Meet John Marciano, founder of the Republic of Soap – a holistic approach to creating products reminiscent of a bygone era, made by hand in small batches, with love!
You are a child of expatriates. Where are you from originally?
I have mixed heritage and was born in Izmir, Turkey. When I was six months old my family moved to New York. But I started kindergarten in Jakarta, and also attended the Joint Embassy School, which is now known as the Jakarta International School (JIS). In the mid ‘70s, we moved to Singapore and had a household there for 22 years. I remember so many beautiful colonial buildings – that unfortunately don’t exist today. I’ve always loved the Arts, and ended up majoring in Fine Art at a private university in Texas. Once I graduated from University I joined an apprenticeship programme for Art Conservation and was trained in the restoration of 3D decorative fine art objects such as wood, stone, jade, and all types of ceramics. After three years of this, I returned to Singapore to start a company dedicated to the preservation of National Heritage Artworks.
That’s incredible! Tell me more about that!
Well, I adhere to the American Institute for Conservation’s code of ethics, which essentially means that although the art restoration I do is often undetectable to the human eye, all my work is reversible. So in the future when better technologies are available, a future Art Conservator will easily be able to continue the effort to preserve historic works of art by easily removing the work I’ve done without problem. I have restored some great pieces, ranging from modern to prehistoric art. I’ve seen art that is invaluable in private collections. In Singapore I restored a lot of incredible porcelain because the Chinese value works of art in this medium very highly.
What brought you here to Bali to live?
I first came to Bali in 1974…can you believe that?! Jeez, I feel old! I was a child and went around on the back of my Dad’s rented motorbike. It was mesmerizing! Even though I was young, I still remember a lot about how Bali was back then. I remember when the road in front of the original Mades Warung on Jalan Pantai Kuta was dirt….with two-way traffic. And I remember when the road from Simpang Siur to Sanur wasn’t yet a bypass and still had unpaved stretches going through thick jungle. Imagine riding through that at night with no street lights whatsoever…creepy! I continued visiting Bali many times throughout my life and to this day there are still pockets I visit where I feel time has stood still. Sometimes it’s the way the light hits the sand and the trees, the sounds and smells; I get transported back, and it’s always nice to have that frame of reference – knowing what Bali was like before. I feel privileged to be able to know that. When a business opportunity arose in Bali I came here to live. That was 15 years ago.
I buy your soaps all the time. What got you into doing the Republic of Soap?
I originally moved to Bali to make candles. Historically speaking, the village Chandler made candles and soap, so the idea of making soap was intriguing. A chandler typically made candles and soap with rendered animal fat. I was a vegetarian and didn’t want to animal products, so I experimented at home and kept a log of all the batches – testing them by giving the soaps to friends for feedback and adjusted the components to suit a market of people with all skin types. After a few initial challenges, I finally achieved all the characteristics I wanted in soap which was a natural bar of soap that was hard and long lasting. All my bar soap is cold processed (made without external heat). From the natural vegetable soap, it was a gradual transition into manufacturing liquid soap and all the other body care products I manufacture today. Depending on what is being requested, my products typically range between being 97% to 100% natural.
When did you expand to private label and other products?
Private label started quickly. All my special order clients walk in with a dream or an idea. I simply act as their hands to make what they want a reality. Clients usually include Hotels, Spas, Resorts, Villas and Boutiques. I do a lot of custom tailoring for clients. I’m not a chemist, but more like a baker. I employ what I call “kitchen chemistry” to create fun and innovative products, which can be challenging when dealing with natural ingredients. The natural order of anything natural is to break down and decompose back into nature. There are natural ingredients which act as preservatives, so I include them whenever possible for longevity of product. I try to make products that are long lasting and organic.
You seem to know a lot about local natural beauty products. What’s beneficial for us in Bali to help keep our skin healthy and beautiful?
To be honest – I would say that awareness is probably more important than having a huge arsenal of beauty products for every type of application imaginable. Natural beauty comes from within. It’s quite simple in my mind: Stay clean! Stay out of the sun as much as possible and use Sun Protection when you are in the sun. Smile a lot. Eat well and stay hydrated – and be thankful that you’re in a place where you can easily drink lots of coconut water! Coconut water is amazing stuff!
We are in the sun so much, especially when driving bikes. I hear you have the biggest bike in Bali? Care to comment?
I do have a big cruiser made for American highways. I enjoy the ride. You can cruise comfortably all day on it. But to get around all the traffic I use a smaller bike because it just makes more sense.
So now tell me about your other interests. I see you have a guitar leaning against an old Marshall amp over there.
I love to play guitar. I like blues and rock based music. I just arrived back from playing the Bangkok Blues Festival, which was fun!
John picks up his guitar and plays some riffs. Play on John…