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Survival soaps: fighting germs and blues

ALLTAG HEROES! Are your hands all flaky and leathery yet? Maybe it's time to upgrade your hand-washing routine with something more gentle and natural, not to mention beautiful. Korean artist-entrepreneur Hanna Kang is cooking up just the thing.

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Hanna Kang comes from Seoul. Before soaps, she designed trendy restaurant menues and colouful lycra wear. (Photo by Javier Mardel.)

A soap business in Corona times almost sounds like an easy sell, but these circumstances are certainly not what Hanna Kang expected when she started crafting beautiful soaps in her kitchen last year. The 32-year-old South Korean was looking forward to the summer markets to boost her brand-new business, Binuyo (Korean for “it is soap”). She’d started selling her handmade all-natural creations at Festsaal Kreuzberg’s Designer Garden Market which is now closed until further notice, and had already paid for a stand at the Maybachufer flea market when its opening was postponed.

When I first arrived here I was so amazed to see so many people out in the streets, sitting in parks or having coffee. I wondered, don’t they have a job?

But the young woman wouldn’t let Corona stop her. She has come a long way – from Seoul to Berlin and from cultural anthropology studies to the soap-making business. Along the way, Kang also made a stop by graphic design (she’s the branding brain behind Kantstraße’s trendy Korean eatery Ngokimpak), and fashion (in 2017 she launched her own fashion brand Satorinaut – colourfully patterned leggings and lycra overalls). As a matter of fact, Binuyo is her third Berlin venture. “In this city, everyone is so creative, DIYing things they’ve never done before. It makes you want to try different things!” And that’s a bit what drew her to Berlin – this and the longing for a new life away from the weight of a “misogynistic, patriarchal Korea”, where she always felt “weird” and judged”. “Here no one cares, you can do what you like,” she says. “For the first time in my life I felt I could be the real me. I didn’t feel ‘weird’ anymore.”

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Soap by Binuyo. (Photo by Javier Mardel.)

The move also marked her departure from the stress of 12-hour days with a Korean broadcasting company. “When I first arrived here I was so amazed to see so many people out in the streets, sitting in parks or having coffee,” she says. “I wondered, don’t they have a job?” Born to a no-nonsense business dad and an origami-teaching mother, she embarked on her soap-making venture last year as a way to reconcile her inner poles: “the artist and the entrepreneur – yes, that’s what I feel like, I guess!”. Six months of intense reading, YouTube tutorials and a soap-certifying roundtrip to Korea later, Kang registered Binyo as a bona fide German Business last January. Now that flea markets are gone for who knows how long, she’s developing an online shop and hoping for her crowdfunding campaign to help her hold out through spring (and probably the summer too).

In the meantime she’ll keep cooking up her healthy, eco-friendly and joy-inducing little soap treasures. Made in Kang’s kitchen, Binuyo soaps don’t use any animal fat, but instead are based on six different oils and butters each: coconut, olive and sweet almond oil, shea and cocoa butter are combined with three to four different essential oils, from the classic lavender and citrus fruits to rosewood, cedarwood or fennel. The soaps’ bright colours all come from natural ingredients: Korean indigo, curcuma, paprika or spinach powder. On Startnext, a €10 investment will get you a small Binuyo soap and mesh bag to lather it up, plus a 10-percent discount for your next purchase. Normally, a small Binuyo soap costs €6 to €7, but we swear they really are something special and last a whole month. Or way longer if you only use them as face soaps, for which they are definitely gentle enough. And when all this is over? Kang will be back at the flea markets, but also selling in fashion boutiques, beauty shops and concept stores. And hopefully at workshops sharing her knowledge.

Find Binuyo on startnext.com