Soap Brand Clover Fields Continues to Raise the Bar
Pioneering Australian soap brand Clover Fields is proof you don’t stay in business for nearly four decades without learning how to evolve. Its latest product – a shampoo bar - showcases the company’s biggest evolution yet.
“Shampoo” might not sound revolutionary, until you meet Clover Fields’ latest execution. Forget foaming liquid in plastic bottles – Shampoo with a Purpose is a solid shampoo bar and soap that not only does away with the need for conditioner, it saves six plastic bottles from polluting the environment.
The final product is the result of 18 months’ research and development, more than a few broken bits of machinery, the expertise of a formulating chemist and a lot of money. “But we nailed it in the end,” says Clover Fields’ founder and director, Elizabeth Valek.
It’s not the first time Elizabeth has tried to make a shampoo bar. That took place back in the mid 1980s, when Clover Fields was about three years old. “I made it as part of a men’s line, but it wasn’t popular and to be honest, it wasn’t the best product either, due to a lack of ingredients and technology back then.”
Elizabeth was inspired to give it another go when her 23-year-old daughter Geneva put in a special request. “Geneva and her friends are passionate about eliminating plastic from their lifestyles and had brought some shampoo bars online that were either expensive or pretty inferior quality. So, I said I’d make them a lab quantity just for their use and it was Geneva who said, ‘No Mum, go the whole hog and make it so you can sell it’.” So, with Geneva also joining the business to help, she did.
In a Lather About the Environment
Shampoo with a Purpose isn’t Clover Fields’ first attempt at creating a product with an environmentally friendly focus. It was foremost in Elizabeth’s mind when she first made soap in the early 1980s, founding the business almost by accident after she had badly broken her leg. She needed something to do after putting her nursing career on hold to recover.
“I’d studied chemistry as part of my nursing qualification, so I knew what went into making bath salts and soaps, and started making them for friends and family from my home in NSW’s Blue Mountains to keep myself occupied. Gradually I began selling my soaps on a small scale to local shops, and after doing my costings, I realised I could make a business out of it.”
From the very beginning, Elizabeth was determined to make natural soaps. “Growing up on a property, I was always mindful that whatever we put down the drain ended up in our dam, which was a water supply for our land and for the wildlife that lived on it. Doing away with as many chemicals and unsustainable ingredients as possible just made sense to me.”
Clover Fields was the first company in Australia to replace animal tallow-based soaps with soaps made with a pure vegetable base. From the start, its soaps have been sold unwrapped to save on unnecessary packaging. That ethos has progressed to using recyclable and compostable packaging for orders and constantly researching and replacing ingredients with even more sustainable ones.
“Our current mission is to source a sticky tape that’s environmentally friendly, yet still cost and purpose effective,” says Elizabeth.
Flourish or Flounder
After 36 years in business with Clover Fields, Elizabeth has experienced her fair share of feasts and famines. “I took a pretty big gamble in 1983 when I launched the business as a 23-year-old with a $500,000 loan and a rented factory in Penrith. And there was a time when I thought my parents would lose their house.”
She’s also stared down reports saying bar soap would be completely consumed by the liquid variety within two years, only to have things do a complete turn. Bar soaps are now growing in sales year on year, thanks to consumers’ environmental awakening.
Regardless of what you can and can’t control in your chosen field, Elizabeth has the following advice:
- Stay true to your vision. “And stay passionate about it – don’t let people tell you it won’t work if you know otherwise. I’m occasionally still asked to put preservatives in our soaps, or questioned why we don’t, even now. I know it’s an unnecessary ingredient, so continue to refuse to do it.”
- Keep putting yourself out there. “Pursuing exposure is critical. Even for us, as Australia’s oldest family-owned soap manufacturer, attending trade shows such as Naturally Good remains a key part of our marketing and promotion strategy. As well as the opportunity to put our products in front of buyers, it’s a chance to get instant feedback about new lines.”
- Evolve. “While I’m incredibly proud that, as soap makers, bar soap continues to be our biggest seller, we have at least 15 different product lines, everything from bubble bath to body butter and of course, our shampoo bar. Once you’ve mastered one thing, look to the next. Keep going and growing.”