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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Expat couple launches homemade soap business in Qatar

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All photos by Chantelle D’mello

An expat couple has started one of Qatar’s first all-natural homemade soap lines, tapping into a growing market for sustainable and locally-produced wellness products.

Inspired by their native Portugal, husband and wife team Celso and Sofia Batista created Lisbonnete, an organic line of soaps produced in their own kitchen, late last year.

The project is the brainchild of Sofia Batista, a former open-water swimmer, current physical education teacher at Compass International School and a long-time practitioner of aromatherapy and natural therapy.

Lisbonette soap
Lisbonette soap

Speaking to Doha News, her husband said the couple dabbled in soap-making back home, and decided to become more serious about it after moving to Qatar.

“The name is a play on words. In Portuguese, the word for soap is ‘sabonete,’ and the capital is Lisbon…so we get ‘Lisbonnete,’ ” Celso Batista added.

Because of Qatar’s high temperatures and humidity, perfecting the recipe for the soap took some time, the 43-year-old said.

“There was a lot of trial and error and math involved in the process. Even now, for every 10 kilos of soap we make, there’s one batch or one kilo that doesn’t go right for some reason or the other. It’s a learning process,” he added.

Once they settled on a recipe, the duo decided to test their products on friends and colleagues, whose feedback they then incorporated.

Process

Making a bar of soap is a two-hour long process that mainly involves mixing, melting and stirring.

Using a carefully guarded recipe, Sofia Batista – clad in goggles, a face mask and a pair of gloves – melts butter, beeswax and oil over a flame, bringing the mixture to a liquid consistency.

Lisbonette soap making
Lisbonette soap making

To this, she adds a mixture of lye, a strong alkaline solution consisting predominantly of potassium hydroxide that gives homemade soap its cleansing properties, with water.

The lye facilitates the process of saponification, the technical name for what happens when lye and the fatty acids in the butters, oils and wax react.

Natural pigments and clay for color, essential oils for healing and aroma and dried herbs for texture are then added.

Once done, the mixtures are poured into silicone moulds using various techniques like swirling and layering to get different textures and color patterns.

The finished product is then made to rest for anywhere between four to six weeks to ensure that the chemical processes run their course and that the soap hardens.

Sustainability

In an effort to give back to the local economy, the couple tries to source most of their products locally.

“You’d be surprised at what you can find in your local grocery store or if you really look here,” 40-year-old Sofia Batista said.

Lisbonette soap ingredients.
Lisbonette bath salts

Base materials like palm, olive, coconut and avocado oils, beeswax and shea butter are usually bought from local grocery stores, while the Batistas source herbs like jasmine and lavender from the souqs.

“Essential oils were the one thing that wasn’t available here. There’s a store that sells them, but it’s way too expensive and the quantities are too small for what we need. So we decided to look for other sources, and now we import the oils (by the cannister) from India,” Sofia Batista said.

Natural pigments and other special herbs are also imported, mostly from Portugal, or are grown by the couple.

Growth strategy

Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs, the duo uses Instagram to market their products and Whatsapp for taking orders.

To gauge their customer base, the couple also tries to participate in various handicraft fairs organized by Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Doha Mums and other organizations.

Lisbonette soap types
Lisbonette soap types

Currently, the couple makes more than 15 types of soap, including jasmine, lavender and cinnamon-scented bars. But Celso Batista said they are considering narrowing down their offerings to one standard menu.

He added, however, that the couple does cater to special requests. Certain locals, for example, have asked for aroma combinations with elements of cedar and sandalwood, oud and patchouli.

The Batistas have also begun exporting their products.

“Through a friend, we’ve starting selling our products in Lebanon. We’re (also) trying to sell our products in the UK and Portugal now, so we’re in talks with a chemical engineer who will be testing our products to ensure quality control and that everything is safe,” Celso Batista said.

The market, he added, was substantial, as the duo is the one of the few who make soap in Qatar.

