Meet the Maker: Janni Bars
Janni Bar's founder Janni Sjöstrand is originally from Sweden and makes all her soaps from her home in Kildare. Inspired to reduce plastic waste Janni started making her own bars with minimal and plastic-free packing and using all natural ingredients. Janni is a big believer that natural doesn’t have to mean boring and we love how she brings nature's beauty to life in all of her products using natural colours, flowers, scents and clays.
We chatted to Janni to hear about her story so far...
Tell us a little bit about you..
As I write this, this week is the 20 year anniversary of when I first visited Ireland. It was 2001, it was supposed to be a spring holiday, but got postponed due to Foot and mouth disease, so my mother and I went in September instead. This meant we were sitting in the lounge of Annaharvey Farm, the Equestrian centre where we were on holiday, when we were told about the attack on the twin towers. The flight home was quite scary as everyone was very on edge.
From that first week in Ireland at 16 years old, I decided that I would leave Sweden and the city of Malmö, a truly beautiful place, and trade it for Ireland, I just had to go home and finish school first. Said and done, I moved over the first time in 2003 and the second and last time in 2010. I love living in Ireland and just can't see myself anywhere else.
What did you do before creating your business?
I did and still am very involved in horses, I have had to surrender more and more time to Janni Bars, but I still buy/sell and breed horses as well as compete a little bit myself.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I am so lucky that both my passions are my work, and I tend to work a lot. If I'm not doing soap, I'm doing something with the horses, but I am doubly lucky that being on horse-back is also where I recharge. It is my church.
And then of course my little girl gets the rest of my time, and we like a lot of the same things, she is very into animals, music and exploring, so we do that together. My very patient friends also get to see me on some rare occasions.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Being self-employed definitely has its challenges, but it can be equally rewarding. I love making my own schedule, calling the shots and setting the standard. But mostly I love the difference I can make for people. You wouldn't think shampoo changes peoples lives, and maybe it doesn't but it can still make things better.
I’ll never forget getting a message from a lady that previously could only use raw coconut butter to cleanse herself, she never felt clean and the drain wasn't feeling great either, until she found Janni Bars which worked for her. Also I know others that turned to Janni Bars when facing or recovering from cancer, being able to get those skin-kind products and yet plastic free, it might help a little on the way, and I can't really put into words how good that makes me feel.
What sustainable lifestyle changes have worked for you?
I don't know if it's the one that worked the best, but it's the one I work on the most, consuming less. You can recycle all you want, but reducing consumption has to come first. Shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes, dish brushes, cleaning products are all easy enough swaps. But, buying less is hard in this consumer society where you are constantly being told you're not good enough unless you have all these things, so I work the most on my mindset of being happy with what I have.
Can you tell us a little about how you create and source your products?
Making traditionally liquid products solid can be a challenge for sure, but if I see the need for it, I will try and do it. Solid soap has been around for a long long time, made first by accident before man understood the science behind it. Now we know how lye works and how we can create soap bars using very exact measurements and different oils getting the result that we want.
For a more moisturising soap I can have a higher superfat level and for a more cleansing soap I lower it, it's a little like baking, it's science and it's down to the grams. For the designs and effects I look to other soap makers, what is available ingredients wise, and what fits into my range of course.
For my other products things can be a little trickier, creating the shampoo and conditioner bars have been a lot of trial and error, I can draw on what other companies do, but it's not this ancient formula that was readily available, finally though I think I have a few good recipes that are functional and unique.
What’s your favourite product from your range and why?
Salt Soap! It is one I love to hate as it is tricky to make and tricky to store as the salt picks up moisture in the air, but it is so worth it. The salt gives an exfoliation that is surprisingly kind and not harsh at all, and the lather on this one is amazing. I chose Pink Himalayan salt for this one because it is packed with minerals and the Lavender and Lemon essential oils both smell well and do well! It is good for anything from acne to removing fake tan or peeling skin or prepping skin for new treatments, I really could go on about it forever!
What’s your favourite ingredient and why?
I work with a lot of lovely things, it really is a pleasure measuring up Cocoa butter, Olive oil, Argan oil and the likes, they are pure natural goodness.
The beauty of the essential oils is that I like different ones for different moods. Orange can be so uplifting, lavender is so calming but my favorite has to be Cardamom and especially in the mixture of the Rose + Cardamom Deodorant.
