Pacha Soap Raises Bar, Expectations of Social Responsibility
When it happens, you will know it. You will have to pursue a life in that direction. That is why it is called passion.
Pacha Soap owner, Andrew Vrbas shared this perspective as he reflected on the development of his passion. In 2010, Vrbas was a sophomore at Hastings College, where he took advantage of an opportunity to travel abroad for a semester. He was a double major in construction management and Spanish. He already had ties to Peru through a family member who had been in the Peace Corp and had lived in Peru for several years.
During his academic visit, Vrbas taught school children English and also helped with building construction. He was very moved by the plight of the local workers to make wages and livelihoods in a developing nation. He saw directly how these struggles affected the communities and environment for the children.
During his daily commute in Peru, on a bus over-loaded with workers, animals, and children, he realized that in order to truly be pragmatic it would be necessary to create jobs in this country that utilized its natural resources. Vrbas decided soap making could possibly be the answer. He knew this industry had primitive manufacturing techniques and could be implemented in a business environment with limited funding and basic infrastructure.
“Creating infrastructure to reduce extreme poverty is the basic idea,” he explains. “In doing that, you will eliminate the majority of societies’ problems like water sanitation and hygiene.”
When Vrbas returned to college, he created a business plan and inspired several other students to join forces with him in creating a soap company. He named it Pacha, as this is the Quechan word for “earth.” One of his cohorts, Abigail Burrows, was excited for the company. She even hand-made paper for the soap to be wrapped. She quickly fell in love with Andrew’s passion, and soon, with Andrew, himself. The two married in 2013 and together, continue building Pacha Soap.
After graduation in 2011, Vrbas decided that instead of taking a job in construction that fell in line with his degree, he wanted to continue expanding Pacha Soap. He had gained the support and assistance of many community stakeholders and other Hastings college students. He was being recognized as a young, talented business owner who was bringing fresh ideas and energy to the Hastings, Neb., economy.
In the initial stages of Pacha, the Buy-One, Give-One concept was adopted and led the team of entrepreneurs to create the “Raise the Bar” campaign. For each bar of soap made, a bar is given to help raise awareness of hand washing, sanitation, and natural resource usage. If the bars are sold in a retail store, that store can choose to donate the soap either internationally or locally to shelters, schools, or other programs in need. If the soap is purchased online, Pacha then gives the donated soap to organizations in developing nations. Along with the donation, they educate the children on the prevention of infectious diseases through hand washing.
Hastings Mayor, Vern Powers, was the first person to partner with Andrew and invest in Pacha Soap. Together, they were able to utilize many area business experts and services, allowing them to strategize and grow. Today, Pacha Soap has a Board of Directors consisting of six shareholders, including Operations Officer, Jessi Hoeft. Other shareholders include Roger Doerr, a former Hastings College instructor; Brent Gohlner, a local pharmacist; and Jessica Franssen, a community partner.
“My background is manufacturing and marketing. I have owned my own soap company. The right timing of me moving back home to Nebraska made this a bit serendipitous,” said Hoeft, on joining the company in January of 2014. “When you know all the good Pacha Soap Co. can and will do, you don’t wait to see what will happen, you help make it happen!”
“Having a board of directors is a good idea. They give good advice and provide accountability. Having people who are onboard with what you are doing also provides
checks and balances. Choosing the people who advise you is really important,” states Vrbas.
Pacha is currently in over 100 retail stores throughout the U.S., including many Whole Foods stores. They recently expanded by relocating from a 1,000 sq. ft. shop to one of almost 5,000 sq. ft. and with room to grow. Since the inception of Pacha, creating a good, quality product has always been a goal. Although the social mission comes first, using sustainable, raw products and safe production methods to create a variety of soaps that are appealing to customers and serves its function, is paramount for the team.
Vrbas' team does research and development to find supplies of palm oils, fragrances, and natural base ingredients that are aligned with Pacha’s social commitment. In late 2014, Pacha will launch a new product line of liquid soaps. The purpose of these new products will grow the mission of Pacha as they continue to use the concept of giving, based on a consumer purchase. This allows Pacha to be part of the WASH sector, which focuses on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Other activist organizations include UNICEF and World Bank. Clean water systems are key to reducing disease in developing nations.
“Our mission statement has to do with the WASH sector. With hygiene, we are obliviously working with hand washing now, but we want to move into clean water. The ingestion of poor water is hugely responsible for a lot of infant death around the world and diarrheal diseases,” said Vrbas.
Customers who purchase the new liquid soap products will be responsible for Pacha donating to water sanitation efforts in developing nations such as clean water wells, rain-catching systems and water purification systems.
Pacha Soap is a for profit business; however, the social mission is always the ultimate goal. Many businesses approach this differently, especially through the adoption of a non-profit business structure. Andrew feels very strongly that he is able to achieve his social goals in a quicker, more effective way, because the profit is available.
“A for-profit entity is a way that a social mission can come to fruition. What we are seeing now is a merge between non-profit and for-profit. It’s this idea of social capitalism and the idea that business can be the answer to problems in society," said Vrbas.
"One of the main reasons is that non-profits depend on the profits of for-profit companies. If you have a for-profit company that gives back, you have more control over that giving, and have a sustainable method of helping in whatever direction it is. You can depend on a consistent, stable way of giving.”
The team at Pacha Soap is happy to be located in central Nebraska. They feel this has led to their success. Pacha would not be able to do everything they have done thus far without the support and encouragement from the community. The visibility and connections they have made are attributed to the progressive business community who has presented many opportunities to grow.
“The community has been so supportive of Pacha,” states co-owner, Abigail Vrbas. “We are very grateful for the love we have received.”
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Open for Business, Central Nebraska
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