However, with less than a year of experience behind them, the couple hasn’t yet sought to register their small business, but plan to do so in the future.

Like many entrepreneurs in Qatar, the couple sees the large amount of paperwork and high financial investment required to register a company in Doha as obstacles that substantially hinder their progress.

“We’re planning on expanding in the future, maybe, but it’s a lot of work. Owning a store is out of the question because it’s so expensive, but we would love to reach out to stores and sell our products there,” Celso Batista said.

Soaps aside, the duo has also begun experimenting with selling homemade candles, lip balms, creams, bath salts and bath bombs. All products retail for between QR20 to QR30 per piece.

Thoughts?

45 COMMENTS

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Maddix
Maddix
5 years ago

First

Student
Student
5 years ago

Sounds like a great idea. I would feel more comfortable using something this knowing it’s approved by a health and safety authority (maybe they’re working on it?). Always good to see someone taking the initiative!

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

All this is good, but is it legal? Did they go through the hassle of finding a local partner, doing the paperwork and getting the necessary approvals for this? Because if not then I am afraid this article might alert authorities and put them in trouble. While I appreciate the idea and how they managed to do what looks like a difficult task on their own, I am afraid the business environment here is not the right place for this kind of endeavors. It would be much easier to do it in Portugal and export it here.

Chilidog
Chilidog
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Was wondering the same thing. Hopefully this isn’t outing what looks like a fun venture. (Or maybe it’s a front for a club where the first rule is you don’t talk about it…..)

Osama Alassiry AlMaadeed
Reply to  Chilidog

It’s illegal to issue invoices with a “fake” business name, and they can’t open a business bank account. It’s their personal money. They will mostly deal with cash payment that mixes with their other money.

“Lisbonnete” looks like it is the name of a home made product, not a “company name”. This is personal business, and not a company.

Just like anybody could buy a car, fix it up, get it painted, sell it, and profit… One can buy supplies, mix them together, sell and profit.

I am not a lawyer or in the police, I am just guessing here… 🙂

P.S. If you need to expand and need a sponsor, it can be arranged 🙂 🙂

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

Are you assuming that this is legal? Or may be in a grey area? I think that even if you sell cars regularly you eventually have to set up a proper business

desertCard
desertCard
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

If this was a Qatari you’d be “way to go. woohoo”. Stop being Danny Downer, who gives a sh!t.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

I am not Qatari and I am just asking a legit question about the legal aspects of their business. 🙂

Osama Alassiry AlMaadeed
Reply to  Yacine

Grey areas are where everything is … everything is “legal” until it isn’t… Just like alcohol at the pearl, they had it, it was a grey area until it wasn’t anymore.

Yes, “legal” is between quotes, because of the grey area.

Katie
5 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

I’m almost certain I know who Yacine is from Facebook groups about Doha, and he’s actually telling the truth, he’s not Qatari.

Katie

Bajn
Bajn
5 years ago
Reply to  Katie

He???

Katie
5 years ago
Reply to  Bajn

Yup… Yacine is a guy’s name.

Chilidog
Chilidog
5 years ago

Interesting. Thanks for your input. I have a friend that bakes incredible cakes. She bakes them for friends and we paid her to make one for our son’s birthday. Delicious cakes and artistically talented. But she doesn’t want us recommending her to too many because she’s afraid of being seen as a business and getting into legal trouble. I think she’d be interested to set up a business in another country but doesn’t want to deal with the sponsorship issue and legal red tape in Qatar. It’s too bad. She’d make a killing with her talent.

Misha
Misha
5 years ago
Reply to  Chilidog

It is a shame that Qatar is a difficult environment for small business owners (this includes Qataris as well), Kuwait on the otherhand has a prospering entrepreneurial side and one can see the difference there.

