My Shanghai, an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
With a 15-year career in PR and media relations, business acumen certainly runs through Kim Gilliland’s veins. So, it’s no surprise that when Kim and her husband, Bobby Mitchell, set out to launch their own business, it became a Shanghai success story. Developing eco-friendly household products through their brand Soapnut Republic, Kim’s passion for family, friends and the Shanghai community keep the business thriving. Her three daughters are the motivation for the products they create and with ambitions to launch a personal care range soon, it’s exciting to hear about their life here. The story of how one mom’s mission to create safe products for her own family grew into an international brand, challenging the market on what 'non-toxic' and 'green' really mean. The main ingredient in their products is the soapnut berry, a golden fruit that provides a natural soap. So, with a natural product such as this, and a vision for where she wants to lead the company, I have no doubt the sky is the limit for what we can expect in the future.
You moved to Shanghai 10 years ago, what initially brought you here, what is your background?
I moved to China as an expat with an Australian media company. I met my now husband Bobby soon after I had arrived, and when it was time for me to repatriate to Melbourne in 2009 I decided to stay here with him. It was a risk that fortunately paid off. We’ve built our life here together. Our three daughters were born in Shanghai and five years ago, we started Soapnut Republic.
Can you tell me about Soapnut Republic and what prompted you to launch your own company?
When I was pregnant with our first child, we were looking for natural, non-toxic cleaning products for our own family home. We became really frustrated by the lack of genuinely safe products available. We found a lot of companies market their products as being ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly,’ but many of them still use ingredients that are not safe for skin contact. Bobby and I decided to create our own range of products that were first and foremost safe for the people using them, and safe for the environment, too.
You have three small children and a growing business; how do you relax in Shanghai, where do you and your family spend time together?
We entertain at home a lot. We’re fortunate that we have a great ‘party room’ and rooftop terrace. We love having friends over, and honestly, most of the time it’s easier for me to have people over than it is to go out with three little kids. We go on many scootering adventures in our local neighbourhood in Jingan, and the kids love visiting the Natural History Museum and Well’s Jumping.
Tell me about a 'normal' day at Soapnut Republic, what does it involve?
I’m not sure what normal is! Every day is different. We have a small team, and I’m involved in everything from distributor sales meetings to occasionally packing boxes. Today, I’m busy working on our social media content, overseeing a shipment of products to Hong Kong and testing new product samples.
What advice would you give your 30-year-old self about running a business?
It’s not going to be easy. You’ll have to work extremely hard, every single day. Soapnut Republic is very personal for me (we’ve created it for our own family), so it's fortunate that I’ve always been incredibly passionate and committed to what we’re doing. When the going gets tough in a start-up business it can really get tough, and without intense passion and commitment I think sometimes it would be difficult to keep going.
What has been the biggest success for Soapnut Republic since you launched, and what’s next?
Success can be measured in lots of different ways, but I’m really happy with the success we’ve achieved in building our brand loyalty. Our customers love what we do, and the feedback we receive motivates us to do even better and continue evolving. We’re asked about new products all the time and right now, we’re busy finalizing our new personal care range. We’ll have soapnut-based shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer and face wash available soon. We’re also proud to have been recognized with a Natural & Organics Products Asia Award.
You support many causes within Shanghai; can you tell me about some of the work you do and how important it is, as both an entrepreneur and a mother, to nurture a sense of community?
We’re long term residents of Shanghai. Bobby has been in China for 16 years, and I’ve been here for 10, so we’re well entrenched. Community support is really important to us, not just as a business, but also as a family. We contribute to a wide range of community organizations by donating products and in-kind support, and we’re involved in a lot of groups and activities. It’s really just a part of our everyday lives.
How can our Urban Family community keep up to date with Soapnut Republic and purchase your products?
To purchase our products, follow our official Soapnut Republic WeChat account (Scan below or use ID: SoapnutRepublic) and select the ‘SHOP’ tab. We deliver across China.
For more My Shanghai series, click here.