Resilient local enterprise wants to sell stories through the art of soap crafting
Barras wants its customers to have fun and feel inspired with artisanal soaps
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
In 2015, when Tanairi Miranda Torres was 19 years old, she lost her lost engagement ring, only had a part-time job, and was searching for a stable income to build her future with her fiance.
She decided that turning her artisanal soap making skills, which she learned from her grandmother, into a business was the way to go. She opened a fan page on Facebook, posted pictures of her work, and began selling her creations to her friends and other acquaintances. Once she made enough money to buy back the ring she’d lost, she told her now-husband: “That’s it. I’m done.”
However, five years from that moment, Miranda Torres keeps going with Barras, an artisanal soap enterprise whose fulfillment office and factory are located in her hometown of Ponce, where her team of four employees makes up to 12,000 bars of soap per week and 10 more people are currently employed.
The 24-year-old businesswoman told the Star on Thursday that after that pivotal moment in her life, she couldn’t stop crafting soaps and finding new ways and new techniques to distinguish her products from many other initiatives, as soap making is a common practice on the island. However, as she wanted to take her plans to the next level, she started to study other industries and determine how their brands were able to stand out. She eventually realized that it was all about her experience, and in February 2017 she began sharing behind-the-scenes footage of the soap production on her social media platforms.
“I remember having long nights, going through insomnia as I wanted to find that distinction, and I still didn’t have it. You could ask me: ‘Tanairy, what do you do differently?’ And it’s that the brand has me, I became the face of the brand, and that’s what made it different because there is no one else that could put their personality in a bar of soap other than me. Barras is a reflection of who I am,” Miranda Torres said. “I didn’t want a brand that’s simply artisanal and that stays on a little table. I wanted to reach new heights.”
As for the name of Miranda Torres’ enterprise, it is the Spanish translation of the word “bars” and she said that she got it as both sightseers and clients were fond of the soap bars’ color flow and minimal design, and commented on how beautiful they were.
“It was the same clients who named the brand. I was like: ‘I’m not going to look for anything else, it will stay that way.’ But I began to question if Barras was too common a name, if people were not going to recognize it,” she said. “But then I started seeing that in many successful brands at local and international levels, so I told myself, why am I complicating things?”
The Star asked the entrepreneur how she would describe Barras in a few words. She said Barras is a very fun, transparent, resilient, inspiring and fresh brand, that she wants customers to feel entertained when they use her products, to appreciate the effort and quality behind them, and she wants to be clear enough with customers so they know what they will be consuming.
Miranda Torres said further that she wants her company to be an example for other entrepreneurs looking to build their own projects.
“More than just a bar of soap, I want my soaps to tell a story to the customer, that the product they hold in their hands did not come out of thin air, every soap has something to tell and you get to see it every time I get into my Stories [on Instagram] to show how my team makes it,” Miranda Torres said.
Meanwhile, Miranda Torres told the Star that events such as the passage of Hurricane Maria, the earthquakes in the southwest of Puerto Rico and the COVID-19 pandemic made her think about shutting down her business. Nonetheless, she said that amid the pandemic she encountered a “good problem” as clients were demanding her soaps through various outlets of the company, making her expand her workforce as her employee, who has been with her since 2017, was the only person helping her at the factory.
“I played the game wrong,” she said. “Instead of preparing for the worst, I had to prepare for the better, as I was getting more messages and people were actually looking for my products. People were reaching out to support what I was doing, but it was just my employee, who has been here for me since when Barras was unstable, and myself making around 800 soaps in four business days.”
“Although this was a good problem, it was still a problem,” she added. “I didn’t want to constantly excuse myself for not being up to my customers’ expectations. You see that established businesses don’t do that. They deliver.”
Miranda Torres said Barras has become a leader in artisanal soap making in the Puerto Rican market and she expects to expand to the United States and other countries. However, in order to take such steps, she said more work needs to be done internally. She also said she feels comfortable now expanding her product line as she has realized that her initial offers helped establish her brand.
“I’m sure that, more than a leading brand in an industry, we’ll become a leading brand in terms of entrepreneurship, and surely we already are for many people, and that fills me with much pride because they don’t only see us as: ‘Oh, the people who sell soap,’” she said. “They say: ‘Wow, I wish that my enterprise, no matter the industry, would have the exposure that Barras has.”
As for advice for future entrepreneurs, Miranda Torres, who studied to become a PK-3 teacher, said people should focus on self-management and develop a good business plan in order to build a sustainable enterprise.
“Living in Puerto Rico and being an entrepreneur is like an extreme sport,” she said. “We must self-manage and not expect anyone to serve us every solution on a platter; we must look for and create those solutions. From bad things, good things will come.”