billion in annual global sales, with bar soap holding a slight margin. Overall, in a world filled with mass-produced options, the handmade bar soap market is evolving to meet the demands of conscious consumers who value sustainability, natural ingredients, and effective skincare solutions. It's a commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and care. By opting for handmade soap, you're supporting small businesses, reducing environmental impact, and embracing a unique, personalized experience that commercial products simply can't replicate.

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