Entrepreneur Anna Lee reveals how a chance activity turned into a growing eco-friendly business

Entrepreneur Anna Lee Xin Ning had probably never thought about being the owner of a soap business prior to her trip to New Zealand for a working holiday.

“When I was in New Zealand, I worked four jobs,” she said.

“Something struck me when I was working at a recycling factory in Christchurch. I wondered if everything that was labelled as ‘recycled’ actually was [being recycled].”

As she stood at the recycling line, she wondered what would happen if everyone stopped using plastic, and instead opted for something biodegradable.

On a subsequent occasion, her mother asked her where she could properly dispose of used cooking oil, and she read online that it could instead be used to make soap.

People usually just discard their used oil by pouring it down the drain, or burying it in their backyard, without realising that repurposing used oil helps prevent soil and water pollution.

She tried making cured soap, and sent her first batch to her friends and family. Suddenly, many of her friends started sending their used cooking oil to her and began raving about her soap.

When Lee had strangers asking if they could buy some of her soap once word-of-mouth began spreading, she decided to start selling it as a product.

Before starting her business, she went on Instagram to ask her friends what she should name it.

One friend suggested ‘Soapan Santun’, which was a play on the Malay phrase for ‘kindness and politeness’, and that was how it started.

Being an English graduate and an avid photographer, Lee does all the copywriting, captions, photography and planning for Soapan Santun, while her partner Louis Koh, a Finance graduate, is in charge of the finance side of things.

Having received feedback that many of her friends and family had skin problems, she wanted to create a natural product line using cleaner ingredients.

Being in a country as humid as Malaysia, means more sweating, and of course, showering at least once a day.

Moreover, during the pandemic, soap has become a staple item in our daily life.

Lee believes that a toiletry item that is used every day should be made with good ingredients, since the skin is the biggest organ.

She and her partner Koh work out of her family home, from making the products in her kitchen to taking pictures of them in her room. Eventually, she got new racks with different types of essential oils and created different types of soap with different properties.

However, one principle remained – she wanted to make it as eco-friendly as possible.

All her packaging is biodegradable, and even the label sleeve is made with craft paper. For paper fillers, she shredded unused books and scrap paper.

Lee said she wanted her product to be eco-friendly, without skimping on the aesthetics. It took a lot of brainstorming and discussions with Koh before they got it right.

She said she started her business during the pandemic because everyone was staying at home and online e-commerce was booming.

“It’s quite easy to source materials and get your brand out there. Since we couldn’t step out of the house, we had to buy most of our things online and I think that the pandemic has encouraged a lot of people to start their own business.”

However, she faced a few challenges during her journey as an entrepreneur. She had to fork out a lot of money to get the ingredients, while still doing her freelance work.

The hardest challenge for her was to find suppliers that could refill her ingredients. Finally, after months of looking for reliable suppliers in Selangor, she was able to push on with her business.

“Looking forward, I hope that I can expand this business and reach more Malaysians, and that my soap can eventually be supplied to all the zero-waste stores in Malaysia.”

Lee said her dream is to have all Malaysians make the simple switch to have one less piece of plastic waste.

Check out Soapan Santun’s IG Page for more info: www.instagram.com/soapan.santun

$!Anna’s newest creation, Coffee Soap.