Inspirational Women – Ally Proudfoot

Ally Proudfoot is the owner and creative genius behind Bellingham Soaps, a company that produces beautiful ethical soaps and related products. I first encountered Ally when I bought some of her lovely soaps and became intrigued to know more of her story.  Ally gave up a high pressurised career in TV to enter the bucolic world of soap making. I hope she inspires and entertains you as much as she has me.

Jane: How did you get into selling soap for a living?
Ally: I had a smallholding and was persuaded by a friend to keep a pair of milking goats, I had some land that wasn’t being used and she needed to re-home them, I went to visit “Lottie and Maisie”  and was completely captivated by how lovely they were, and they arrived in the back of a pick up a week later. She taught me to milk them by hand which resulted in about 6 pints of milk twice a day…that’s a lot of milk to use up! I was looking for something to do with all that surplus milk, I searched the web and found a recipe for goats milk soap. I made a batch, loved it and got hooked on soapmaking.

What prompted the ethical stance?
I’m a bit of an old hippy at heart, I’ve always had leanings in that direction. I’ve too much of a conscience to operate in any other way! I probably could make much more money if I ran my business in a “strictly for money way” I could farm out production to China, use plastic bottles and pre printed polythene labels, cut corners on ingredients, bulk my products out with cheap filler oils and employ staff for minimum wage but it’s not what I’m about, I put my heart and soul into making my products if I was to take that away I would feel like I was left with nothing!

What is best thing about running your own business?
I can work around my family, choose my hours to suit and I don’t have a boss.

And the worst?
Paperwork and the long hours!

What were your career aspirations when you left school?
I only wanted to draw and paint so I went to art college, when I got on the course I only had the choice of four options, graphics, display, photography and fashion…I chose fashion because I’d always been into sewing and I got to draw more on that course than any of the others!

What were you doing before? What kind of career path have you followed?
I was a Costume Designer. When I left college I took a job in an office…but found it so boring! I was flicking through the local paper on my tea break and saw a job in the local theatre making costumes so I rang up straight away and got it..but the wages were low and it was a struggle, about 6 months later I saw a job in the wardrobe department of the local TV station for a much better wage, I interviewed but didn’t get it as I didn’t have enough experience but as luck would have it the person who got it didn’t stay and they rang me up to offer me some freelance work, I quit my job in the theatre and ended up working in telly for over 10 years.

When were you happiest at work?

I loved my last job but the hours nearly killed me, I’m happiest now.

What has most surprised you about running your own business?
Just how much I love it still after all these years.

What is best piece advice you were given? And if no one gave you any good advice what advice would you give?
I’m not good at giving advice….but I would say don’t take on too much too soon!

Have you encountered any overt sexism when setting up own business?
No, not at all.

What would you do differently if you were to start again?
I don’t think I could have done anything differently, I started with £50 which bought me my base and essential oils, a variety of dried herbs, spices and flower petals, some boxes to use as moulds, plastic spoons, two big pans and a stick blender! I couldn’t do that now because I found out afterwards from Trading Standards that every recipe has to be certified by a cosmetic chemist at a minimum of £150 and I had to buy a trade stamped trade scale which were nearly £500…phew! The business grew naturally as my experience and customers increased.

If you have family- How do you combine being a parent with a career? (Although bet no one asks your partner this question so feel free to ignore!)
Ha ha! Because I work from home my kids think that my time is theirs, it’s sometimes difficult to say..”I’m at work” when I’m only in the dining room on the laptop, or in the soaperie next door. Having my workshop at home means I can pop in and out during the day to get house stuff done while I’m waiting for things to heat up or cool down, it suits me fine and dandy!

How do you relax?
I go narrow boating at weekends, it’s so relaxing!

What is the secret of happiness for you?
Well it’s certainly not money…being satisfied and content is way more important.

Have you a plan/ambition for next 5 years? Want to share it?

I’m about to move into a new much bigger workshop so I  want to increase trade sales to match my new capacity. I also want increased brand awareness for my “Working with Nature” range of soaps and skincare.

If you could give you younger self some advice what would it be?
Don’t worry quite so much…it always works out, one way or another!

Do you have a book/quote/motto/advice to share with women who may be frustrated or discontented in their lives at the moment?
Blimey! I’m not that sage!  I would say…don’t beat yourself up if you find out that you can’t do it all well…you are only one person!

Ally, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me and the readers. I hope your business goes from strength to strength and is as successful as you want it to be. I have your soaps all over the house!

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Posted on April 15th, 2010 by

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