Only One Soap travel set © Hanahzo

A Pause in Your Life, Hanahzo Soap
A flower bloomed inside a bar of soap. David Hockney’s swimming pool and Irworobongdo folding screen of Gyeongbokgung Palace are also found in soap. At a time when personal hygiene is of the utmost importance, we are fortunate to have Hanahzo who turns washing hands into an act of art.
Launched in 2014, Hanahzo is a leading natural soap brand in Korea. Their soaps caught attention with sensuous colors and packaging, which set themselves apart from the existing natural soap products. Hanahzo is a company run by Jo Hanah and Kim Sang-man. The married couple met each other at work and started researching what they really wanted to pursue as a career after quitting their job. They found the answer in natural soap. “We are all busy working. After giving it up and having some alone time, we realized how valuable that break was. We also thought about what we liked to do and when we felt most at ease. It was when we were washing ourselves. The act of showering was like taking a breather to us. So I went through the items in the bathroom to pick something that I can make with my own hands, and found soap.” Jo explained that she wanted to share with others the feeling of comfort she had while using a natural soap handmade by herself. That’s how she started the soap business.
색이 아름다운 한아조의 비누들 © 한아조

Colorful soaps by Hanahzo © Hanahzo

Everything About Hanahzo
Q. How is Hanahzo soap made?
A. Jo: We follow the same principle that was applied in ancient times when soap was first discovered. When you mix oils and fats with an alkaline solution with a certain saponification value, the chemical reaction results in the formation of soap and glycerin. Soaps that have gone through saponification are completely different from the cheap factory-produced ones sold at a supermarket. Their chemical structures are different, and handmade soap can play the role of a surfactant. It is a natural process that is also adopted by European soap brands that have over 100 years in history. By adding cooking oils or cereals, we concoct our own recipes.
봄꽃 비누, 개나리 진달래 © 한아조

Forsythia and Azalea, soap named after spring flowers © Hanahzo

블루 칩 비누(Blue Chips Soap). ‘뚜까따 X 한아조’ 비누를 칩 모양으로 잘랐다. © 한아조

Blue Chips Soap. ‘Tukata X Hanahzo’ soap was cut into chip-like pieces. © Hanahzo

망고씨드 버터를 주원료로 만든 한아조의 첫 번째 바디 버터 © 한아조

Hanahzo’s first body butter, made with mango seed butter. © Hanahzo

Q. Hanahzo soaps have beautiful colors. Who is in charge of the soap design?
A. Jo: Design and color are my responsibilities, but I consult with Kim when I have to make a decision on the direction of large-scale projects. I majored in fashion design, but I think I discovered my true talent as I researched, studied, and tried various things to run Hanahzo. Have I always been skillful like this in dealing with colors? (Laugh) Before starting Hanahzo, I wanted to pursue drawing. Back then, I was working full-time, so I enrolled myself in a weekend class at a private institution to learn oil painting techniques. I had aspirations for fine arts and curiosity about the profession of illustrator. I think they all affected me little by little.
김상만 팀장과 조한아 실장

Kim Sang-man and Jo Hanah

Q. I actually use soap only when I wash my hands. What is the range of usage Hanahzo soap offers?
A. Kim: FIrst we make our soap for facial cleansing. Cosmetic manufacturers usualldy rely on three categories for soap—body, hand, and face—depending on how expensive the additives are. For instance, body products may have a more affordable surfactant and a stronger scent. You could use a facial cleanser on your body. We don’t differentiate our ingredients to our intended usage. Our latest chips—individual soap papers—have a packaging that says ‘Hand Wash for Face.’ It means they are on the smaller side size-wise for hand-washing but their ingredients are suitable for facial washing as well.
한아조 팩토리의 비누 실험실. 이곳에서 새로운 비누가 탄생한다.

한아조 팩토리의 비누 실험실. 이곳에서 새로운 비누가 탄생한다.

Hanahzo Factory’s soap lab, where new soaps are made.

Q. Hanahzo is known for its natural soap products but I remember it had a shampoo line two-to-three years ago.
A. Kim: We haven’t released shampoo products in two years. There are several problems. We wondered if we could, as entrepreneurs, contribute something to our society and couldn’t help but think about environmental issues. Containers pose a big challenge. We have all the ingredients for shampoo fully stocked in our storage, so we are continuing to look for a solution.