The biggest shame is that there is so much talent (like your friend you mentioned and ppl in this article) that may just want to do what they love and make a bit of money on the side. Not everyone is looking to make a full fledged business out of what they are doing and the costs of a commercial registration is definitely not worth the cost for most.

I remember seeing an article in a newspaper a couple of months back about encouraging home businesses here, I don’t remember what govt institution it was. Maybe your friend should ask around, laws are always changing and usually not well publicized when they do.

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

So that’s how Qatari Capitalism tries to suppress local businesses. You see someone making money on your land and you want a pie. “Find a Local Partner” my furry a**. Why? Are you hypocrites low on oil money? Well, yes you are. All you have are some dwindling gas reserves and some imaginary numbers, and you all are freaking out. Trying to convert all that gas into LNG and s#*t and trying to sell as much in the shortest possible time by bribing politicians around the globe to contest and deny the climate change. BTW, when it ends, what will your people do to feed themselves? At least these people know how to make soaps and sell those. What are you going to do? Go back to pearl diving and riding on camel backs? But those do not pay very well these days. Oh Bummer!

Misha
Misha
5 years ago

Poor Yacine is like the town of Pompeii, he got subjected to an unexpected eruption! (How long has your fire been bottled up?)

From Yacine’s comments on other DN articles I’m pretty sure he isn’t Qatari, I’m not sure why you just assume he is from his comment.

Also did you consider that 1) his comment was out of genuine concern for these ppl since this article puts them in the limelight widely publicizing that they didnt go through the legal channels
2) maybe he has a friend or family member who spent the time, money and frustration starting a business the legal way and feels annoyed at others who don’t.
3)at 30 riyals a soap bar it is unlikely he is jealous of the profits they will make.

I won’t assume what his views are but there can be a variety of reasons why someone makes a comment.

A lot of people have unregistered homebusinesses these days but this is the first I have read to put themselves in the limelight and essentially putting themselves at risk.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

Yes I am not Qatari but people think I am whenever I say something that looks positive for Qatar (though for my comment above it is not the case). It seems like the rule here for some is to continuously bash Qatar and locals. 🙂

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

You should read this article, how 10 mom-and-pop businesses turned into empires. You’d be surprised, McDonalds makes a killing even after pricing their ice cream cones at 1 QR (IMPOSSIBRU).

Now back to my point:
1) What are these laws you keep talking about? I come from a civilized society and I refuse to adhere to medieval dumb laws.

2) What are they going to do if I don’t follow the rules? Put me in Jail? Apart from that what else can they do? Nothing I guess. If something like that happens my embassy will get right onto it and start sending diplomatic letters here and there furiously. LOL. But my company/corp will kick some a**. We are only here to do business, not to be their puppets (as many of you are). We are at the sea, the air and the land, we essentially guard all those three fronts on behalf of the Qatari people. So tell me again, what can they do to make me follow their rules?

2) Congratulate these people. These are real heroes. Heroes don’t come from the Marvel and DC universe only, they don’t always wear capes and put on their underwear over their pants. The heroes make soaps, and other stuff, and they try to better their lives along with making the lives of other people better, ie in this case, by making them smell good. Boy o boy, Qataris can use some soap, those Bvlgari perfumes can’t overpower that stench, the stink, YUK.

3) From what I can understand, Yacine is a despicable human being, truly a loathsome entity. People like Yacine make me cringe.

Katie
5 years ago

You’re way too angry for your own good.

Katie

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Katie

Nah, I am good. Katie, thanks for worrying about my well being 🙂

BTW, on an unrelated note, you write good, and I think you are quite a great writer. But I noticed something unusual, which I will elaborate on.

While your article sizes are- well- “article” sized, LOL, I mean, ranging from 300 words upwards to the 1300ish words range, the paragraphs of those articles seemed a bit rushed, and by that, I mean, halfway through the paragraphs, the tone suddenly changes, as if you suddenly became frustrated and wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. I maybe wrong, but that is what it seemed like to me.

