Before founding Terra Lova, you were first a documentary filmmaker and then a teacher. Could you tell me a little bit more about your previous jobs?
I have a masters in documentary filmmaking, and that’s how I started my career. I come from the suburbs of Paris, and I was making a film that gave a voice to young people in these neighbourhoods.That was 14 years ago. A lot of the film was about the role of schools, about what they should and shouldn’t be doing. And it was in the middle of this project that I made the decision to become a teacher. I passed the exams while I was still making the film and then worked as a teacher in those neighbourhoods for many years.
So you were a documentary filmmaker, then you became a teacher and now you make soap!
Yes, and life isn’t over yet! And actually, when you change jobs in France we call it ‘professional reorientation’, but it’s not a ‘reorientation’ at all. In my opinion, one thing leads you to another, and it’s all part of the same path. But from other people’s perspectives, it looks like I’m constantly jumping from one thing to another, and there’s no logic behind it. Perhaps making soap will lead me to something else one day, who knows? I am open to everything.
What brought you to founding Terra Lova?
I liked teaching but I didn’t like everything else that came with the job. The meetings, watching the kids during break times…And I like being independent, I don’t like having a boss telling me what to do, and that’s why I enjoy what I do today. I started the project two and a half years ago, but I had to learn first, and that took a long time. You have to learn about all the rules and regulations. My workshop is a laboratory, and you have to respond to certain protocols concerning space and the products you make.
On one hand, it’s a mystery. I don’t really know exactly why I make soap. On the other hand, I think it’s got something to do with caring for others. I’ve made documentaries about social issues and I have worked in deprived suburban areas with underprivileged children. At the beginning, I thought soap had nothing to do with all of that. But we use soap to take care of ourselves. I make something that people use to wash their bodies, so in a way, I am doing them good. That’s probably one of the reasons why making soap appealed to me. It’s a very simple concept really.
Which soap making techniques do use?
There are two techniques to make soap: hot saponification and cold saponification. I use the cold process, which means that I don’t heat the oils. This process is longer because it requires the soap to dry for a month.
Which ingredients do you use?
It’s very simple. All you need is a fat or oil, caustic soda and water. The olive oil soap I make contains two ingredients: sodium olivate and aqua (water). People who are adopting a zero waste lifestyle love this. It’s very basic: it’s just olive oil that has been mixed with sodium. But during the chemical process the sodium and oil are transformed into soap and glycerine.
Soap is usually made using palm oil or coconut oil as well. Making soap with just olive oil is a bit more difficult but after a lot of practice, I have managed to make a pretty good one. I’m still perfecting it, but I like olive oil soap because it’s the softest. I like to add a bit extra oil so it’s even more nourishing, but every ingredient I use has a purpose. Also, it’s practical because I only need two ingredients so it’s cheaper too. It’s a total win!
Why is using industrial soap bad?
Because none of the ingredients are natural. The majority of supermarket soaps use either hydrocarbons or pork or beef fat as their base. If you buy a cheap soap and look on the ingredient list, it’ll have either sodium tallowate, which is beef fat, or sodium lardate, which is pork fat. People have no idea but they are washing themselves with animal fat. The glycerine is taken out to put in other products like face cream, but glycerine is really what makes soap effective because it absorbs grease and eliminates it, and also moisturises the skin.
Silicone is added to give the impression of softness, but it’s just a coat, like make-up, and it doesn’t really clean properly. Our bodies are fine as they are, you know? When you put too many products on your hair or skin, your body can’t do its job, it doesn’t know how to anymore. Also, industrial soaps are made by machines, not by humans, and this is crucial in my opinion. How can we compare something that is made by a machine to something that is made by a human? Especially with soap, which is something we use on our bodies.
You say that our sense of smell has been trained by the cosmetics industry to adapt to stronger and stronger fragrances. Why do you think it’s important to regain our sensitivity to nature’s real smells?
When you go into a cosmetics shop, the fragrances are very strong. It’s the same with loud music, which can be unbearable in concerts nowadays. This is because we live in a society that wants more, more, more. For example, when I tell people that Terra Lova is going very well but that I don’t want to grow my business, they don’t understand because we’ve been told that expansion is the only way forward. It’s the same for smells. We are very used to having cleaning products with strong smells, because we have wrongly associated them with efficacy, but it’s just an impression. This ties in with the idea of softness and femininity. Softness is not synonymous with weakness, it’s a strength, and we need to come to terms with that. Women are naturally gentle, but that doesn’t mean that they’re fragile, it doesn’t mean that power and softness are incompatible. The consumerist world that we live in is a masculine world. This is getting political! We are talking about soap, but everything is connected. Basically, returning to natural scents means accepting that nature is powerful.
Photos by Erwann Steglich Petersen