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Ali Johnston □ Sphaera

Spheara soap is dedicated to providing the next level of thoughtful care, attention to detail and design with their range of soaps, which are hand made in the team’s native New Zealand. Spheara soap is particularly inspired by the everyday rituals around bathing and cleansing.

This week we sat down via the internet to talk to Ali Johnston, founder of Sphaera soap to discuss her process for making these luxurious cubes of joy which provide important, quiet moments of self-care and reflection. 

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When you're not working in your studio what do you do to unwind?

Reading a novel in the bath is my cure-all, a perfect way to change mindset and energy and to finish the day. I also love reading beautiful cookbooks of things I never seem to have time to cook.

What is your ideal holiday scenario? Adventure or relaxation?

My ideal holiday needs to include plenty of beautiful trees, somewhere lovely to swim and a comfy spot to read and nap. This past summer we were lucky enough to spend a month travelling around the South Island of NZ in our old caravan, it was perfect.


Are you a summer or winter person? Why?

I love New Zealand summers, they are not crushingly hot so you spend most of them outdoors with long balmy evenings and beautiful light. The days feel long and everything moves a little slower which suits me well. As summer coincides with the New year it always feels like a time for renewal and reflection.


Where do you find inspiration? Do you have any methods or ways of finding inspiration?

The body as site and subject is my starting point with inspiration for our products. I have always had a fascination with the history and rituals of cleansing and washing and this is at the heart of what we make. I keep in mind how and why someone might choose to use the soap as part of their daily ritual. There is a sense of privilege in making something that is part of the quiet, private part of people's lives. It also helps that I find soap as a substance fascinating, the science of the product development is very inspiring and often one experiment or idea leads to the next.

What are the pros and cons of living so close to your working space?

There are many of both! The flexibility has worked well, especially as a mother to young children but it has made the work/life separation difficult at times.  As the business has grown I have forged a bit more separation between roles which is working well and I am very lucky to have a fantastic studio on site. We continue to reassess what working arrangements and space we need as Sphaera grows.


What podcasts or music do you listen to while working... if you do...?

On my studio days, I really enjoy listening to podcasts, I have been listening to one recently called ‘Where Should We Begin?’ by Esther Perel which is a session of relationship counselling for different couples, it is a fascinating and poignant glimpse into the complexity of human relationships.

What is your go-to dish to make when you finish a long day at Sphaera Soap HQ?

At the moment my favourite is a simple golden coconut dahl, it is easy and quick and feels like nourishing comfort food. I sometimes pack two servings of this dish up and bring it across town with me when Suni and I have a meeting at her house, it’s a warm and grounding dish that gets us through some long hours sometimes.


What is your favourite artwork/ artefact you own?

It is hard to choose, but perhaps a textile piece made by my sister (textile artist Bel Von Mengersen) as a wedding present. It hangs in our living room and gives me joy every day.

How do you develop the scent profiles for your soap range?

I like to think of each product as a whole, perhaps having its own personality, look and function and imagine from there what I would expect it to smell like. I then take a palette of essential oils matching the function of the product and use traditional perfumery techniques to refine them into a balanced scent blend with a therapeutic purpose. It is a slow process as each blend will cure into the soap differently over several weeks so many test batches are required to perfect a scent. Each bars scent profile further supports its intended use, aligning the therapeutic properties of the oils used with the bars overall beneficial ingredients and purpose.


What is on the horizon for you, for Sphaera Soap?

Things are very exciting for Sphaera at the moment, there is so much worldwide interest in our products and a wonderful resurgence in bar soap in general. We are working out how we grow sustainably and what our customers want from us next in terms of new product development. We are in the very early stages of developing a new product and have two beautiful and purposeful collaborations we are working on this year also. The community of wonderful customers, retail partners and colleagues that has developed around us brings so much energy and fulfilment to what we are creating.