Mera McGrew

Founder, Soapply

The simple act of washing your hands with non-toxic soap
and clean water can save your life. In fact, you may be saving your life several times a day. But there are millions of people around the world who don’t have access to either of these. The population most effected is children. 1.4 million children under the age of five die each year from diarrheal or respiratory illnesses or other such diseases that could have been prevented by washing their hands. When Soapply founder Mera McGrew was living in Africa she saw the impact the lack of access to safe soap and water had on the population there. When she returned to the States she immediately set about establishing a company that would provide clean, luxurious soap for those who could afford it and would funnel part of the profits into clean, safe soap and water for those who couldn’t. The results have been inspiring. Who knew washing your own hands could help so many others?

How did you come up with the name of your company?

The name Soapply is a play on the word supply. It’s like supply, but with soap—Soap-ply. We supply consumers with the best soap money can buy. Every purchase helps us give our local partners support that funds water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) solutions to help improve and save lives around the world.

You are quoted in the press saying, “Soap saves lives.” Can you talk about the health benefits of hand-washing and how you chose soap as your medium for humanitarian action?

I first had the idea to start Soapply when I was living and working in Africa. With my work, I traveled throughout East Africa and I saw communities struggling with disease. When people think about preventing diseases in sub-Saharan Africa (and elsewhere), they often think about access to medical care. And while this is absolutely vital, what struck me was that there was an even bigger access problem that could do just as much good, maybe even more. Something simple, cost-effective and that I could tackle immediately (and without being a doctor)—soap!

Many people don’t realize that 1.4 million children under the age of 5 continue to die every year because of diseases that could be prevented by the simple act of hand-washing. The good news is there is a solution: access to hand-washing facilities and soap along with education around when, where, and how to wash up.

But where do we start? To me, it was crystal clear.

We have a soap problem right in the US, a place where we take soap for granted. Soap cleans our bodies, so it must be safe right? Wrong! When I was looking into starting Soapply, over 2,100 soap products on store shelves contained ingredients with questionable health or safety concerns.

My idea was simple. Get soap “on” the hands that need it most around the world by doing exactly the same thing here with the best soap people could buy. We’re obsessive about what’s in our soap as we use food-grade organic oils. We’re also obsessed with how it’s packaged, so we bottle our soap in recycled glass that can be refilled and we print directly on the label to reduce packaging and waste.

Many of us take access to resources such as soap and water for granted. What does global accessibility to hand-washing look like?

Soapply makes improving and saving lives as simple as washing your hands! Every 8oz. of Soapply soap sold is tied to a $1 donation that helps fund water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) initiatives. While it’s easy for us to wash our hands without giving it a single thought, the truth is that hand-washing is still a luxury that is out of reach in many corners of the world.

For the young boys and girls attending Teqa primary school—one of the schools in rural Ethiopia that recently received support from Soapply—having a place to wash their hands means a lot more than clean hands. When their hands stay clean, they stay healthy, and when they stay healthy, they stay in school. By staying in school, they have greater opportunities and greater equality over time. Every child deserves that.

To us, every wash counts.

Why soap? How is Soapply better?

Everyone needs soap! You use soap every day, multiple times a day, and you’re putting it directly on your skin—your largest organ.

Those of us with sensitive skin don’t have a choice when it comes to thinking about what we’re putting on our bodies. We need great soap! I grew up with eczema and soap was an irritant for me. I know from personal experience that the heavily fragranced soaps that sit on most guest bathroom sinks and the iridescent soap found in public restrooms can cause folks with sensitive skin to itch, break out in a rash or just generally irritate them to a point where they’ll avoid using it all together.

Also, my mom is a cancer survivor. Any family that’s been through that or is going through it knows that there are a number of things that patients need to avoid. One of the things to be careful of is soap. Interesting, right? It’s because many “soaps” you find on store shelves are actually detergents, and they can be extremely harsh on your skin. If you’re going through chemo, your immune system is under stress and people’s skin often becomes incredibly sensitive, which could result in bad rashes and itching. Fragrances are also an issue. For my mom, they made her extremely nauseous. She had a weak immune system, but needed soap more than ever to protect her from infection and diseases.

When I decided to start Soapply, I was determined to sell a product that everyone could actually use—mild enough for people with sensitive skin like me, and individuals going through chemo like my mom. I also wanted something effective enough to make everyone from an ER nurse to an A-list Hollywood celebrity prefer to lather up using it (by the way, both examples are real Soapply customers).

Today, Soapply is crafted in Middlebury, VT using a 300-year-old method and recipe updated to incorporate food-grade organic oils.

Change can be hard. How do you think about change?

Changing the world is intimidating; changing your soap is easy. Soapply is redefining luxury with a product you use every day.

To us, luxury is getting to make wiser choices about the items we need to buy and it doesn’t get much more essential than soap. Seek exceptional quality, radical transparency, obsessive sustainability, ethical manufacturing, and a company that matches your values.

We believe in people. We believe that consumers want to make choices that are healthier for themselves and those they love. We believe that individuals want to consume in ways that don’t harm the environment. We know that it only takes one person to change the course of history, but people need to be given the choice and the opportunity.

Where can you purchase?

Go to www.soapplybox.com to purchase subscriptions and once-off options. You can also purchase Soapply at Credo Beauty, West Elm, FEED, and Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man.

Interested in purchasing the limited edition artist series? Soapply has hand-picked six artists from around the world that are partnering with them and creating custom bottles that celebrate the intersection of art, function, and impact. You can purchase the artist series exclusively through Soapply (https://www.soapplybox.com/shop/product/1790415064_limited-edition-artist-series). When you purchase the 6-part series, you’ll get the carefully-designed bottle by Oliver Jeffers, New York Times bestseller and internationally known artist.