DUE to the pandemic, two Cork air hostesses, who are sisters, have reinvented themselves making and selling luxury soap and hand cream.
Jackie Dillon, who has been with Aer Lingus for 31 years and her younger sister, Leigh Cummins, also a cabin crew member, were saying last Christmas how they missed their usual festive shopping visit to the US.
“What we missed most was Bath and Body Works foam soap,” says Jackie.
“We wondered if we could make it ourselves. We had lots of time to research it because we’re only on 50% time with Aer Lingus on account of Covid. Needs must, so we started doing aromatherapy courses online.
“We did the Start Your Own Business course with LEO (Local Enterprise Office). Leigh did her course during the day time while I did it at night. There were 12 people in each group and we were open to ideas.”
Jackie isn’t aware of any brand of foam soap in Ireland. The American one costs $9 per bottle. It has a pump which, when pressed down, releases foam.
“We started buying different basic soaps. We’re not actually making our own soap. We buy a base soap from a company in Dublin and we buy aromatherapy oils from a Wexford company.”
The innovative sisters get labels printed up as well as packaging. The soap comes in a cubed bottle which releases foam.
Jackie says that their product, Opa Luxury Hand Soap, is going down well with much local support, from beauticians such as Emer O’Callaghan of Emerald Beauty — who writes a beauty column for WoW! in The Echo every week — as well as a shop, Bags and Bling, in Clonakilty. But their main selling point is through Facebook and Instagram. They are concentrating on online sales.
Jackie and Leigh mix the soap with aromatherapy oils from Jackie’s kitchen in Rochestown one evening a week. The soap is made with distilled water so that the kettle is on constantly on the boil. (Jackie’s husband calls the enterprise ‘Breaking Bad’!). The sisters have come up with a number of fragrances for different areas in the home. For the kitchen sink, they have two soaps, ‘kitchen citrus’ (lemon and pink grapefruit) and ‘energy’ (lemon and rosemary.) For the bathroom used by guests, “we wanted spa-like scents. So we came up with ‘retreat’ which is the most popular fragrance, made with ylang ylang. There is also ‘tranquility’ for the main bathroom which is a mixture of frankincense and patchouli, “two musky spa-like fragrances.”
For the bedroom, the soap is lavender-scented “because lavender is all about sleep. We also have a soap called ‘happy’ which is lavender and rose geranium. And we have one called ‘relax’, a mix of lavender and bergamot.”
Opa means ‘joy’ in Greek. It’s an apt name for the sisters’ products which are all about treating oneself to beautifully scented soap.
“I think of it as the joy of washing your hands,” says Jackie. The soaps contain Vitamin E. They’re so good that people wanted a hand cream to go with the soap. So we launched the hand cream last week.”
The soap is made up of a number of components including chloride which is anti-bacterial.
So far, the Opa Luxury Hand Soap business has a modest turnover of about €1,000 per month.
“We only started in February. People say 80% of our turnover will be at Christmas. We’re just after registering our name and we’ve hired an accountant. It’s hard money-wise as we’re constantly buying, We haven’t paid ourselves yet.
“We’re hoping to pay ourselves at Christmas. We’re hoping it will work out and then we’ll have a look at it. It’s going better than we anticipated insofar as it was really busy before the summer. Nothing really happens in the summer apart from gifts for teachers.”
All the bottles are stored in Jackie’s front room, which she says resembles a warehouse.
BACK TO THE DAY JOB...
Jackie loves being part of the Aer Lingus cabin crew. She started working as an air hostess at 19 in 1990.
“I absolutely love the job. You get to know the passengers. You wouldn’t believe the amount of regular passengers on flights. It’s a gorgeous job. I’d have left it a long time ago if I didn’t like it.”
With two grown up children, a nurse and an accountant, Jackie says she was able to work her job around family life. She worked on the early shift which allowed her to collect her children from school.
Leigh has three children, all at primary school.
Now, with Cork Airport closing on September 12 until November 22, Jackie and Leigh may have to work restricted hours from Dublin Airport or Shannon Airport. Whatever happens, “we’ll also be at home making soaps.”
Clearly a woman who doesn’t see obstacles to her progress, Jackie attended UCC at night where she studied for her BA in economics and maths.
“I thought I’d go and use my degree but I couldn’t leave Aer Lingus. I worked there throughout the BA, never taking time off.”
Jackie and Leigh complement each other well in their business venture.
“I’d be calm, working steadily and more on to the physical side of making soaps. Leigh is very much into the administrative side as well as researching and sourcing what’s needed. At the moment, we’re trying to get boxes for Christmas gift sets. Leigh could spend six hours on the computer looking for the right box.”
Clearly, these enterprising sisters have a winning formula...