"I Love Hong Kong, I’m born and raised here, Hong Kong is my home."
Text by Eddie Kim
Hong Kong locals love a good bargain. Anyone can walk into a Manning’s and pick up a gallon of hand soap for the price of a pork chop bun. A good deal is hard to resist, but consumers are catching up to manufacturers through the digital information rush, and the standards for quality is rising day by day.
Hong Kong’s own Edmund Ip is already ahead of the game. Edmund loves his hometown that much is certain. He believes that, “you cannot choose your home, Hong Kong is not perfect, but together we can make it better.”
Personally having a mild skin allergy, Edmund took it upon himself to be aware of the many harmful chemicals found in common over-the-counter cosmetics and soap materials. While seeking out alternative organic made soaps, he discovered that the choices in his city were slim, and information and help were hard to come by.
After graduating from the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong with a degree in Design, Edmund first left his hometown at the age of twenty to pursue a Communications degree in Australia. His studies at RMIT University would lead to his meeting with Gia Fox, his future business partner.
They partnered up together to form Bathe to Basics, with three different locations in Hong Kong. Bathe to Basics combines animal fats and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create their soaps. The ancient Egyptian cold press method is used to extract and maintain all valuable nutrients from each ingredient. The process yields a high glycerin byproduct effectively moisturizing the skin simultaneously. Each soap bar is cut and packaged by hand, without any artificial oils that cause irritation.
“It is a small operation.” A recent hire in the marketing department has been the most recent addition to the Bathe to Basics team. The main production stage is in a remote location in Tai Po. "It is not an everyday production so some bulk orders are challenging to fulfil when they come in.” They usually produce batches in 20-30 bars during production, and large orders over 1000 have been a challenge for this boutique shop.
When talking about his previous work experiences, Edmund waxed nostalgic on the demise of HK Magazine. "It was one of the first English magazine(s) talking about different lifestyle in Hong Kong...played an important role during the time.” While it was a short stay during his career Edmund was sad to see that they could not keep up with digital demands.
Bathe to Basics has always had an operational online store on their website, but the experience at the store cannot be replicated on a computer. "We found that customers like to interact with us. Ask questions, smell scents, and touch the products. Our loyal customers buy online because of the previous experience … online is important, but the physical shop is the key."
Located on the fourth floor of Staunton Building in PMQ, Edmund is happy his flagship store is in a unique location.
"(PMQ) Gathered a lot of local designers, different boutique shop … an aura to this place. Locals appreciate this place, most feedback from the tourists love the place a lot, not big brands in department stores...most of the shops are unique and representing Hong Kong, makes us special...easier to stand out.”
Every brand has a different identity and Edmund’s company is the same. While some soaps are either bland and utilitarian, or overtly garish, Edmund and Gia have opted for a simpler aesthetic and approach. Their top-selling product is the Basic Cream Bar.
"Just a round shape, simple, that's the first soap we made."
Edmund also writes a blog for his website, which he admits is one area he wants to improve. "Aim of our brand...not just to provide better solutions and choices...try to tell you more information, when we started there was not much to go on, there are still misunderstandings and myths, I want to write a blog telling people what it is we're doing and why.”
Although there are three different locations throughout the city, Edmund is weary of expanding his shop too hastily.
“(To) grow bigger of course, try to balance the right way…save time and cost is cheap but product suffers, lots of companies sacrifice quality as they get better, lose sight of their mission statement… (to) grow big and balance at the same time, that is the challenge. I believe there is a (right) way to do it.”
Edmund is constantly searching for new technologies and ingredients overseas. “I don’t follow one particular soap-maker, mostly the natural brands…Hong Kong is a bit slow in (embracing) natural organic products…I follow the trends and patterns so I can incorporate them back home.”
Since 2011 Bathe to Basics has been on the forefront of eco-friendly local products. Now that the cat’s out the bag, local and foreign competitors are visible on the horizon. Fresh off their success in the Cream Bar Soap, their product line has now expanded to shampoos, conditioners, and face wash.
Franchising his products to boutique departments stores in the future, but they must share Edmund and Gia’s vision of soap-making. "It’s better for us and better for the earth.”
Bathe to Basics
S403, Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
WECONS @ Flower Market
1/F, 204 Prince Edward Rd W, Mong Kok
333 Lockhart road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong