Inside The Soap Co, the beauty brand with an 80% blind or disabled workforce

Other beauty brands, take note

You’ve probably spotted their soaps in John Lewis or Sainsbury’s, but once you learn about the important work going on behind the scenes at BECO and The Soap Co, I’m going to bet you’ll want to stock up on their products immediately.

These brands are part of CLARITY & Co, a charity that hires predominantly blind and disabled people to work in their beauty factories, giving them invaluable employment, skills and confidence in the process.

Earlier this year I was invited for a tour of their East London factory and – as well as seeing firsthand how important their work is – I can’t tell you enough what a lovely space it is. Walking around with Diane, CLARITY & Co’s Marketing Manager, the cheerful, community spirit is infectious and it’s clear that everbody genuinely enjoys working and being here (including the guide dogs who get employees to work on time).

‘We work hard to engender a sense of community and family where everyone feels like they belong and take pride in what they do,’ Diane explains. ‘We only focus what our staff “can” do, not what they “can’t”, so naturally everyone is encouraged to try out different roles in the organisation including fulfilment, customer services, in the lab, on the shop floor or in marketing and sales.’

As well as the financial independence, the organisation offers employees help with their CVs and interview prep, and liaising with external work-related agencies if necessary. The end goal is not about keeping workers in-house forever, but to prove that they can (and will!) make great additions to mainstream employment.

And it’s clear that this support really does open up employees’ opportunities. ‘Darren, an aspiring actor, earlier this week proudly shared with me that he’s finished his first acting course and is looking forward to another in the new year,’ says Diane. ‘I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face; in many ways we act as a springboard, and it’s milestones like this that remind me of the importance of what we stand for, the importance of seeing workability and not disability.’

The Soap Co Black Oud & Jasmine Hand Wash, £19

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Each product sale equates to one hour of employment, but it’s not just their social responsibility that’s impressive. The brands are very ambitious in their commitment to being more environmentally-friendly, too. This year they launched their plastic-free range in time for Christmas, including completely recyclable aluminium soap bottles – once you’ve bought one soap with a pump, you keep it forever and use with the refill bottles.

They’re also integrating new sustainable materials into their range, including wood pulp wrapping that feels just like plastic and compostable waterproof labels, all of which help them on their journey to becoming a completely circular brand. ‘The sky’s the limit – and I don’t mean that in a casual, off-the-cuff way!’ says Diane.

Perhaps my favourite initiative is BECO’s #StealOurStaff campaign – adorning many of the products is a picture of an employee and a ‘mini CV’, encouraging others to hire them and get them into the mainstream workforce. ‘There are 1.1m people of working age with a disability who are unable to find a job. We currently employ 110 staff and despite our best efforts, cannot close that gap on our own,’ Diane explains. ‘[The campagn] has really opened thedoor for organisations like Natwest, PageGroup, Virgin and The Body Shop to reach out to us. They either want to learn from us, buy our soap brands or to steal one of our staff members.’

The best thing about working for this organisation, I ask Diane? ‘If I had to boil it down to one thing, it would be the sheer joy. You simply cannot bottle the fun and banter amongst my colleagues, the happiness of seeing everyone flourish and the professional satisfaction of seeing a good job done really well.

‘At the end of the day we all choose where we want to work and where we invest our energy. BECỌ and The Soap Co. are a huge part of my life. I’m genuinely and incredibly proud to one small part of such an amazing and big-hearted organisation.’

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