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Tripoli soap makers a huge hit at Harrods

  • The sisters have created natural soaps which appeal to Londoners seeking a tonic to stressful city lives. (The Daily Star/Brooke Anderson)

LONDON: At a posh London department store, a collection of traditionally made soap by three sisters from Tripoli is flying off the shelves.

On the second floor of Harrods, displayed in the bed and bath section among designer towels, are bars of organic soap and other bath products from the newly formed company Jardins D’EDEN, its name a nod to the virginal nature of the biblical garden and the sisters’ Middle Eastern origins.

Jardins D’EDEN debuted with heart-shaped soaps just before Valentine’s Day this February, with the company’s small collection quickly becoming the second-best seller on the floor.

The story of Rima, Zeina and Zahira Nazer’s soap production begins in their childhood home near Tripoli’s old city. For four decades, the girls’ father, Samir Nazer, made olive oil soap, revered by doctors for its health benefits.

“We were very blessed to grow up in a family [involved in the] natural soap-making business,” recalls Zeina, who learned from her father how to extract oils from orange blossom and roses, a skill she would later exploit for her new business in London.

She reminisces fondly about her father’s passion for soap making: “He would come home every day and share with us a new experiment – [his] new findings about fragrances and new botanicals used in soap-making.”

Although Tripoli sometimes earns negative attention for sporadic unrest, those familiar with the city admire its Mamluk architecture and old spice markets. Hardly a tourist leaves Tripoli without a few bars of olive oil soap as souvenirs.

During weekends and vacations, the Nazer girls helped with the family business, Saboun Nazer, never imagining that they would one day follow in their father’s footsteps.

In fact, they say that until they started Jardins D’EDEN last year, they never thought about going into the family business. They were working in different fields – Rima in media, Zahira in architecture and Zeina in engineering. Today, they continue to pursue their respective careers as they build up their soap business.

“When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the idea of a family business,” admits Rima. Later on, she says, “We thought about our father’s legacy, and [decided] it shouldn’t go away.”

The idea to start a new soap business came about in March of last year, when Rima was visiting her two sisters in London. Despite thriving in their respective professions, they liked the idea of being their own bosses.

They started the business just over a year ago, with their first customers being natural food stores, followed by spas.

Rima is responsible for production, Zahira for design and Zeina for marketing. Utilizing their background in soap design and production, the sisters took the basic olive oil soap that they had learned to make as children and modified and adapted it to fit their clientele’s tastes.

While their father’s soap was made from pure olive oil, which doesn’t lather, they decided to add coconut oil to give their customers the texture they were accustomed to while keeping the ingredients natural.

In addition to basic olive oil soap, the company has also released soaps made from Manuka honey and oatmeal, tea tree and eucalyptus, cinnamon and orange, grapefruit and juniper berry, rose and geranium, and lavender and ylang ylang. A range of body scrubs, oils and butters are also available.

While their father’s soap had been unscented, the Nazer sisters use essential oils, including the rose oil Damascena, to give the soaps a mild, natural fragrance.

Though a long way from Lebanon, the sisters have created naturally colored and scented soaps that appeal to Londoners seeking an antidote to a stressful life in the city.

For now, Rima says, their customers are all in the U.K., but they are thinking of expanding into the Arab world, particularly Lebanon, where production would be more cost-effective.

No matter what direction they take, Rima emphasizes, “we won’t change our recipes. Staying natural is important. It gives people more confidence, and people appreciate it more.”

“It’s handmade in London. Not many products are made in London anymore,” she adds.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2012, on page 2.
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