SUSAN CALDERON URBINA is from Peru and has lived in a few countries, but she has called Singapore home for several years now. She juggles multiple hats – from teaching at a local university, to researching sustainable consumption, to running a company that makes solid shampoos and handmade soaps in Singapore. We asked Susan some questions about her journey here and her brand, Sacha Botanicals.
How did you get into teaching?
After I finished my MBA at NTU, I went back to Peru, where some universities invited me to teach. I really enjoyed teaching and learning from my students. But, I realised that to continue in academia and support my teaching with up-to-date research, I would need to do a PhD. So I went to Spain, where I did my PhD in Consumer Behaviour.
What brought you to Singapore?
I really like the culture and the variety in Singapore. After finishing my PhD, I looked for opportunities that could bring me here, and University College Dublin offered me a great opportunity to be based full-time in Singapore.
Is teaching your day job?
That’s right! I am an Assistant Professor of Marketing at University College Dublin and I am permanently based on its Singapore campus. I teach Bachelor and Master students in marketing-related topics, and also do research about consumer behaviour and sustainable products.
Tell us more about sustainability and Sacha Botanicals.
Since a lot of my research revolves around sustainability and sustainable consumption, I have always been interested in products that are good for the environment.
That aside, there’s a more personal reason as to why I started Sacha Botanicals. Two years ago, I was detected with a hormonal disorder, Hashimoto’s disease. Basically, my immune system produces antibodies that attack my thyroid. It was scary. I was told that stress or even parabens, typically present in commercial personal care products, might have contributed to my condition.
By then, I was already using products from a popular brand that had the image of being “natural”. However, while reading and learning about skincare and the power of botanicals, I realised that not all the ingredients listed were that good for our bodies or the planet.
I remembered how my mom used our native plants in Peru to create shampoos for us as kids. This brought me to study and work on creating my own recipes for handmade soaps and solid shampoos without ingredients that could harm us, but with ingredients that nurture our hair and skin.
At first, I was just sharing my products with my friends. But I got great reception, and people kept urging me to share them more broadly. That’s when I launched Sacha Botanicals, which consists of a line of handmade soaps and solid shampoos that respect your skin and the environment.
Is the use of plants in soaps and shampoos popular in Peru, where you’re from?
Definitely, the use of plants has been very present in the culture of Peru since ancestral times. Thankfully, the highlands and the Amazon rainforest provide us with a rich amount of plants and seeds such as the quinoa, the maca root, the buriti fruit, the cupuaçu fruit, the chia seeds which many Singaporeans also consume, among many others. These have been traditionally used in personal care for the benefits they provide to the hair and skin. Nowadays, there is a revival of these products, but still not at a large scale.
I think there is a similar phenomenon in Singapore; people are coming back to these more traditional practices, and there are more and more brands that use these ingredients to formulate their products. For instance, in all my solid shampoos I include quinoa in the form of hydrolysed protein because it conditions and protects the hair from harsh elements in the environment.
What’s your current favourite product from Sacha Botanicals?
I absolutely love my “Chocolicious” solid shampoo, which is perfect for dry hair. It smells so good! I really enjoy the rich and yummy chocolate scent, and the fact that it’s all natural. I also love my “Warm me, lavender” handmade soap. It gently cleanses the skin while transporting you to a warm and calming place because of the lavender essential oil. I often use it before going to bed to have a good rest.
What do you do for fun in Singapore?
When I’m not working, I do dragon boating with the Latin Dragons team, a group of Spanish-speaking rowers. I also like trying new restaurants with my boyfriend – there’s such a great variety of food to try here in Singapore!
What does a typical day look like for you?
My work is quite flexible, but I usually start around 9am with teaching or doing research. Because the main campus of my university and the researchers I collaborate with are mostly based in Europe, I usually have meetings and calls in the evenings. But when my day finishes early, I enjoy having dinner at home or with friends, or I take evening walks or watch a movie.
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