This experience with Covid19, the lock-down, increased hygiene practices, and the global implications have awakened us to how interconnected everyone and everything is. Not just people in the same community, but all over the world, not just our backyards, but animals that are now coming to visit us, because we’ve invaded their ecosystems and they have nowhere else to go. Simple things like going grocery shopping, shaking hands, going to school, have all been disrupted because of this lack of awareness of how truly interconnected our actions anywhere in the world can impact us. One of the simple things that we’ve overlooked for long, is soap. Soap, incredibly, when used appropriately, can stave off the deadly virus. This is a great advantage! Imagine if we had to boil or use harsh disinfectants only to clean surfaces, and our hands! That would definitely a whole other level of nightmare!
Sawsen Abdellawi has had some experience in this field, having had a child with severe eczema, she was prescribed cortisol. Having a background in biology, and knowing the possible side-effects of cortisol, she refused to use it on her baby’s skin. So she searched on the market for natural remedies that could take care of her infant’s eczema, after discussing options with her pediatric dermatologist. She was unable to find anything, so she decided to take the matter into her own hands, and started experimenting with soap-making. Her formulas were the only ones that were gentle enough to cleanse her child’s skin without irritating it. She discovered she wasn’t the only one going through such trials, and began making her soaps for other moms in similar situations. This then grew into a small business in 2016, and she is now selling her home-made gentle soaps and other biodegradable, natural, non-toxic skin and home products all over the world.
Because she is Muslim, and thus understands our God-given amana to take care of ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and the environment, she felt the most apt name for her business was ABD Naturals. ABD means servant, as she feels she is doing a service by providing gentle products that not only help people take care of their bodies and homes, but they don’t do any collateral harm in the process. I don’t remember how I came across her line, but the name immediately grabbed my attention, and I thought I’d give her products a try. I ordered her mini soaps, as she has a very wide selection to choose from and I wasn’t sure what I’d like. Not only did I love all of her soaps, I ended up buying more in order to gift them to teachers, colleagues, friends, and neighbors in order to spread the love. Because it’s a small business, and I’m a return customer, Sawsen remembered me, and was always able to custom cater to my requests, adding little thank you gifts here and there. We began chatting, and I thought this might be the perfect time to talk about the importance of the products we use, how we treat our bodies (infant skins in particular), our lungs (as in the use of scented perfumes, incense sticks, and aromatherapy), and our environment through the making and using of cleaning and scented products. Sawsen graciously agreed to answer a few pressing questions I had, and you can read the article we co-wrote for American Muslim Women’s Magazine, coming up in late May or early June, insha Allah. But for now, here’s my interview with Sawsen, owner and maker of ABD Naturals, based in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).
What is the concept behind ABD Naturals?
Our motto is ‘Caring hands’. It reflects that all our products are handmade, with lots of care and love and they help customers find healthy alternatives for their skin and home at lowest possible cost. ABD (abed) in Arabic is a servant and ABD Naturals stands for using Nature as a servant, and we reciprocate by protecting it. It stands for a relationship between humans and natural resources, which needs to be mutually beneficial in order to last.
We try to raise awareness of the side effects of chemicals and toxins that we use in our daily life. These hidden ingredients increase risks of leading an unhealthy life, as we can clearly see these days.
I refer to the business as ABD Naturals, but in reality I am behind it all; making the products, labeling them, packaging, and everything that goes on all the way to the final product is done by me in order to reduce the cost and keep my products affordable.
What’s the story behind Abd Naturals?
Since I was a child I was fascinated by our traditional home remedy recipes and the creations made by my grandmothers and the older ladies of my town. When I grew up I studied Biology and tried to respect and study nature in all aspects of my life. I believe that a natural lifestyle is key for healthy living. For example, I make my food from scratch and I pay a lot of attention to labels when it comes to choosing my cosmetics. When I had my son in 2016, he had bad eczema and his pediatric dermatologist prescribed cortisone cream to be used twice a day at the age of 6 months. This made me extremely uncomfortable, as I know baby skins are like literal sponges. There was no way that I could use the ointment on my baby. I tried to find a safer alternative on the market, but had no luck.
I spoke with his pediatric dermatologist again and explained that I refuse to use the medication and that I need his help to find a safe alternative, so he suggested that I look for natural cosmetics at my local farmers’ market. That was the beginning of a new journey in our lives! I went home determined that I would be the one to make his cream and everything that would go on his skin. I was successful pretty soon, thanks to my biological and home-remedy background, and the products I was making were having an immediate and clear effect on my son’s skin. After seeing the big change on my own baby, I decided to start providing my products to help other parents who have the same situation.
I believe most people have a desire to use natural alternatives, but they still can’t find them easily, and if they do, they are often not affordable. The struggle and the disappointments that I had when I was looking for 100% natural products for my baby and seeing other parents facing the same challenges encouraged me to start my business online to reach a larger network of people in need.
Why is making your own soap, oils, and candles important to you?
