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Meet a private business owner who’s gained attention locally and in the US for natural, handmade soaps.
Based in the central business district of Havana, this soapmaker produces mild, eco-friendly zeolite-based beauty products with honey, cocoa butter, mint, and more. The business is popular with locals but gained extra interest from tourists after being featured on American television.
We’ll meet the store’s owner to learn about her process and products. Then, you’ll have the opportunity to shop and bring some of these local, handmade soaps home as souvenirs.
Background on D’Brujas
The average Cuban lives on less than $30 a month, but regardless of income, everyone has some access to the necessities. And discounted soap is among the basics available at state-run stores, but they’re often made with harsher chemicals. When D’Brujas – literally, “Of Witches” – opened its doors in 2013, their softer soaps took Havana by storm.
A group of women, led by Sandra Aldama Suarez, chose the name D’Brujas as a playful reference to their herbal-based concoctions. And despite being smaller and more expensive than soap in state-run stores, locals – not tourists – are the majority of her buyers. Often paying out $2-4 for a bar of D’Brujas jabón (soap) that can last a month or longer.
Entrepreneurship in Cuba
Self-employed Cubans, known as cuentapropistas, represent about 10% of the workforce in Cuba – and saw rapid growth under improved US-Cuba relations. Especially in the hospitality sector, where restaurants and rentals make up the largest category of cuentapropistas.
Like Americans, Cubans pursue self-employment to make better wages and be their own boss. But they face uncertainty at home and abroad. Cuba’s government strictly regulates the sector, requiring licenses for every category of self-employment – along with high taxes to do business. And with recent fluctuations in US sanctions, entrepreneurs in the tourism sector take the brunt of lost profits.
However, adaption has long been a point of pride for Cubans, and as the economy changes – so will they.