Samantha Jameson is a serial entrepreneur and founder of the award-winning artisan soap brand Soapsmith.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’ve always been cut from entrepreneurial cloth. After graduating with a Business Studies degree from Liverpool John Moores, I knew I wanted to work for myself. At 24, I set up my own events company supplying bucking broncos and chocolate fountains to the biggest brands and celebrities in the country, including Arsenal, French Connection and BP as well as the music festivals, TV shows and even The Osbournes! I also designed and produced an award-winning mini chocolate fountain, then sold the entire stock and assets to one of the UK’s leading chocolatiers to fund my soap making passion, turning it into a business. So, in 2012 Soapsmith was born.
I’ve not looked back. I now spend my time developing products and running the business, not to mention raising a young family. I’m obsessed with fragrances and love the old, artisanal method of making things. It’s the opposite of mass, soulless manufacturing. I think people want more accountability and transparency from brands so there’s a huge commercial opportunity for handmade products with authenticity, character and provenance. I was born and bred in London, and Soapsmith is very much a brand that takes inspiration from the culture, history and my personal experiences of this amazing City. For me, scents have got to mean something.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, like most entrepreneurs I didn’t sit down and plan my career out. The one thing I knew early on was that I would never do a job I wasn’t passionate about. We spend so much of our lives working so, for me, it was important to do something I enjoyed… I didn’t want to clock watch. I certainly won’t be on my deathbed thinking I could have worked more! All of the jobs I’ve done, from working in Woolworths when I was 16 to running my business today, I’ve really enjoyed. Plus, I’ve met some amazing and lovely people along the way.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
It’s great to have worked with some unbelievable brands and organisations. There have also been times where people didn’t want to know me because I was a one-woman-band. I’ve learnt that being persistent and determined gets results. Setting up and running a business is also one of the most difficult and rewarding things you can ever do. With Soapsmith, I invested all my time, passion and money into making it work. In the early stages, this meant resorting to creative ways of raising capital. I remember selling some of my most meaningful possessions to purchase equipment and rent the right workspace to produce our product. I even pawned my wedding and engagement rings and bought them back 14 months later with our profits! I was too busy to socialise and, instead of receiving Christmas and birthday presents, I asked for small monetary contributions from my family to purchase trademarks for key products, like “Marble Arch” and “Knightsbridge”. I remember someone saying to me, “You can’t trademark a place!” Yes, you can and yes, I did; I’m glad I persisted and didn’t listen to the naysayers!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Modestly speaking, there have been quite a few! Getting stocked in Harrods where Soapsmith was a top three best-selling bath and body product for the store, as well as getting distribution within Selfridges, Whole Foods and other independent boutiques around the City. I’ve also just been asked to write a soap making book too, by White Owl Publishers, which I’m very excited about.
Also, securing an investment led partnership recently with global brand design agency Bulletproof which has been a key part of our plan for international expansion. It’s been more than a simple, straightforward investment of resources; they are incredibly supportive on both a commercial and personal level and are passionately vested in the business. Currently, we’re working together on a new brand identity and packaging in order to visually communicate some of Soapsmith’s core values within the design. This is absolutely vital for a luxury proposition that is looking to gain deeper penetration into a market of consumers who value quality, provenance and design. As a small business, I doubt I would’ve been able to afford the help of a design agency used by some of the world’s biggest brands.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I don’t think it boils down to just one thing, but a potent combination of many small things. I believe that my drive and determination opened doors; passion and conviction in my business got people who mattered to believe in me as well as the brand. Kindness and collaboration also really matters. I have had a few lucky breaks as a result of the latter, and I truly believe you get back what you give.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is vital as it helps provides someone without certain aspects of knowledge to know more. I am freely available to mentor when asked and have done so in the past; if I don’t know or are unsure about something, 9 times out of 10 I know someone who can help.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
It would be to change the mindset of society, employers and employees – and not just look at employing more women as a solution to the issue; the problem is so much deeper and more complicated than that. At Soapsmith, we employ more women than men, however it was not wholly intentional. It is just the way it has happily worked out!
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
It would be to not sweat over the small details, as people are highly likely to not even notice. As an example, I spent weeks just trying to decide on a font for the initial letterhead paper and business cards; I wanted to ensure that it matched the packaging and was clear yet also classic. In the end it really didn’t matter. What mattered more was the actual packaging of the products, which I tweaked after 8 months anyway!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The next challenge is to update the whole Soapsmith offering and to grow the brand globally through overseas stockists/distributors, getting Soapsmith products into hotels as well as cementing the partnerships in the UK. We field lots of enquiries from overseas and from hotels, so that it is our next logical step!