I’m so very, totally, completely excited about this new series. Months ago, I spotted Christine Burns‘ incredible series called At Work on her photography website and just could not get over how much joy it gave me to have a peek into the studios of Irish makers I have admired for so long. It occurred to me that since Christine’s posts were primarily visual, with photos and very few words, she might be willing to let me interview the makers and share her wonderful photos to illustrate their stories. I asked and she said yes!
So this means the start of a new series that I’m so excited to share with you here. I’ll be interviewing amazingly creative and inspiring Irish makers and showing you Christine’s photographs of them at work. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed getting to share it with you!
Now, for the inaugural maker: Hajnalka Kele, or Hajni, of Mianra Soaps. Hajni is based in Cork and creates these incredible, delectable-looking soaps using all natural ingredients, essential oils, and gorgeous natural dyes. Looking through these photos, I almost wish Hajni made chocolates so these could be edible, but the fact that they’re soap is somehow even more amazing!
Hajni moved to Ireland from Hungary in 2006 to take up a position as an early intervention specialist. Little did she know that her soap-making hobby would eventually become her full-time career! Hajni explained to me that she has always had a creative streak and used to spend time with her grandmother working together to figure out German patterns and making American-style quilts on her grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine. I’ll let Hajni tell the lovely story of her relationship with her grandmother and how it shaped her.
My go to crafty person was always my Granny who would be always up to making something usually stemming from an idea I had. When I didn’t quite know how to make something I would go to her for a sleepover or a brainstorm and she would be buzzing around the place with a spring in her steps and scissors in her hands. I have so many fond memories of crafting with her – she was an amazing lady and also a great friend. Nothing was impossible for Granny and her attitude has really influenced me!
I’ll never forget the look on her face when I first introduced her to the idea of quilting. I did not know at that stage how to work a sewing machine. She thought I was a mad hatter to chop up fabrics just to sew them up again, let alone dye my own colours. Needless to say she got hooked on it in no time! Or we would forever try to make a dress trying to figure out the German Burda patterns. It was an ongoing love of each others company through crafting for sure!
I have tried many different crafts through the years from candles to patchwork to stained glass and jewellery making but never ever thought of one day making a living from it. I always had a soft spot for children and when it came to a career choice towards the end of secondary school I decided to specialise in Early Intervention and Special Needs. I spent 15 years working with children and adults in many different countries and I loved every bit of it!
After settling in Ireland, Hajni decided to turn her soap-making hobby into a full time career and started Mianra Soaps. Mianra is the Irish word for mineral, a word Hajni said she simply enjoyed, especially with the added reference to the types of natural ingredients she puts into each soap.
Hajni says she’s drawn to making soap because of the endless combinations and varieties you can create. Depending on your formula, your design and scent choices you could always come up with something new! Lots of people refer to my soaps as something they would want to eat or dig a spoon into which always makes me laugh! I guess it is a compliment and for sure there is resemblance. I aim to offer more than just the functionality of a plain soap bar. For me it has to do a lot more than that!
I asked Hajni what a typical day in her bright and cheerful studio looks like. I think I’d like to take a field trip! A typical day in our studio/workshop starts with coffee and a nice breakfast roll! I work together with my other half, Mike, and sometimes just by myself. One day can be very different from another and could entail making, packaging or prepping/cleaning up. We usually just fire on Newstalk or some random music or just chat away. Funny enough I love background noise for everything except when I am actually making the soap. I need silence to be in the “zone” and cannot be distracted or I bite! He learnt this the hard way!
The soap Hajni is making in these photos is cranberry and fig. Doesn’t that sound delicious?
One of Hajni’s favorite memories of the last few years was her first big Christmas market in Dublin. I absolutely love meeting people and meeting people through soap is even better! I love the chit chats and laughs one can have at a buzzing market. The funniest was when a guy proposed to me there and then while a quick crowd gathered to join in the amusement! I learn a lot from meeting my customers and I listen to every word they say- they are my market research!
I love learning about people who have taken a turn in their careers, so I asked Hajni whether anything surprised her about embarking on a creative career. I just loved her answer.
Yes and no. I am surprised in a way as I never imagined I would change careers the way I did. Not surprised in another sense as soap making has been a part of my life for the past 12 years as a hobby. I feel really lucky to be doing something I love with the same passion! I love challenge and I love working towards being better at something whatever it may be. I had to learn so many new skills and weave them together to create Mianra and I truly enjoy the journey. It never is easy to switch from being an employee to be running one’s own business – it is all a new experience and continuous learning.
Don’t you kind of just want to give Hajni a hug? She is as cheerful as her soap colors!
It’s a good thing Cork is so far away. If Hajni was in Dublin I would surely be popping by her studio (and interrupting her in the soap-making zone!) just to run my hands over those rows and rows of soaps.
When Hajni isn’t in the studio, you’ll find her goofing around with her almost-six-year-old son, Hugo, or browsing Pinterest or design blogs, swimming, or whipping out the sewing machine to make a bag or a pillow.
Thanks, Hajni, for sharing your soap-making journey and a peek inside your studio with us! You can find Mianra Soaps in shops around the country and they also ship around the world! And giant thanks to Christine Burns for letting me use her gorgeous images – you can find more from Hajni’s studio on her blog!
I’ll be back with another Irish Makers at Work interview in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!