“I was born and raised in Bangkok but moved to Hong Kong in 1977 after I got married. Initially I worked with my ex-husband in his garment business and then I set up my own trading company. My last project was for the airport to supply furniture and food for 25,000 people. After 23 years, I decided to come back to Thailand and moved to Chiang Mai with my kids and 2 containers. I registered a trading company and began designing and exporting furniture internationally. Thirteen years ago a customer from the UK asked me to prepare some Christmas gift sets with a mix of candles, incense, and soaps. I went to look for a good factory to sources soaps but could not find any proper one so I told my customer “No soaps. You’ll get them next year”. That’s how I began making soaps and I called my company ‘Sabu Sabu’, which means ‘soap” in Thai. And in 13 years I went from 1 item to 1000 different products, all of which I researched myself and make on my own.”

“I have always loved to cook and use natural ingredients so for me this came naturally. It is not work for me; it’s my passion. Every day I come up with new ideas. I never have to think ‘What I am going to do next?’ It’s more like ‘Am I going to have the time in my life to do everything that I want to do?’”

“I do what I believe in and I do the best I can. My customers are my inspiration and I love being able to help them feel better. This shop is mostly to serve the families in this community. It’s also my showroom for those that want to buy wholesale. Right now, we supply to 200 different hotels and it’s pretty much all through referrals and word of mouth. The hotel business is very competitive and using natural products is a way for them to differentiate themselves. Some go as far as ordering all their cleaning supplies from us.”

“What made me successful is that people are waking up about the fact that there are too many toxins around us and too many chemicals in commercial products. The skin is the biggest organ of the body. Eating a cream that contains chemicals would be better than applying it on your skin because through your skin it goes straight into your blood vessels. If you eat it, it goes into your stomach and your stomach acids take care of it. People think it’s on the outside so they put all kinds of lotions on it but it accumulates in your body and it changes you. I cannot educate everybody but I try to educate everyone that comes to my store.”

“I produce everything myself here in my factory. Many ingredients that I use are not available in Thailand so I have to import them. I do everything the old-fashioned way. It’s difficult to make and takes time so most brands choose not to do it this way. Some of my soaps take 9 months to cure. Making natural products can be done commercially but not at a mass scale. That’s why I am not interested in expanding further and selling to large department stores. That’s not what this business is about.”

“Do what you believe in, do your best, and never compromise. And do something that no one else is doing, don’t just copy others. If you fall down, you get up and you keep going. I never had a business plan but I follow my intuition, I work hard, and I don’t give up.”

Here is also a beautiful film on the story of Virginia Bird and Sabu Sabu, produced by Marisa Marchitelli, Virginia’s daughter.

Company: Sabu Sabu
Location: Chiang Mai
Founded: 2003
No of Employees: 12

Women-owned and led

Inspired by ingredients drawn from nature and returning to traditional methods, Sabu-Sabu offers a unique range of handmade lifestyle products, from castile soaps, to shampoos, facial care products, household cleaning solutions, children’s products and mor