Meet the Maker - Leonara of TANAKA

TANAKA make incredible soap rooted entirely in nature.

Their succinct little 8 bar collection is beautifully structured by colour celebrating ingredients like spirulina, activated charcoal and pink French clay. Utilising a tried and tested base of natural oils and butters each handmade soap is paraben and palm oil free, wrapped in compostable glassine paper and finished with a TANAKA label made from FSC approved paper. No detail has been overlooked. For TANAKA, Nature is queen.

It's been a joy to meet the inspirational founder and sole maker of TANAKA soap, Leonara.

How did you arrive at the name, Tanaka?

'I knew I wanted the name of my brand to be connected to my background. My family is from Zimbabwe and I was born there as well, so it felt natural to make that connection for me. Tanaka is a Zimbabwean Shona name meaning "we are good". I like to say that that sentiment is what guides our entire mission. We make products that benefit skin health, boost wellbeing, and also rid the world of plastic waste.'

Talk us through your journey into the world of soap making. Where did it all begin?

'I honestly think that I was always destined to end up here. My earliest childhood memories are of times spent making (what I believed to be) healing tinctures from herbs and flowers in our garden. When I started TANAKA it was at a point where I was becoming more mindful about my overall health, and this naturally extended to what I put on my skin. So in a lot of ways TANAKA has just been one lifelong project, evolving slowly form my favourite childhood pastime into a full blown business. I still try to keep that playfulness though, and I'm always experimenting and playing with formulations and natural ingredients that stimulate our senses and nourish the skin.' 


On holiday in Zimbabwe (Leonara in pink)

What is your most cherished part of the process?

'While I find the making portion of the process to be the most meditative, I would say that my most cherished part of the process is probably seeing people get their soaps and fall in love with them. When I see that someone bought our soap for a loved one or for someone's birthday - that's just incredible to me - that I could have a part in that. I don't think anything can beat knowing that I can be a small part of bringing joy to someone's day and hopefully encouraging zero-waste habits in the process.'

What do you love most / like least about running your own business?

'Oh gosh this question is always a hard one! I think what I love the most is definitely that I answer to no one. I get to make sure that everything is up to ethical and quality standards that I'm proud of and I also get complete creative control over every single aspect of the brand. It's just really incredible to step back and look at TANAKA and know that I hand picked (and hand made!) everything about it. As for what I like least... in a lot of ways it's the same thing. Ha ha! Sometimes it would just be so nice for someone else to have all the responsibility! I think this is especially hard when you're such a small business as well. I like to think this will become easier as I grow and hopefully expand!'

What 3 things are at the top of your ‘to do’ list once we come out of lockdown?

'I would be to go over to dinner at my mum's house like, immediately! I actually just moved so I am really eager to explore my new neighbourhood and discover all the local businesses. And I would love to go to a yoga class in a studio again.'

Your products are incredibly earth-kind. What would you most like to change about the way we run the planet? Big question I know!

'Wow. I mean I could write a book on this. I think what comes to mind immediately though, and it's been absolutely heightened since the pandemic, is just the way we prioritise profit over... everything. I just wonder what the world would look like if we valued community, nature, art and beauty instead of production and productivity and bottom lines. Maybe that all sounds a little out there but it's been heavy on my mind all year!'

What 5 songs would play on a Leonara/Tanaka mixtape?

'So it's funny you should ask this, because we actually make a TANAKA playlist every month or so, so it's hard to pick just 5. But I think the classic 5 songs would be: Brown Skin Girl by Beyonce, Try Me by Tems, Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart by Alicia Keys, Back In My Body by Maggie Rogers and last but not least Ultralight Beam by Kanye West.'

Soap makes me think of the women in my life - my mother, my dear granny. Who are the women in your life who have inspired you?

'I completely agree. Soap reminds me of my family as well. My mum inspires me so much. She's really my favourite person. My nine year old niece as well gives me so much inspiration. My sisters, my best friends, and I mean obviously Beyoncé. This question is dangerous because it makes me want to go on forever. There are endless inspiring women in my life.'

What was the last book you read, last film you watched, last meal you cooked?

'The last book I read was Clean, last film was Soul, and last meal... I mean I just moved house so if I'm honest the last meal I cooked was some scrambled eggs.'

If you were stranded on a desert island for a year, what 3 health and beauty products would you take?

'I mean obviously sunscreen. That's just a non negotiable and it would have to be a moisturizing sunscreen too. So that's kind of doing the work of two products. Then I think honestly some kind of mist because it's going to get hot there, you know? I want to be able to refresh myself! And then obviously, a TANAKA soap bar.'

What are your hopes for the near future?

'Personally, I would love to continue to expand TANAKA. I would love to be able to see my loved ones in person more often. I want to continue to be more mindful and I want to eventually do TANAKA full time.

For the world, I hope that we exit this pandemic a bit kinder.'

 Interview by Charlotte for HUB
All images by TANAKA