CoLAB x SLOW – Art & Soap Suds at the Liverpool Biennial

So…Soap! Is the collaborative creation of Hong Kong’s SLOW and CoLAB, featuring at the Liverpool Biennial this year. They are a social venture who have come up with a 100% organic range of soaps, recognising that both our skin and our planet are commonly delicate.

But possibly the most important and impressive factor of the So…Soap! project is not the product itself, but the morals of the process behind it. The founder of SLOW is Bella Ip, a single mother, who suggests an intuitive that enables local community women to make a sustainable life for themselves. Her partner from CoLAB, Hung Lam, told me about Bella’s inspiration for the project.

 

“She came back to Hong Kong with her own child and didn’t take any money from her husband, so had to earn a living. She worked as a school secretary, calling up the kids parents when they fought and broke the rules. She found that these social issues started at the very beginning. Some of the parents didn’t have time to take care of their children and they would become bad when they went to the secondary school. This had a big impact on her. She started to think, how can we provide jobs with flexibility and higher income? So that these women can take care of their children as well? These women could only clean houses etc, so they worked very long hours but their salary was very low. They didn’t have enough income or time to take care of their family.”

Bella learned to make soap by herself and produced it using money she had loaned from the bank. She found that she was able to pay it all back after three years and that she was earning an adequate amount to look after herself and her family. Bella wanted to spread this concept to help these women do the same thing. She designed a programme that taught them how to make soap, as well as showing them what is eco friendly and also how to buy.

CoLAB have worked in branding for almost ten years with luxurious brands like Starbucks. They got involved with SLOW to take over the branding and design side of things.  “But now we have changed the content, we are branding a social enterprise. That is the mission of CoLAB. We spent one and half years building this and now we have been asked to the Biennial. This year, it is about the position of citizens. Through the creativity of the housewives, with the skills they have been taught by Bella, they have changed their position. They are now they are teaching others in the workshop. Our relationship is, they are not our client, we are partners. This is the first time we had ever tried to do this alone, like a business.” It seems like this system is a refreshing change for those involved, and helps and encourages these women to work independently. The more they put in, the more they get out of it.

“Traditionally, as designers our relationship is just a piece of contract. The problem is, after you have finished, I will walk away and they will walk away. During the process you don’t get involved with the business, they don’t want to show you the figures or their income situation. We learn from SLOW how they are running the business, from training, to stocking. Branding was just drawing a logo on some paper and then you’ve finished. But now we have to know what they know, and learn what they have to learn. This has changed our lives too, not just the women involved. This is an amazing part. If we involve the designer at the very beginning, the whole process, even the structure, how the sales are going, what we should target or what method we play- it will change because we have another angle. We are experienced in the cultural, in the commercial and now its going to be the social. So we put this all together. Everything has just been amazing in this one and a half years.”

So…Soap! is gradually expanding its workshops and there are even rumours of a set up in Liverpool. They are an enterprise with a heart, determined to avoid exploitation at all costs. It is comforting to know that you can trace the product back to its source and see whats involved in its creation. We all know that this is how it should be, and Bella’s mission is an exemplary example of how a fair, successful business can be run.  Visit http://www.sosoap.com/ for more details.

‘All Are Guests’ goes way beyond the average visual arts show and really lives up to its name – we are all invited to get involved.

There’s a whole programme of thought provoking events and activities to explore and take part in. For full details visit www.liverpoolbiennial.hk

words Hannah Barr

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