Soapy J isn’t any old artisan cosmetics shop. In fact, there isn’t anything ordinary about it at all.
Andrew Jackson originally wanted to open a clothes shop but had a change of heart after talking to Afflecks‘ managers, Tony and Kerry.
“I told them I had this idea about setting up a vegan cosmetics shop and they said, ‘if you want to do that, you can have a place tomorrow.’ And that’s how it all started.”
Everything that followed was a learning process of creating and improving formulas and recipes for the products. He started off with soaps, then shampoos and conditioners, a skincare range, candles and the best-selling bath bombs.
“I’ve been involved with a music magazine so I knew a lot about pop culture stuff, so we developed a product range that focused more on young people and what’s popular in their culture. That’s how we came up with the idea of the bath bombs that have little Lego, Pokemon or Harry Potter characters inside.”
The range currently includes 50 products but he is looking to double this soon, introducing Power Rangers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer figurines.
“We have a studio upstairs where we make most of our products, a lot of the bases and premixes, then we have an open kitchen in the shop where you can actually see us making the bath bombs.”
Inside the shop there is a ‘make your own’ area where you can create your own shampoos and conditioners by mixing different colour ingredients together and adding your chosen fragrances.
“We can do custom orders too. We’ve done things like rings in bath bombs and gender reveals for babies so the water turns pink or blue depending on if it was a boy or a girl.”
The most popular product they sell is the Harry Potter-themed bath bomb. Looking like a golden snitch with its gold outer layer lustre, each bomb will turn the water a different colour. So you get red for Gryffindor with the relevant figurine, green for Slytherin, and so on. The bomb also has a butterbeer fragrance.
Soapy J have been in Afflecks for over three years now and Andrew says they can’t make products quick enough, with people travelling all the way from Liverpool and Sheffield to buy the mini-figurine bath bombs.
The shop, which looks like a tiki hut and emanates tropical fragrances, is very attractive, with people sometimes coming in just to have a look around.
“Once they’re in here they really like the products, so it’s very rare that someone will come in and not buy something, especially since we’ve got items that start at 10p and bath bombs that start at £1, so it’s really affordable.”
The best thing about what they do at the moment, says Andrew, is the fact that the product range is in tune with what’s happening in the world. They don’t use any plastic bottles – all their packaging is biodegradable – and all their products are 100% natural and 100% vegan friendly.
“We don’t use any nasty stuff. Most of our products are sulphate-free so they’re really good for sensitive skin – even for people who have psoriasis or eczema.”
But having an ethical approach can be difficult at times as Andrew says it’s hard, as well as expensive, to source materials that don’t contain any non-natural ingredients.
And adding the figurines inside bath bombs complicates things too because they change the chemistry of the products.
Andrew is constantly thinking of new ways to surprise his customers. He has plans to add a bit of theatre to the menu and turn Soapy J into a place people go for bit of an experience.
“Because it looks like a tiki bar in here anyway, we’ll make cocktails in front of you so you can see everything being made. Bubble machines and steel drum music.”
He has even found a way to make some of his products edible.
“We’re actually going to be doing a range of bubble teas in the shop with edible bath bombs that you can drop in your tea to fizz and foam up. You can have a strawberry bubble tea, for example, and drop a vanilla bath bomb in and it will taste like strawberries and cream.
“We’ve got a black range coming up soon, with skulls and coffins and other stuff like that, which should go down a storm in Afflecks. We’re also going to be doing a lot of new designs like pizza slices and watermelons and pineapples.
“With the pizza slice, you can also make a pizza box so you can take a pizza box home and chuck a slice of pizza in the bath with you. It’s great that we’re able to make these products and have an ethical approach too.”