Around New York, you’re going to begin seeing new soap bottles cropping up. Yellow-tinged liquid fills the see-through glass, while printed lettering declares, “This is more than soap.” Underneath, you’ll see the brand name: Soapply. Entrepreneur Mera McGrew is at the helm of this infiltration via cleansing products. Her natural, safe soap benefits both its users and a far-flung community—with each purchase, she’s donating funds to help sanitary efforts in Tigray, Ethiopia. Mera explained more about the importance of good, clean soap (which is shocking rare!) and how she’s helping handwashing efforts worldwide.
Name three facts more people should know about soap.
Your soap isn’t necessarily safe! Did you know that 19 unsafe ingredients commonly used in soap were banned by the FDA last year — ingredients like Triclosan, which may interfere with normal development and function in humans — but that soap products containing those ingredients are allowed to remain on store shelves for sale today? Your skin is your largest organ. Up to 60% of what you lather up with can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. Many companies won’t tell you what’s in their products. We think you have a right to know what you’re putting in and on your body and we’re committed to making sure it’s safe.
Soap can save lives. Not many people realize that 1.7 million children under the age of five continue to die every year from diseases that could be prevented through the simple act of handwashing with soap. Handwashing with soap means so much more that clean hands — it means better health and nutrition, more time in school, less inequality due to time, and more opportunities.
We can no longer ignore the environmental impact of liquid hand soap. In 2016 alone, 289.92 million* Americans used liquid hand soap. We can no longer ignore the environmental impact of plastic waste from soap. I made a choice to bottle our liquid soap in recycled glass bottles from the beginning. This may seem like a small action, but as we continue to grow it has the opportunity to make a huge difference in limiting the amount of plastic packaging entering our fragile marine ecosystems.
You started Soapply after you witnessed water, sanitation. and hygiene problems in Africa. Describe what you saw and learned there first-hand, and how that experience led you to launch Soapply.
For me, it’s personal. Living and working in Africa, I saw the reality of preventable child mortality. I also saw the incredible difference that sustainable investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) could have on an individual, community, and region.
Working on the ground, I quickly became aware that even the best-executed WASH programs and projects had a gap when it came to handwashing. Soap was often not available at schools and/or healthcare facilities, handwashing stations were non-existent or non-functioning, and there was a lack of education around when and how to properly wash. Kids were getting sick in front of me and they didn’t need to be.
The solution was so simple. But, I’m a realist—I know that my family and friends are good people and want to help, but are also inundated with causes, problems, and initiatives all the time. Even with the most compelling statistics, the best story, and the most powerful proof of impact I realized it was unlikely I could convince everyone in my life to divert their annual giving to water, sanitation, and hygiene, or even get them to skip their morning coffee to fund product and service solutions to make handwashing possible around the globe.
I started Soapply knowing that everyone needs soap. The initial idea for Soapply was simple: sell soap that could help get soap in the hands that need it. It was only when I got back to the US and began exploring the opportunity to fund this essential problem with an essential good, like soap, that the mission of Soapply expanded to ensure we offer better, safer soap to our conscious consumers here in the US.
How did you decide to focus your global impact efforts on Tigray, Ethiopia?
For every Soapply product you buy, we make a cash donation that funds up to $10 worth of impact that helps make handwashing with soap possible, one region at a time. We take an area approach and are currently focusing our efforts on Tigray, Ethiopia — the northern most region of Ethiopia that has the most to gain from the type of support we currently offer.
Ensuring that the impact we make is positive and lasting was extremely important to me from the beginning, which is why we developed a theory of change and multi-step impact approach. Working one area at a time allows us to take into account everything that makes one location so unique and work directly with local stakeholders to fill product and service gaps that represent local barriers to handwashing with soap.
What made New York a great place to launch your business?
Soapply sits within a unique intersection of technology, personal care products, community, and global good. New York City is a hub of everything that makes Soapply unique. Having the opportunity to build the company with the help and mentorship of folks working in everything from WASH at the United Nations to loyalty at the largest tech companies in the world has allowed me to create a company that offers a unique suite of value propositions that allow our product and brand to resonate with our consumers on a quality, mission, and basic product level.
At Soapply, we believe you should be able to stay clean without worrying about your health or safety, which is why our soap has never been made with any of the 19 ingredients recently banned or any other ingredients with questionable health or safety concerned.
If you haven’t made the switch to Soapply (what are you waiting for?!) and you’re concerned the soap you’re using may not be safe, check to see if the products you’re using make antibacterial claims. If they do, there is a pretty good chance it contains one of the banned ingredients. And in case you want to cross-reference the ingredients, here’s a full list of the recently banned chemicals:
- Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
- Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
- Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
- Poloxamer-iodine complex
- Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
- Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
- Methylbenzethonium chloride
- Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
- Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16
- Secondary amyltricresols
- Sodium oxychlorosene
- Triple dye