Beauty follows function: in search of a beautiful, functional and sustainable soap dish
Ever since I started my “plastic free” journey, I’ve been buying bars of soap instead of liquid lotions. With this ensued my search for functional soap dishes – a seemingly endless undertaking since I could not find one that did not end in a premature demise of mushy soap. My search finally ended when I came across the beautiful soap dishes by OBA studios. A beautiful object that moves beyond the realm of pure aesthetics, thanks to the addition of two paramount elements; function and sustainability.
I met up with the creators of OBA studios to share stories of entrepreneurship, design and creativity. In their sunny kitchen, sitting down under the giant leaves of a beautiful Monstera deliciosa, founders Birgit Ostermeier and Dr. Barbara Jenner told me about their endeavours to make every day objects better and to do it in a way that is good for people as well as the planet.
Tell us a little about OBA Studio. How dit it all start?
Barbara: “It all started in Famalicao, a very small village in Portugal, where we spent a summer together. In the middle of nowhere we decided to start a business together. Our vision wasn’t completely clear at the beginning but we wanted to sell everyday objects that are simply better in terms of function, aesthetics and sustainability. However at that point we didn’t have a clue how to do that.”
Where did the idea for your soap dish originate from and what was your process in going from concept to final product?
Barbara: “At that time I was working a lot with ceramics. I love soaps but had to see them drowning and finally dissolving in their own liquid almost every two weeks. At one point I got tired of watching that misery in my bathroom and tried to come up with something better. The first shape was a very simple zig zag shape, but surprisingly it seemed to work! After firing (in the kiln) I took a photo and send it to Birgit – it wasn’t the perfect shape at the beginning, but it was already working so much better then what I had before. We decided to make it our first product, and started testing and improving it. Six months later we had our first product online.”
How long did it take to bring your product to the market and what were your biggest obstacles?
Barbara: “We decided to start a business during the summer of 2017, but we really started making plans end of 2017 and officially became a GbR in June 2018. From the first idea to the ready to sell product online it took almost a year.”
What I love about the soap dish is that it solves two problems. It’s not only beautiful but effectively keeps your soap from becoming soggy. How do you marry aesthetics with functionality?
Barbara: “We are both very critical observers. And we challenged ourselves to make the very best.”
Birgit: “Both coming from the art scene and having a trained eye for form and beauty is a great help. It is also neccessary to be much better than what is already out there. You find more than 10.000 different soap dishes that are sold online. We fortunately managed to add value not only in design and functionality, but also in regards to a fair and regional production.”
Building a business has its challenges and even though it’s highly rewarding, it’s not always easy. How do you stay positive and motivated?
Barbara: “One thing is probably just to trust that it will work. It’s something you own, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a mistake you made for yourself and not for others.”
Birgit: “We manage to laugh a lot with each other and that helps me a lot to keep going. But also the success we already have online. We have a good culture of discussion which helped us to develop a company we both love and to keep going step by step.”
“It is something you own, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a mistake you made for yourself and not for others.”
Going from concept to final product or actioning on an idea and bringing it to life is really tough. What advice can you give someone that has an idea – but isn’t sure where to start in making it a reality?
Barbara: “One huge thing is research, or to simply look at the market and find out if there is already something similar out there. If there is, then it’s interesting to find out why it works or why it doesn’t. For our soap dish we’ve asked a lot of friends to test it and give us feedback, which was very helpful.”
The future of our planet is a hot topic right now and rightfully so. What do you think businesses can do to take positive steps at curbing climate change?
Barbara: “Most of all I think its important to be aware of this topic and to try to find better solutions. For small businesses like ours it’s not easy but we try to keep questioning production processes. Our decision to produce in Germany was based on exactly this topic.”
Birgit: “There are also a lot of aware customers out there, who we take very seriously. The results of the European selection show that a majority cares to prevent climate change. I believe that businesses should take this result very seriously and be motivated to go in the right direction. You can not transform a company into a climate friendly business in one day, but to set yourself the aim to, for example, produce CO2 neutral in 10 years will lead to different management decisions.”
As a company with a sustainability mindset – what would you say are the toughest obstacles to combat. Any ideas on how one can tackle or solve it?
Barbara: “Right now we are struggling with the packaging. It is very thin and doesn’t provide enough protection for shipping. Most of the refunds are shipping damages. Right now we have a bubble plastic cover on top of our cardboard packaging, which isn’t ideal, but we already found a solution and our workshop is on it!”
Birgit: “I think it is important to see the sustainability of a product as an ongoing process. At the moment we can be proud of what we reached in regards of producing with a socially engaged company in Brandenburg and that our product makes soap more durable than common soap dishes. After the packaging we will take a closer look at yet unsolved questions like recycling or things like environmentally friendly stickers.”
What would you say are the characteristics of a good team or business partner and what do you think are important things to consider when choosing an accomplice?
Barbara: “I think it’s good if you can find different skills and interests in a team, and then of course a huge shared interest in the same topic. One of the most important things is trust though, and I’m extremely lucky to have found such an amazing business partner.”
Birgit: “So am I! Besides trust I see humor, persistence and understanding each others needs as important prerequisites for a good business partnership.”
What are your future plans for OBA Studios? Which products can we look forward to seeing?
Barbara: “Currently we are working on different materials for the soap dish such as porcelain, terrazzo and wood. We’ve also started working on other products, one of them is an atmospheric wall light and the other one a self watering planter for all the plant lovers out there who aren’t blessed with a green thumb or simply want to go on vacation without worrying about their plants too much.”
Finally, name 5 of your favourite spots in Berlin for:
Breakfast or coffee: Barbara: “Kaffeebar, Tischendorf or Latodolce.” Birgit: “Kaffee Mitte, Café Krone.”
Spending a hot summers day: Barbara – “At a lake or in Italy.” Birgit – “Favourite Lakes are Liepnitzsee or Schlachtensee.”
Spending a cold winters day: Barbara – “At home or in the sauna.” Birgit – “My perfect choice is the Vabali Berlin.”
Finding inspiration: Barbara – “On instagram and pinterest, books, magazines and museums.” Birgit – “By walking in nature and in restaurants and hotels that are managed with love and perfection.”
A night out with friends: Barbara – “Ideally dancing, but mostly we just end up in a bar” Birgit – “Art openings, fancy restaurants and R&B dancing.”
The soap dishes are produced in Brandenberg, Germany. You can find more details about their products on the OBA studio’s website or buy them through their amazon store. Don’t forget to follow them on instagram to see what they are up to next!
Text & images © Barbara Cilliers