Victoria Herbal Soap Granules: Aleli's Winning Formula
Aleli Pansacola has hit upon a winning formula with Victoria Herbal Soap Granules and she wants others to know about it: a locally produced natural herbal soap that is 100% biodegradable. With so many product brands introduced regularly, Aleli's multipurpose coconut-based herbal laundry soap might be received as “just one of those," but not until one thinks of its implications.
Consider this with 70 million Filipinos who must take a bath or need to have their dishes, clothes, or what-have-you cleaned daily, one can just imagine the staggering amount of soap-filled water flushed out into our environment every day. Commercially produced soaps contain non-biodegradable substances like alkyl benzene, sodium silicate, phosphate and zeolite contents, and fluorescent materials. So while they help us keep clean, they do so at a cost to our environment.
Ironically, our country imports many of the essential oil required to produce soaps, when these oils may be obtained, literally speaking, in our own backyards. As Aleli puts it “I learned that we import essential oils, hundreds of thousands of tons. Our biggest import is citronella. I asked myself why we are importing these when we are a tropical country and we can plant anything and anything we plant will grow. Like citronella which belongs to the lemon grass family - it doesn't even need caring for. And yet we import tons and tons of it.
We used to be the number one exporter of ilang-ilang and now, wala na. Aloe vera is an essential oil known all over the world and we import that too. “We don't have any industry," The idea of a Filipino-produced natural herbal soap that is friendly to the environment and one with great potential to help the economy is indeed exciting.
But it is not as if Aleli concocted her formula out of the blue. Victoria Herbal Soap Granules is actually the product of almost two decades of involvement with herbal plants and environmental causes on Aleli's part. Aleli finished AB Journalism at St. Theresa's College, then concentrated on being a wife and mother to seven children for thirteen years after finishing college. On the side, she sold computer parts and nurtured her artistic side by making ceramics, arranging flowers, and painting at home.
In 1986, Aleli accompanied her sister on a trip to Banahaw, which got Aleli interested in herbal medicines. At that time, the Philippine Institute for Alternative Futures (PIAF) already existed but was inactive, so Junie Kalaw (president of Haribon Foundation) organized a core group to be trained as facilitators, with the members undergoing values formation. They would have group seminars with six to 10 people visiting Caliraya, Novaliches, or Laguna.
The following year, Aleli brought locally what she learned about herbal medicine from the PSI (People Synergistically Involved) in the US. In Pila Laguna, she helped organize seminars and set up botikas sa barrio. She found herself being invited to different venues to share her knowledge that, as she puts it, "Naging herbal na yung buhay ko." ("My life was concentrated on herbal medicine.")
Eventually, after teaching people on the uses of herbs, Aleli found herself being asked about the financial rewards of planting herbs. "Noon ko pinag-aralan kasi minsan lang nila nagagamit ang herbs pag nagkasakit sila. Para bang the bottom line was economic." she recalls, adding that she learned about the importation of essential oils at this time.
With the help of the PIAF group, she developed a one-half hectare experimental farm in Caliraya where they were able to produce essential oils. "Why are we importing raw materials when we have coconut oil and essential oil? We had all the materials to make the best soap in the world and yet we were not doing it. I could not understand why."
Aleli's soap evolved until 1991 when she came up with a formulation - Victoria - that satisfied her. "I started with no technology, no organization, no money and it was just an outreach program. My family called it an expensive hobby,". Aleli states. She chose to forego selling computer parts and concentrated on soap-making instead. Together with a daughter and three friends who believed in her product, she incorporated Daila Herbal Community Enterprises.
Ironically, foreigners and not Filipinos were the first to give formal recognition to Victoria Herbal Soap Granules. Even back in 1987, Aleli's soap had won the Gold Medal with Mention at the Salon Mondial de Invention et de Innovation au Moroc in Casablanca, Morocco. In 1992, it received an A rating at the International Pharmacologic Fair in the Netherlands. Then in 1994, the soap won the Silver Gild Medal in Geneva, Switzerland at the Salon International des Invention. Just last year, bagged the Grand Prix and Gold Medal D'Argent during the Second Morocco World Exhibition of Inventions, Techniques and Innovations under the Domain of Water and Environment.
Initially, Aleli marketed her natural herbal soap in cooperatives, herbal communities, and to her friends and relatives. There were, to be sure, difficulties encountered especially at the outset. People would say that it was not a known brand and it was not advertised on TV. But her greatest consolation was that people who did use it kept on doing so.
Victoria Herbal Granules are made of coconut oil, patchouli, citronella. This versatile product doubles as a bath soap (it may be used as a soap or a shampoo) and laundry soap and is a natural insect repellent. Its dried lather may be used as shaving cream.
Aleli Pansacola may have a winning formula in Victoria, but her real secret formula is the zeal and perseverance she invested in developing this Earth-friendly product.
* This article was written by Ann Montemar-Oriondo on June 6, 1999