But hear me out, its not your fault, its always the keyboards fault (lol outsourcing the blame to a mechanical part. haha:P). Get a keyboard like Corsair Strafe RGB, and make sure you get the one with Cherry Red Silent switches. Let me explain why that is important. Mechanical switches are great, and they help boost productivity. But there are minor differences between them as well, and getting the right one to take advantage of your full potential is key here. So the Cherry MX red switches (found in most mechanical keyboards) have an actuation point at 1.9mms, and they bottom out at 4mms. On the other hand, the Cherry Red Silents have the same actuation point at 1.9mms, but they bottom out a much shorter distance of 3.7mms. this might not seem a lot, but boy, when you type on this baby, everything feels natural and faster. I always had some minor troubles using my pinkies while typing, this keyboard made me totally oblivious to that problem.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

Haha number 3 is hilarious… 🙂

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

No, its not. But I like the fact that you can extract some humor from the darkest pits of human existence. Kudos to you, your humanity is not completely lost after all. Keep working on it, maybe there is still hope for you.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

I highly recommend you go outside drink some coffee and have fun with friends. You seem to be very angry and this is not good for your health. 🙂
Also, you’d better tone down your comments or Shabina will block you. There are rules and etiquette here but you do not seem to be aware of them 🙂

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Why do you always mention Shabina when something goes south? Do you know her personally? Is she your friend? I don’t think so. Aren’t you man enough to stand up for yourself? Even under the veil of internet, do you have to hide behind a woman’s veil?

I think she- as a moderator- knows the rules very well and is highly capable of imposing them. And I also believe she doesn’t need you to telling her what or what not to do.

(N.B. Pfff, blocking? This is the internet. Moreover its disqus, you can have as many accounts as you like, stop lecturing me son)

emeralds
5 years ago

you seem to be having a bad day.

Misha
Misha
5 years ago

I am well aware of people making a killing out of a low cost product, although they will have to sell a high quantity of soap which would be quite hard in Qatar or export it which may raise the cost. My point was it is highly unlikely that someone is jealous of the money they are making right now. Sounds like they are doing this as a passion and not a money maker anyway so it doesn’t matter.

1) The laws being referred to are the commercial business laws about registering a business.

2) I don’t know what they will do. A fine or jail perhaps? Frankly I don’t care because I don’t own a business.

Your confidence in your company and embassy is quite amusing. If your crime is harsh enough both can’t do anything for you here.
Perhaps you better stay on the rig, it doesn’t seem like you are “civil” enough for any society.

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

I am glad that I amused you a little 🙂 Its not diplomatic immunity per se, but its pretty damn close. You overestimate Qatar’s ability, and underestimate the expats value here. I don’t blame you for it.

But to a more important note, Qatar takes on the capitalism model, that’s why the companies are owned by a local, but the truth is, they like capitalism only if its benefiting them, which is ironic in itself.

But for this, this one is for you t(‘.’t) I hope you find “me double-flipping you” via emojis amusing too.

Misha
Misha
5 years ago

Lol aww a gift, how kind of you. You can now troll on and spread your racist comments on other articles taking comfort in the knowledge that I will always treasure your emoji.

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

Gee thanks. Well done, you are an expert in playing the victim card by calling people racist who make you uncomfortable. But to be honest, I do not give a damn about being PC, as a result:
comment image

Osama Alassiry AlMaadeed

Thank you. Are you basically saying that Qataris are uncivilized and medieval? Do you refuse to adhere to the laws of the country?

You are also personally attacking Yacine, for no good reason. You simply have a disagreement in opinion.

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago

1) Apparently, I am saying that. That makes me a racist and Its real bad, I need to work hard to fix that.

2) I refuse to adhere by dumb laws, no matter what or where the country is.

