Riyadh-based soap-maker Mayassem Tamim’s compelling chemistry of Saudi fragrances and flavors

RIYADH: Mayassem Tamim has had a passion for handmade soaps from a young age, and as an adult would search the globe for such products.

She discovered various products in several cities including Tripoli’s eco-friendly creations at Khan Al-Saboun and Provence’s boutique lavender offerings.

In 2018, Tamim decided to set up her own company, the Riyadh-based Mayassem, that produces luxury handmade soaps from Saudi Arabia-sourced natural ingredients.  (AN Photo/Abdulrhman bin Shulhuob)

In 2018, she decided to set up her own company, the Riyadh-based Mayassem, that produces luxury handmade soaps from Saudi Arabia-sourced natural ingredients.

She told Arab News: “My hope is these soaps, at least a few of the ones that become traditional, are going to help establish something in Saudi Arabia that is considered pure to the region. It doesn’t have to be just my brand of soap, but it can be an industry that is localized.

“We’re doing everything new in Saudi Arabia. Why not this?”

Mayassem products have no harmful chemicals and are handcrafted at her home atelier using sustainable, organic ingredients to ensure that they are gentle on the skin. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman bin Shulhuob)

Her products have no harmful chemicals and are handcrafted at her home atelier using sustainable, organic ingredients to ensure that they are gentle on the skin. The materials are locally sourced including extra-virgin olive oil from Al-Jouf, camel milk from Janadriyah, honey from Baha, and dates from Qassim.

She considers the soaps mini canvases, each splashed with a unique blend of non-toxic coloring inspired by their ingredients. The “Bliss” bar for example, made with Zamzam water and lavender fragrance, is crafted to resemble the Kaaba. The “Tamr” bar reflects the palette of the Saudi Arabia landscape as it features oud, saffron and turmeric fragrance, date paste, and camel milk.

“I know it’s a soap and not a painting but sometimes it is a feeling in me. I was very sad at the loss of a cousin, Rana, which in Arabic means song. So for one of my soaps, I decided to go with blue colors and called it ‘Celestial Melody.’ Sometimes it’s just things that simple,” the artisan said. 

The soaps come in floral, fruity, woody, citrus, or unscented options. While their main categories are classic, seasonal and signature, she also crafts limited-edition soaps, including an 18-box drop featuring bars encrusted with crystals such as lapis lazuli and black onyx. The brand also offers hand-poured candles made with natural soy, coconut and beeswax, as well as hand cream.

“People can buy soap 10 times cheaper at the supermarket. If I’m not offering them something that adds to the moisturization, that is organic, that does not harm them, and remains beautiful as long as they’re using it, I might as well not start at all,” she said.

Mayassem soaps come in floral, fruity, woody, citrus, or unscented options. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman bin Shulhuob)

With her background in biology, the chemistry of soap-making came naturally to her. She began experimenting, with aesthetics and organic products in mind, over a couple of years until she began testing her final product on family and friends.

After retiring from the UN Development Program, Mayassem began investing her time in her business. Her products have been featured in shops at Jeddah’s Islamic Arts Biennale and Diriyah’s Contemporary Arts Biennale, various homegrown market locations, and pop-up stores.

“I think I’m living the best years of my life because I’m thoroughly working on something that I’m enjoying tremendously. Not to say that I did not enjoy my career. I was very happy with the work I did, but it was time to start a new chapter in my life,” she said.

While artisans have been embedded in local culture for ages, the brand aims to call attention to their value by keeping the business hand-crafted and artisanal in line with its ethos. “I don’t want it to become a job. I want it to stay a passion,” she said. “Artisans, whether they’re making soap, embroidery, or painting, bring out the value in a country. And we have different regions, so it also brings out the identity of a country.”

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