Fishtown firm sends suds to Haiti
Hand in Hand donates bars of its soap to children in developing countries.
BILL GLAAB, 29, and Courtney Apple, 27, a married couple living in Washington Square West, founded Hand in Hand Soap in 2011 in Fishtown. The company's bar soap is sold in 225 stores in North America and Europe, the biggest retailer being Anthropologie. To date, Hand in Hand says, 65,000 bars of soap have been donated to children in Haiti. Apple, an Ardmore native, oversees marketing; Jersey native Glaab handles finances. I spoke with Apple.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Hand in Hand?
A: We wanted to create a sustainable business that provided a good product but also helped a community. We learned that 5 million children under age 5 die annually from water-related illnesses in the developing world. Hand-washing alone can reduce these deaths by almost 50 percent. So we started a soap company.
Q: What's the business model?
A: Our soap is made in Vermont. For every bar of soap sold, we donate a bar to help save a child's life and save 50 square feet of rainforest.
Q: How do you decide where to donate?
A: We work with a Florida-based nonprofit called My Neighbor's Children. So whatever we have to donate, we give to them, and they go to orphanages, mostly in Haiti, but sometimes they'll go to Guatemala or the Dominican Republic.
Q: What's the connection between soap and rainforest?
A: Most soap is palm-based, and rainforest in Southeast Asia is being depleted to create palm-oil plantations. We couldn't be socially responsible and not environmentally responsible. So every ingredient in our soap is eco-friendly, certified by the Natural Products Association, and has nothing derived from cleared rainforest.
Q: What's the biggest challenge you faced growing the business?
A: Keeping up with demand. We have inventory, but our wholesalers always want more. We also have a line of bath salts and candles made in the U.S.
Q: Where did you get the money to start the business?
A: We used $80,000 in savings. We self-funded because we wanted to control our own company.
Q: How big a business is this?
A: We expect to have $350,000 in revenue this year.
Q: Have you been to Haiti?
A: We went there in February 2012. We knew we were doing good, but it wasn't until we actually met these kids and saw how excited they were to receive the soap that it really hit home.
Q: What's next on the social-change agenda?
A: We thought if half the deaths can be prevented by hand-washing, what about the other half who die for lack of clean water? So we're working with My Neighbor's Children to dig wells in Haiti. We're cutting the ribbon on the first one on June 27. Our candles will be available for sale in August and will be a catalyst to speed construction of wells.