Finally though if I have to choose a favorite ingredient that is a little special to Janni Bars it would be the Irish Heather Honey, sourced from a local beekeeper that collects the honey from the foot of the Dublin mountains. The honey in consistency is very different to other honeys, it is much darker and more solid and research has shown it is higher in antioxidants than imported Manuka honey. It really is a natural skin saver that doesn’t get more local, and my customers love it too in the Honey Balm, Honey Glow Face Balm and Milk and Honey Soap!
Which is your most popular product and why do you think that is?
It is a close call between The Milk and Honey Soap Bar and the Oat Silk Conditioner. I didn't think the Milk and Honey bar would go down as well as it does, I mean, it's not vegan friendly and it's not scented, and I was always told people will go for scented. But Milk and Honey has something else. It has a mildness and a kindness to skin that is incomparable, it is so suitable for hands, body, face, kids and even babies, so people buy it, and come back for more.
The Oat Silk Conditioner on the other hand is vegan friendly, and I think people find it very easy to use, gives great results on any hair type and lasts for a really, really long time.
What products would you always have on your shelf (other than your own of course!) ?
I do have a few UpCircle products on the go at the moment, they are gorgeous products with a great background.
(UpCircle are a skincare company who use ingredients left over from the food industry that would otherwise go to waste. They give these ingredients, like coffee grinds and apricot stones a second life in their products.)
What have been your biggest challenges and achievements so far?
I am still the sole employee of Janni Bars after three years, and it can get lonely. I think it would be an advantage to have had more people working with me but with my setup it just has not been possible yet. Luckily I still have plenty of people around me that I can toss ideas around with and ask for advice.
In 2019, only a year into business I got to negotiate and sign a distributing contract for the hospitality industry, replacing the small single use bottles in the hotel rooms with my Janni’s Minis solid bars. It could be seen as a failure, as there is to date only one order has been placed. COVID had such a negative impact on the hotel industry, it will take some time before they recover.
But I choose to see it as something positive, the things I learnt personally from being in this professional environment, negotiating terms and doing presentations are priceless, and at the end of the day I delivered 17,400 bars in one order, on time! Challenging the norms of hotel stays and giving options to hotels looking for change is still a big achievement in my eyes, it's not the most profitable part of my business but that's not the reason I set this thing up anyway.
If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business - what would you say?
What I hope I learned from ten years in business, and what I try to bring into Janni Bars is to be more aware of the financials. It's not the most fun part, of course. Making soap (or riding horses) is more fun than accounting, but it is so important if you're going to run a business. You need to have enough cash flow, plan ahead, and foresee the unforeseeable.
So I would say to people starting out, ‘Look at your figures’, it's boring and making huge money might not be the reason you are starting your business. For me the force behind my business it not to make millions to keep in the bank, but I still have bills to pay, there is no way getting around that, so as great as it is to have a creative interest and wanting to share it with others you still have to make sure there is a solid business and financial plan to back it if you want to start a business, and if not of course it can still be a fun hobby!
Also for a creative business, you have to have an angle. Especially in Ireland the market is too small to be a copy of others, you have to be prepared to put your own identity into it, it might be twice the effort, but also twice the reward.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I would be afraid to go back in time and give myself advice, in case it ended up changing my future! I know I made mistakes and I see now I could have taken a lot shorter routes sometimes, but I love where I am at the moment and I suppose I needed to make mistakes to get here as well.
On the other hand I have a lot of teenagers around me. I love that about horses, it gathers people from all ages, and I have gotten the pleasure of being there for several teenage girls as they struggle to find themselves and I get to watch them grow into competent young ladies. Horses are great that way (as well), it gives people space, peace of mind, time to reflect and grow. Back to the question and what I probably tell these girls the most is; it will work out for you. Find what you love, what you are good at, and things will work out for you too.
Who is the person, dead or alive, that you’d most like to have coffee and a conversation with?
Ohh this could be a long list and I would probably give a different answer every day depending on mood, but today I'll go with John Lennon, I've just always been a big fan.
What are your making rituals? Podcast on and several batches at once when possible
Where is your happy place? On horseback
Texting or talking? Talking
What are you reading? Meeting the other crowd - Edward Lenihan
What is your most-used emoji? Unicorn
Night owl or early bird? Early Bird
Check out Janni's range of natural soaps and skincare products.