Today, at the end of summer, I make my way down to Albert Road for a cheeky slice of cake and cuppa with Samantha Worsey, the founder and director of Southsea bathing Hut!
I've worked with Sam over the years on a whole load of other cultural projects, but today, it's all about her and her brilliant natural skincare business, which she started right here in Portsmouth from her kitchen table.
If you've ever met Sam, you'll know she's super-likeable, and is very happy and bubbly! It's not until today, though, that I dug deeper to find out what makes her tick and how she found success.
Sam was raised by serial entrepreneurs — she remembers how hard her parents worked during her childhood.
Her family first moved from Chichester to Portsmouth in 1983, and in 1987, her parents established the Mariners Court Guesthouse in Whitwell Road, and also later became landlords of The Bucks Head pub in Meonstoke, near Wickham.
Despite the success of both businesses, Sam remembers how the whole family lived in a tiny flat in the basement of a Southsea house, with her mother and father sleeping in a windowless room — more of a cupboard than a bedroom!
Sam recalls how her parents never complained about living in such conditions, or the constant travelling they had to do between Southsea and Meonstoke. They were happy, worked hard, and loved one another.
Looking back on this time, Sam feels extremely proud of her parents, and feels she's invested their work ethic in every job she's pursued over the years.
Sam went to school at Wykeham House in Fareham, and though she hated being at the ‘school for girls’ which she felt lacked opportunities for creative expression, her time there resulted in good grades, and won her a place at Peter Symonds College in Winchester.
There, Sam enrolled on creative humanities-based A-Levels in Performing Arts and Classical Civilisations, and loved them. Being in a place which nurtured creativity, and having appeared on the Kings Theatre stage since the age of four, made Sam refocus her dreams on becoming an actress.
After college, Sam studied Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway University in London, and then went on to train at East 15 Acting School and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. For eight years, she worked from London performing in theatre, film, and television.
At the age of 28, Sam landed a job in the ‘Learning and Participation’ department at Chichester Festival Theatre, before going on to become the General Manager of Portsmouth Festivities. But she always had that drive, instilled in her by her entrepreneurial parents, to try running her own business. So, in April 2015, she launched Southsea Bathing Hut!
Sam's love of history, honed by her A-Levels, led her to unearth the lost soap-making heritage of Portsmouth. The city had a flourishing soap industry from the 1700s until 1932. The major players were Doudney's Soap Works in Commercial Road, whose ‘Dolphin Soap’ brand sold internationally, and Tilly's of Prospect Row (now Gunwharf Road).
The reason these soap factories were in Portsmouth and other major port cities across the UK was because naval personnel needed to wash their sheets and uniform when they came home after months of being out at sea!
It wasn't soap as we know it today, though, with its array of indulgent aromas. It was more functional. In the 1930s, most households would only own one bar of soap for the entire house, which would be used for washing the clothes, the floors, and the kids!
Sam wanted all her skincare products to be totally natural and vegan, with no chemicals. She taught herself to make the products, develop her own recipes, and make them legal for sale.
Southsea Bathing Hut‘s soap are packaged in special paper sleeve, adorned with the cutest silver shell charms. Attention to detail like this, plus the brand's striking visual identity, has helped Sam's products find their way into countless homes across Portsmouth, Hampshire, and further afield.
Sam's favourite product — and mine! — is Vitamin Sea, Southsea Bathing Hut's bestseller. It's a beauty balm pack full of vitamins.
Sam sells all of her stock at the Love Southsea Markets, which we host on the first Saturday and Sunday of every month. As a regular trader, she loves the camaraderie of the market community, and also cites the market as being instrumental in shaping and growing her business, thanks to the instant feedback she gets from customers on new products and what they want to see in the range next.
Over the past 18 months, Sam has been selected as one of the Small Business Saturday ‘Small Biz 100’, which led to her meeting George Osborne at Downing Street at the end of 2015. Southsea Bathing Hut was also recently shortlisted for ‘Micro-Business of the Year’ with the national British Small Business Awards, and has been approached by a number of major global retailers!
Our recommendations: the Mint Overboard Artisan Soap, Lemon & Orange Blooming Bath & Shower Oil, ‘A Lovely Pot of Coconuts’, and the renowned Vitamin Sea balm. I'm pretty excited about the new Christmas range, too!
Interview by Louise Whitmore — Edited by Jeeves Williams