Q. ‘Terrazzo’ and ‘Per gram project’ are products aimed at zero waste, aren’t they?
A. Jo: Yes. There was too much scrap being left from carving the handmade soap into a factory-manufactured shape. Terrazzo is a material consisting of various stone chips, so we made terrazzo soaps using tiny soap scrap. As the volume of sales went up, we had more scrap piles available, and couldn’t handle them just with terrazzo soaps. Per gram project was launched. Even after sharing the soap scrap with our families, employees, and their families, we had left-overs. Those were of the same value. So we re-shaped them into 100g-500g loaves and sold them by weight.
퍼그램 프로젝트 © 한아조

퍼그램 프로젝트 © 한아조

Per Gram project © Hanahzo

테라조 © 한아조

Terrazzo © Hanahzo

Q. Which product do you recommend for first-time Hanahzo customers?
A. Jo: For first-timers, I recommend more affordable terrazzo soap. Our soaps are blended so their scents vary each time, but terrazzos are the safest choices. If you liked our terrazzo and the product matched your skin type, you can try different Hanahzo products.
Kim: The biggest complaint from soap users is that soap gets too soft. It is because glycerin in soap holds in water. Mass-produced soap undergoes a process removing the glycerin. For example, a bar of laundry soap gets harder as you use it. We do not remove glycerin. Instead, we allow a longer time to naturally dry out the moisture and harden the soap. Initially we worried people may not use natural soap, but now our thoughts are completely changed. Soap users would all know the truth.
‘케이헤리티지 X 한아조’, 경복궁 ‘일월오봉도’ 비누 © 한아조

‘K.Heritage X Hanahzo,’ Gyeongbokgung ‘Irworobongdo’ soap © Hanahzo

Soap With Endless Collaboration Possibilities
Q. What do you prioritize in soap-making?
A. Jo: I was obsessed with the idea that soap has to look pretty in the beginning, but as I continued to build our brand, I thought there should be more to our products than just the appearance.
Kim: We held an exhibition in 2016. The theme of the exhibition was ‘Three Egos,’ and we think Hanahzo also has three egos. We are artisans creating handmade soap. We are also entrepreneurs. I had an interest in filmmaking and Jo wanted to pursue drawing. So we believe our products should have an artistic aspect, which makes us see ourselves as artists. Craftworks should not be just pretty. They need to be easy to use. On top of that, soap is scientifically made. These are our criteria in making soap. Considering the three factors, we try to produce the most beautiful, complete, and functional soap and set a price according to our evaluation.
‘국립중앙박물관 X 한아조’, 국립중앙박물관 예르미타시 박물관전을 위해 만든 비누로 모네의 ‘지베르니의 건초더미’를 표현했다. © 한아조

‘국립중앙박물관 X 한아조’, 국립중앙박물관 예르미타시 박물관전을 위해 만든 비누로 모네의 ‘지베르니의 건초더미’를 표현했다. © 한아조

‘National Museum of Korea X Hanahzo,’ soap made for the Hermitage Museum exhibition at the National Museum of Korea, inspired by Monet’s ‘Haystacks at Giverny.’ © Hanahzo

Q. It was a fresh approach to call your partnership with other brands ‘collaboration’ instead of ‘supply.’ There was a reason it felt like an artist collaboration.
A. Kim: You’ve hit the nail on the head. We don’t do ‘supply.’ Collaboration takes place with cases that we feel worth risking the name of our brand for. It’s not to make profit but has more to do with our artistic ego.

Q. Hanahzo has worked with various brands including a publisher, gallery, and culture foundation. What’s the most memorable project?
A. Jo: I liked working for < David Hockney > exhibition. It was the first to be held in Korea and we admire his works. We’ve also received positive feedback. The Gyeongbokgung soap we collaborated with Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation for their K.HERITAGE brand was also memorable. We went to Gyeongbokgung Palace multiple times, trying to capture its essence. We discovered ‘Irworobongdo’ during those visits. It’s a folding screen placed behind the royal throne. In the painting, five mountains form a symmetry with the sun and moon on opposite sides of each other. It wasn’t easy to make but I am glad the soap continues to be in demand as a palace souvenir. As a matter of fact, we do our best with all of our products so we value all our collaboration works.
<데이비드 호크니> 전시를 위해 제작한 비누 © 한아조