Before I started making my own cosmetics and home products I struggled finding products that I could trust. I always look for products made with the necessary ingredients only, as natural as possible, safe to use, and eco-friendly. Making my own products gives me control over what ingredients I use. I personally choose what goes into my products and what I avoid.
90-99% of our products are 100% natural as they’re oil based. Oil based means I can skip the use of preservatives. The rest of our products (1-10%) contain water, which means if I don’t add some form of preservative they’ll have a shelf life of a few days to a week, and then will start growing mold and become unusable. There is a very wide range of preservatives out there, but I only use those approved by ECOCERT, which can be used for organic skincare.
What issues have you encountered in your years of soap-making experience?
The issues I have encountered and still struggle with are how to reduce the cost of products while using high grade ingredients. Keeping costs steady despite constant increases in prices of raw materials is an ongoing challenge. It’s also sometimes difficult to prove to new customers that affordable products doesn’t mean they’re cheaply made, it just means I have a smaller profit margin. People who don’t know me and haven’t tried my products have a hard time believing that I would pay myself so little for products I truly believe in. It’s a bit tricky to explain without seeming odd.
You warn against bkhoor (traditional Arabic incense) and commerical incense use, why is this? What alternative do you offer?
Commercial bokhoor and incense usually have high levels of toxins and contaminants such as Sulfur Oxides (SOx) which make them burn faster, carbon monoxide(CO), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and of course the fragrance that itself is a big story. Fragrance oils do not have full ingredient disclosure because they fall under “Trade Secret” status with the FDA and there are over 3’500 materials that are approved to be used in them! One single scent can contain over 300 aroma chemicals. If you choose to burn this kind of incense or bokhoor, or even scented candles for that matter, you risk to pollute and suffocate your indoor space with toxins and chemicals which you and your loved ones inhale.
My advice is to check carefully the list of ingredients before buying any incense or bokhoor or any other product, really, but particularly those you’re going to burn in your home. If you don’t see the full list, then don’t buy it and don’t use it. I always air on the side of caution on this one, for sure.
What do you think are the greatest incentives for Muslim women to seek out natural products?
As Muslim women we believe our bodies are an amana (responsibility) and we have to take good care of them. We also shouldn’t waste our natural resources. We need to aim to use natural and eco-friendly products to keep our bodies and our environment safe. We can’t have one without the other, that’s just the way it is. And I think it’s becoming increasingly obvious to everyone nowadays.
What products do you provide to your clientele?
ABD Naturals offers natural cosmetics, bath and home products, such as soaps, oils, candles, air-fresheners, deodorants, bath salts, lip-balms, etc..
You also do party favors, is this a growing side of your business?
Party favors is something I’ve been asked to do. I take custom orders, not just for my soaps, but with many other items. I like meeting my customers’ needs and wants, as long as they align with my products and services.
There are many growing sides of the business like the home section. People appreciate aromatherapy and are coming to understand the nefarious implications of burning unhealthy fumes in the home. I am also working on a line of natural perfumes that will be an extension of the body section. I’m hoping to get into natural makeup in the future as well.
Oh! That’s amazing! I can’t wait for that to roll out! But this body and home product business seems extremely competitive. How do you stay in the game?
ABD Naturals‘ soaps stands by using natural oils, natural scents, and natural colorants. I also try to come up with artistic designs to appeal to the visual sense on top of the olfactory sense. These characteristics are hard to find in one product.
Being an artisan soap maker, I make unique pieces that attract customers the same way an art piece would. Customers who look for natural handmade soaps and beauty products are very discerning, and I try to give them everything they’re looking for, at affordable prices. Every bar of soap is unique; it differs from the others in some way, simply by virtue of having been made in single batches by hand. When you get close to these bars it feels like an adventure, you would want to smell them all and you would feel the love they’re made with. I do believe that objects, especially things made with love and care emit energy, and it can be felt by anyone holding it and paying attention. In this manner every customer gets attracted to the piece that suits her/him the most. But while soap-making is a widely growing industry, the awareness and the need of natural products is growing as well, so I focus on the quality of my creations and on my customers’ requests. I believe that establishing a strong and healthy relationship with my customers is more important than the market competition. I’m more interested in quality than quantity.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
In 5 years, I see ABD Naturals not only as an online business but also a store front with bigger selections of natural handmade products and an educational section that teaches women to start their own business from home, in order to be able to support their families.
What’s the best advice you’d give our readers to encourage them to take charge of their part in the environment and our own skin health?
My advice is to think of your body and the environment as a responsibility, take care of them, so they can take care of you in return. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
What you put into or onto your body largely determines where you’ll be in years to come, health-wise. So it’s up to you to choose wisely. Also, what we set up today, will affect future generations, so we need to think of the legacy we want to leave for our children, grandchildren, and beyond. Whatever you do to the environment today will impact your children tomorrow, so act wisely.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for Dear Sister!
Thank you so much.
If you’d like to check out Sawsen’s products, you can find them on Instagram, where all her new creations pop up first; on Facebook, where she explains a bit more of what goes into her products; you may purchase her entire line on her website; and you can even see her in action on her YouTube channel! I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love, just like I did, over and over!