I am always looking for inspiring social good enterprises to feature on my blog. This past month, I had the opportunity to speak with Jessie Yoh, Co-Founder and CEO of b.a.r.e. soaps, an all natural, socially conscious soap and candle company that helps women and children in Uganda and India. b.a.r.e. stands for “bringing antiseptic resources to everyone” and was built on the idea that something as simple as a bar of soap can effectively help prevent the spread of diseases and illnesses while improving overall health and hygiene.
b.a.r.e soaps was inspired by Jessie’s friend Clare Li’s mission trips to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Uganda where she witnessed the desperate need for basic health necessities. After every mission trip, Clare returned energized to make a difference but was never sure how. The idea behind b.a.r.e. soaps didn’t arise until August 2012 when Clare was in Uganda, and brainstormed an idea to make her own soap and use proceeds to invest in developing communities that lacked basic sanitation.
After Clare returned to the US, she pitched her good friend Jessie her idea. Jessie, a business major, hopped on board immediately. Upon further research, the pair realized that there was a problem also at home. The soap we typically buy from our local grocer or drugstore isn’t really soap. In actuality, it’s made with synthetic and artificial compounds. Thus, a two-fold mission for b.a.r.e. soaps began: First, to educate and provide an all-natural product for those at home, and second to create a sustainable sanitation program for the children in Kaberamaido, Uganda. While working full-time, the pair launched the business in September 2013 and have been changing lives ever since.
Here is their inspiring story.
How did you meet Clare?
Jessie: I have known Clare for years as she is the sister of one of my closest childhood friends. We both grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey. Clare went to college and became a biomedical engineer while I studied business.
Tell me more about the inspiration behind b.a.r.e soaps?
Jessie: While working as a biomedical engineer, Clare went on mission trips around the world and became energized to make a difference. She realized that every time she came home and went back to work, she had changed yet her life was still the same. It bothered her. On her last mission trip, she had a huge “ah ha” moment. She was in Uganda at a small rural village when a new freshwater well opened. Despite having safe water, the village had no soap. It was ironic to Clare because something as simple and easy as soap could make an enormous impact and save lives. In Uganda, diarrhea remains one of the leading cause of child deaths under age 5 and is preventable and treatable with proper sanitation.
An idea hatched, “What if she made soap, sold it in the US and helped create a sustainable sanitation program for the children in Uganda”? Also by selling the soap, she could provide an all-natural product for those at home in the US.
How did the idea of b.a.r.e soaps come into fruition?
Jessie: Clare returned from Uganda with a vision to start the company yet had no business expertise. She met with me to discuss her vision and seek help given my business background. I immediately loved the idea and wanted to help. Together, we formulated a vision of a social enterprise that would eventually become b.a.r.e soaps.
Since neither of us had ever made soap before, we conducted tons of research on the internet. It took nearly a year to learn how to make soap and perfect it. We experimented with different ingredients and oils, and learned from online soap calculators to create our unique, all natural formulas. I continue to make the soap at home today. Each ingredient is carefully researched and considered, never tested on animals, and every bar of soap is packaged with plantable packaging.
When did you launch?
Jessie: We launched in September 2013 by fundraising a small amount of capital to get us started. Both Clare and I work full-time so b.a.r.e. soaps continues to be a part-time initiative. We are small but growing and we recently began offering candles by partnering with a candle making business.
How do you give back?
Jessie: Initially we implemented a “buy one, give one” model to help provide soap in Uganda. However, we soon realized that although providing soap helped, it was not a sustainable solution. Instead, we wanted to have a long-term impact thus we partnered with two organizations, Point Community Church and Hopechest, an organization that sets up Carepoints to provide children with a daily nourishing meal and monitor the children’s well-being.
Within a year, we were able to use funds to purchase vitamins that would be distributed to the children of the Carepoint three times a week. Soap is also provided to the site however we are moving towards a model of purchasing locally-made soaps to support small businesses in Kaberamaido.
At one specific point in 2014, Kaberamaido suffered a Hepatitis B outbreak. As a result, we diverted funds to immediately support Hepatitis B vaccinations. We have also been able to provide sanitation lessons that include the importance and instruction of hand washing. This was especially important since these children will often be without soap than with soap but by teaching proper scrubbing technique, we can still help eliminate some germs and bacteria. Additionally, we have also been able to support Kaberamaido’s local economy by purchasing locally made custom leather shoes for every child.
What are your long-term plans for working in Uganda?
Jessie: While we recognize the importance of immediate needs, we also firmly believe in long-term sustainable projects. In 2014, we contributed to funds that were used to purchase land, directed to cultivate crops. Any additional crops would be sold and that income would be directed back to the Carepoint. In 2015, we matched up to $1,000 for the ‘Change Their Story’ Christmas campaign that our partnering church, Point Community Church, ran. This campaign included funds that were used to purchase one goat for every child. Because goats reproduce easily, the hope is that these goats would multiply and enable the children and their family to sell the goats to buy other livestock, such as cows, to help with farming.
What kind of work do you do in India?
Earlier this year, we announced a new partnership with Sundara, a nonprofit which enables the repurposing of used hotel soaps to be rebatched and redistributed to local communities and health clinics in the slums of Kalwa (Mumbai, India).
Sundara Fund sets up the infrastructure to repurpose used hotel soap by coordinating the logistics/materials and employing local women to resanitize/rebatch the soap and act as Hygiene Ambassadors in their communities. Proceeds from our sales are used to help pay for three women to receive fair wages and leftover money is used to hold free hygiene workshops or other related initiatives.
India Soap Making photo gallery:
The soap will be distributed every month to 500 migrant school children living in the surrounding slums, along with a basic health care and hygiene training aspect. Similarly, 500 migrant slum women will receive the recycled soap when they come to the local Shravan health clinic for free health care services. This will be done along with awareness training on the use of soap in good hand and body hygiene practices. Together, these activities will help improve the health and wellbeing of children and women of Kalwa East and reduce the occurrence of frequent hygiene related illness that currently plagues this slum community.
We use packaging materials from local businesses to wrap, package, and ship orders. Our plantable packaging has also saved over 21,000 feet of plastic shrink wrapping.
To order products and learn more about b.a.r.e soaps work, please visit their website at:
All photos used with permission from b.a.r.e. soaps.