Soap made for < David Hockney > exhibition © Hanahzo

Q. Where do you find inspirations?
A. Jo: I find inspirations in movies, exhibitions, or even novels. I feel that whatever has accumulated in me for a long time has the most effect on my work. 
Kim: I tell our staff all the time that there’s only one way to maximize positive inspirations and develop a good taste. It’s to have a lot of input. We used to go on a picnic once a month or see an exhibition for that purpose.
2020 크리스마스 리미티드 에디션, 크리스마스 케이크 비누 © 한아조

Christmas Cake soap, limited edition for 2020 Christmas © Hanahzo

Q. Hanahzo has a lot of royal customers.
A. Kim: Yes, and we are grateful. We once participated in a pop-up store called ‘Draw a day’ by Younhyun Trading. There were several teams in the event, and we displayed small, used soaps under the banner ‘Pause your day.’ Soap change its shape as we use it, and terrazzo soap even shows varying patterns. We asked our customers to share photos of their soap and moments of pause through SNS, and so many of them responded. They were really using their soap till they became tiny. It was so moving.
비누 파우치에 담긴 비누 © 한아조

Soap in pouch © Hanahzo

작아진 한아조의 비누들 © 한아조

Smaller Hanahzo soaps © Hanahzo

Hanahzo Season 3, What They Truly Want
Q. Did you use natural soap before starting Hanahzo?
A. Jo: Not really. After learning about and actually making natural soap, I realized it smelled good, was easy to use, and also good for the skin. So I was determined to make it well. I didn’t plan on launching a soap brand. But soap was my first item and I wanted the brand to have items that will help people relax.
Kim: Between us, we called our brand ‘WWW.’ Like in the movie < What Women Want >, we were focused on figuring out ‘What We Want.’ There were financial aspects to be considered, so we shifted to doing what we were good at.

Q. So the first step in finding your ego happened to be soap-making. How did ‘WWW’ become ‘Hanahzo’?
A. Jo: We did some googling and many other brands were using ‘WWW.’ I used to work for a foreign company and my colleagues called me ‘Hanahzo’ using the English writing of my name. Kim suggested that we use Hanahzo as our brand name just like how famous designers name their brands after themselves.
한아조 팩토리

Hanahzo Factory

“We were going through our own little rough patch and got to wonder what was most important to us. No matter how disappointed or sad we were, we felt calm while we were washing and found that moment was valuable to us. So we came up with the motto ‘Pause Your Life.’ Currently we are expanding our business to handle everything related to the ‘pause.’ People need these ‘pauses’ now and then to improve the quality of life.”
Kim Sang-man, Hanahzo
Q. The recent release of loungewear was an extension of WWW, then. Would you say your brand is transforming into a lifestyle brand from a soap brand?
A. Kim: From the very beginning, we didn’t start the company to make lots of money or to make a perfect soap. We were going through our own little rough patch and got to wonder what was most important to us. No matter how disappointed or sad we were, we felt calm while we were washing and found that moment was valuable to us. So we came up with the motto ‘Pause Your Life.’ Currently we are expanding our business to handle everything related to the ‘pause.’ People need these ‘pauses’ now and then to improve the quality of life. 

Q. We want to hear about Hanahzo’s future goal.
A. Jo: If you look at overseas markets, there seem to be many brands with strong identities with less intense entrepreneurship. Considering Korean history or situations, it is understandable that Korean companies tend to prioritize business minds over other factors. As far as we’re concerned, we want to be known as a brand that’s different in that aspect.
Kim: If I may add, for each alphabet of ‘pause’ we selected words that show our stance. P as in peaceful, A as in artist, U as in unique, S as in sustainable, and E as in equal economy. That sums up our dream. To be sustainable, to us, means to pursue sustainable values in terms of ‘PCE’(people, customer, Earth). We will cherish our relationships with our employees and customers while coexisting with Earth. After all, we keep producing stuff as manufacturers, which inevitably brings us a feeling of guilt. We want to keep that in our thoughts.

January 2021 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Photographer:Hae Ran

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  • January 2021
  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
  • Photographer: Hae Ran
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