“Hyun” - schoolgirls in Tavush launch a natural soap brand
A group of schoolgirls in the village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur embark on natural soap production with the support of UNICEF and Teach For Armenia.
“Soap, just like wine, needs time to age. This might sound strange, but it is how the quality of soap improves. With time, soap becomes more delicate; it foams better, irritates the skin less, and serves longer,” explain a group of teen entrepreneurs from the village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur on the Facebook page of their startup, “Hyun” floral soap.
The village stands in Armenia’s Tavush region, and the startup is a fresh addition to the life of the local community, established by the school children of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur with support from UNICEF and Teach For Armenia Educational Foundation (TFA).
“We have so many beautiful flowers growing in our village and surrounding mountains. They wither and die quickly – some in a week, others in a month, and all their properties are lost. We talked about it with Ms. Nelly, our geography teacher, and decided that we could prolong the life of these flowers if we made soap from them. The flowers are actually very good for the skin, for instance, chamomile is dried and used for tea because of its healing properties and it can go into soap as well,”
The idea of natural soap was born during an open-air geography class, when the students were exploring the soil and plants of their native village. One of the girls remembered that her grandmother used to make face masks from marjoram, which is a typical Tavush plant, and the children decided to preserve the tradition.
They meet regularly at the house of their geography teacher, Nelly Grigoryan, to make soap together. Everyone has a task in the production: cutting the raw soap base, melting it in the microwave, separating flower heads from stems. When all that is done, the creative process begins. While the raw material is cooling down, the kids have to act quickly to add the oily extract, the colorant and the fragrance, pour the raw product into variously shaped forms, and decorate them with flowers. The “Hyun” team gets approximately eight soap bars from a kilogram of the base product.
Soap making has its secrets: which type of raw product to use for which flower, what fragrance goes well with each oil, and so on. Nerkin Karmiraghbyur’s teens learned the craft from an outside expert they invited to the village.
According to Nelly Grigoryan, project-based learning makes knowledge applicable and shows students how it can be used in life outside of school.
“Initially, the goal was to find use for the resources of our village – the flowers. Additionally, this is a way to boost creative thinking of children and motivate them to explore what they learn in the classroom. Ninety percent of opportunities in Armenia are available only in Yerevan. Our soap project is a proof that the ideas of children living in rural areas matter too. You can be successful both in Yerevan and in the border village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur. Every small step counts. Thanks to the skills that this project is teaching, ten years from now we can have a small female-owned business,” said Nelly Grigoryan.
“Young people often make key decisions, including career choices in the last years of middle school. Initiatives such as this one, which is both educational and practical, can definitely help the participants to connect their knowledge of natural sciences to their everyday life and see how it can be tackled entrepreneurially. These girls can break the stereotype that natural science is more suitable for boys,”
Later on, the team gained five more girls who had fled the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Silvy is one of them. Apart from learning the craft of soap making, Silvy has attended social media marketing workshops. Now she manages the “Hyun” Facebook page.
“We researched what kind of product people wanted and learned how to advertise. We cover our work process on social media and post photos of the soap we make. This is a good example for anyone who has not started their business initiative yet. We believe in our success,”
For the name of the brand, the girls chose the tree with the prettiest flowers in the village – cornel, which translates to “hon” in Armenian, “hyun” in the Tavush dialect. The word traveled in Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, and everyone in the village knows about the startup.
“The first ever soap I made was light green, with a minty smell. I took it home and my family loved it! They all tried it. I feel different now that I know I am doing work for my village instead of just sitting at home, I feel so empowered,” told Ani.
While the boys usually go for packaging duties, the team has organized division of labor in a way for all members to learn each step in the process.
“Words like “eco”, “handmade”, and “natural” capture attention at once. Then, people learn that the soap is made by adolescents from a border zone community. By that time, we already get an enthusiasm to support. We are going to invite people to Nerkin Karmiraghbyur to make soap with us in a workshop,”
“Hyun” has plenty of plans. In particular, the team looks forward to attending handmade product festivals and exhibitions in Yerevan. When “Hyun” becomes a recognized brand, the team will even consider a new line of products, such as perfume.