As part of our series My life in crafts, we’re interviewing friends and colleagues of The Crafty Kit Company to learn about their lives and love of crafts. This week we’re speaking to Sara McCarter, an artist and soap maker, and founder of independent East Lothian business Castaway Scotland! Based in North Berwick, Castaway Scotland produces all-natural, plastic-free soaps, inspired by the beautiful Scottish coast. Read on to discover how Sara first began making soaps, and how she has turned her passion for it into a full-time business.
Have you always lived in Scotland, and what brought you to East Lothian?
I was born in the Middle East, and after living in Belgium, and then London, I moved to Scotland with my family in 2006. We came up to North Berwick for my youngest son’s christening, as my in-laws live here, and we just didn’t want to leave! We had begun to find life in London a little chaotic, and we decided to sell our house and move here. My eldest son was one year old then, and had developed eczema, and chronic ear infections. I’m not sure if it’s the sea, the fresh air, or the space here, but he quickly became so much better. Fifteen years later we’re still in love with East Lothian, and have no regrets!
What do you love about living here?
It’s just so beautiful, all year round - in fact I think that I prefer the beach in winter, when we often have it to ourselves! I also think that we have the best of both worlds in East Lothian, where we can enjoy the sea and countryside, but are also so close to Edinburgh.
How and why did you begin making your own soaps?
In 2018 we decided to spend some time living abroad, and rented out our home while we moved to St. Lucia for a few months. Natural soaps were the only ones that were available there, and we found that my son’s skin was much better while we were using them. I decided to experiment with making my own soaps when I returned home, and enrolled on a soap making course, which I loved! I was fascinated by the scents and science behind soap making, and the battle between alkali and acid in it.
How did you start Castaway Scotland?
I was making soap in my spare time outside of work, and my good friend Cath (who runs the amazing Steampunk Coffee Roasters in North Berwick), encouraged me to start selling them. I began making a coffee hand scrub soap (coffee is a natural abrasive, and it was brilliant at cleaning grime from my husband’s hands, as he’s always tinkering with engines!). I use coffee grinds from Steampunk - they’re absolutely rigorous in their roasting, and because they roast in small batches they often have a surplus of coffee that isn’t quite the right flavour to serve in their coffee shop. Rather than waste it I use it in the soap, which Cath kindly began selling in Steampunk in the spring of 2019!
I was also approached by other companies, and my products are now stocked by more than 20 lovely independent businesses, mostly in Scotland. During the lockdown of 2020, I finally had time to spend on setting up my own website, and decided to try selling directly to customers from there. It began as a hobby for me, and I had no expectations at all, but I was absolutely amazed by the response I received, as people were actively looking to support independent businesses, and I’m now very lucky to be able to focus on Castaway Scotland full time.
Could you tell us a little more about your products?
I make all-natural soaps using olive oil, and no nasties! It’s also very important to me that they are completely plastic-free. We live by the sea, and my husband is a fisherman, which has really brought home to me how much of an effect plastic is having on sea life. The packaging for my soap is made from recycled (and recyclable) paper, which is all UK stock, and everything that I use in my shipping is also plastic-free, even the address labels!
Where do you find inspiration for your products, and for your gorgeous packaging?
There’s definitely a local or Scottish influence behind most of the scents in my soaps - the lavender in my Insomniac soap actually comes from our garden! I’m also inspired by the flavours that I love to use in cooking - such as lime, which you’ll find in my Wake Up soap.
I also design the packaging (I studied art, but had become rusty at drawing, and recently decided to take it up again), which is mostly inspired by Scottish sea beasties! My husband comes across some amazing creatures in his work, and will often take amazing photos of them, or even bring them home!
Do you have a favourite product?
Oo that is such a difficult question! If I had to choose, it would be my Selkie Smooth soap, which is made with honey and oats, and designed to help dry skin. It’s inspired by the Scottish mythical creatures, which I was introduced to by the amazing Ali of AliMac Candles, when I worked with her on a soap and scented candle combination during lockdown. When you hear stories about Selkies, they often focus on the female of the species, but I thought it would be fun to turn that around, and my design features a handsome male Selkie!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Knitting! I was taught by my grandmother years ago, and took it up again when I moved to Scotland, to keep me busy during the long, cosy winters. I also joined a local knitting group, which was a wonderful way to meet people - knitters are the loveliest people! I love the fact that you can take a piece of string and two sticks, and create something amazing with it - but I have to admit that I am the world’s slowest knitter…
You can purchase Castaway Scotland’s soaps, and prints of Sara’s designs on her website here. You can also see her original work in an installation at the recently opened St. James Quarter, Edinburgh.
Enjoying our blog posts? Join our mailing list to receive every new post straight to your inbox!