3) This Yacine person is the very epitome of all that is evil. “The dog bit you, don’t bite the dog back, because you are human”. Well, from multiple comments Yacine wrote in the past suggests that I am not a human being (or we expats for the very matter), essentially rendering that very saying moot. He attacks poeple viciously here and about, and he never listens to reason (unlike you). I am sorry to you and towards the broader DN population for exposing you people to such uncivilized conducts, but I am not sorry to Yacine.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

I do not remember I have attacked you before. It is actually the first time I speak to you on DN. And you are not a regular here as far as I know.
Anyway, I like your attacks and they make me laugh. I do not care about anonymous internet insults and yours are crazy and funny so you can keep them coming. Eventually I am here for the fun not for intellectual debates 😛 😀

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Its my bad I did not realize early enough that you were just a mere troll until you pointed it right here. Although you might consider joining in on the intellectual aspects of the discussion itself. That’ll make everyone’s time here worthwhile. Its not all fun and games.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

I can see it was highly intellectual of you to call me despicable from the first comment. If that is the kind of debates you like then I am not the right person to debate with 😀 😀

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

I like to say it like it is. Read, try to comprehend and later ponder upon the meaning of the quote below. I will leave you to it. TC.

“On those days when we’re not ready to stop being offended, not ready to forgive, still determined to dish out the silent treatment, what we’re actually saying is, “Thanks, but I don’t want to become more like the Savior today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today.” Perhaps those are the times when we need to pray the hardest, the times it becomes clear that a change in behavior is not enough–that we must have a change in nature.”
― Sheri Dew

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

Wow! It sounds like you are very pi**ed and you hate Qatar so much! Are you still here by the way? 🙂
But just to let you know, I am not Qatari and my comment was not meant to say that these people should find a local sponsor or end up in jail. I am just surprised that they were able to do what they did fairly easily. And now with the attention this article will bring them, they might get in trouble. It would be good by the way if Shabina clarifies this point to everyone.

Osama Alassiry AlMaadeed

LOL.

Asinine Thinker
Asinine Thinker
5 years ago

I like you man, I do not know you, but from your comments, I know you are a voice of reason. Mr. AlMaadeed, people like you should represent Qatar in the World’s stage. Salute.

I am glad that I made you laugh out loud, although that can cause an awkward moment if you are in the office right now. Laughing out loud aswell.

Katie
5 years ago

Good for them! A friend of mine quit her job in Dubai last year and followed her dream of setting up a company that focuses on the raw and vegan markets. It was a big risk but it’s thriving. I admire people who take the time to do something different.

MIMH
MIMH
5 years ago

There is no mention of the Qatari sponsor and why they decided this was sold business to invest in. I’d be interested to know how they split the profit as well and how provides the capital. It would be an interesting model for the rest of us to learn from

Curiosity Killed the Cat
Curiosity Killed the Cat
5 years ago

Wow I’m surprised by our most famous commentators and their Gestapo “show us your papers” line of questioning. You have been in Qatar too long, the system has made foot soldiers out of you. The same story in Sydney or London wouldn’t have people demanding Tax File Numbers, NIN or evidence of tax arrangements for the last 5 years. Calm down boys, go to any of the craft markets at the universities and you will see plenty of expat little old ladies knitting baby booties for 5 riyals and shock horror they don’t have a Qatari sponsor, business and capital plans, annual registered board meetings or a PO box. Relax, the authorities have it hand, you can go back to your day jobs.

Student
Student
5 years ago

All coming from a good place it seems. The general sentiment seems to be that they are onto something and it would be a shame if it came to an end.

The Reporter
The Reporter
5 years ago

Well done. I really hope they clean up 🙂

SokhnaFan2010
SokhnaFan2010
5 years ago

If they use it on their dog in the picture then it REALLY works a treat………………….note to PAWS.

MarkDoha
MarkDoha
5 years ago

The branding is great, love the high quality artisanal feel. There’s very little that’s ‘Made in Qatar’ and although this may be a micro venture, it’s a small step in the right direction. I wish them all the best.

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