by Nadia Michel
It’s been 18 years since Hana Debs Akkari launched Senteurs d’Orient’s divine collection of soaps, but the company’s founding principals are as fresh as ever. The bourgeoning brand was built on a reputation of making soaps the traditional way, using the finest natural ingredients and essential oils and fragrances, distilled by master perfumers in Grasse (the Southern French town dubbed the Silicon Valley of scent).
“The natural product market keeps on growing and our products are formulated without nasty ingredients like silicones, parabens, sulfates or EDTA,” says Sarah Akkari, the CEO of the company’s US subsidiary, and also the founder’s daughter.
Add to that the fact that the Beirut-based company is female-founded-and-led (in 2011, they even signed a partnership agreement with the United Nations Development Programme in Lebanon to launch an initiative that aims to educate and empower women) and Senteurs d’Orient is just about as in synch with the current zeitgeist as it gets.
“Quite a lot changed since I joined Senteurs d’Orient. But one thing that did not change and remains untouched is the initial product formula,” says Sarah.
That formula – which involves hand-mixing the ingredients and air-drying the soap for about ten days – took two years to develop, according to Hana. “We wanted to find the perfect foam without any synthetic foaming agents, one that feels indulgent and luxurious on the skin.”
Nonetheless, the company’s traditional product was bolstered by Sarah (who was formerly at L’Oreal) with a new marketing strategy that includes a broader range of products, new packaging and digital marketing. As a result, Senteurs d’Orient has gained a more global customer base, international press coverage and is now stocked by Net-a-Porter among other prominent retailers, where its story and authentic quality resonate with an increasingly socially conscious consumer.
“They fell in love with the Individual Soap Leaf idea, a soap made for single-use that is ideal for guests or traveling. They had never seen a product like this on the market,” Sarah explains of the e-commerce deal.
There’s also a renewed interest in bar soap due to the fact that it does not require heavy, environmentally unfriendly plastic packaging like liquid products, and the brand’s Hammam Soaps on a Rope make an especially practical alternative to shower gel. “I can hang it in my closet for my clothes to smell nice, or hang it in my shower handle for the entire bathroom to smell like orange blossom,” says Sarah.
“Our soaps are inspired by the bathing rituals of the Orient, which people usually perceive as a beauty sanctuary with very sensual scents and textures. It makes them travel and escape,” she adds.
It all makes perfect scents.