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Behind Our Brands - Q&A with Tanaka

January 06 2021 – Mercantile London

Behind Our Brands - Q&A with Tanaka

Behind Our Brands - Q&A with Tanaka


Here at Mercantile London, we are fortunate to work with some amazing small brands, designers, and craftspeople that are helping to change the way we consume and impact upon the planet. Tanaka is an apothecary brand whose sustainable formulations and zero waste products are rooted in nature. 

The chunky, tacile bars are made with a unique blend of butters and oils, which results in highly conditioning, moisturising soap that forms a creamy lather and stable bubbles. The collection is structured by colour—not just as a means to differentiate between bars, but to celebrate nature’s palette. Tanaka use highly pigmented natural ingredients, such as spirulina, French Pink Clay and activated charcoal, to create beautiful hues. They don’t add any artificial colourings and are committed to using only 100% natural, cruelty-free ingredients so you won’t find any SLS, parabens, synthetics or palm oil in the products.

We asked Tanka founder and maker Leonara, to take some time to let us know more about her, her current inspiration and future plans for the Tanaka brand.


The Basic Bar

The Healing bar.




Could you introduce your brand TANAKA and tell us how you started?

"Some of my earliest memories are of afternoons spent creating what I thought were healing tinctures from loads of different herbs and flowers in my garden. So, in a lot of ways it feels like it has been brewing since the very beginning. But I started making soap in a more formal way because I was becoming more aware of my overall health—extending to what I put on my skin".

Can you explain the thinking behind your brand name?

"Tanaka is a Zimbabwean Shona name, which means “we are good”, and I mean it’s a bit more holistic than that in context, but in English that’s the closest translation. But I was drawn to the name because I feel like that encapsulates the sentiment that guides our whole mission. We make products to benefit skin health, boost well-being, and encourage people to reduce their plastic usage".

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in getting your brand started?

"I think for the most part, it’s quite hard to balance getting a brand off the ground while you’re still maintaining other life commitments. I know that some people are fortunate enough to be able to dedicate their whole time and energy to their business, but I do still maintain my “day job”, so it can feel like I’m completely flat out most of the time. Beyond that, I think learning when to bring others on, when to pay other people instead of trying to do everything myself, and letting go of some control in order to delegate have all been growing pains that our first year of TANAKA have seen. That being said, I think we’ve been incredibly lucky with the response and growth we’ve seen, so it definitely feels rewarding to know that the time spent is all worth it".

Sustainability is a huge factor in the beauty industry now, how does TANAKA contribute to this?

"TANAKA was definitely founded with sustainability front of mind, and not just environmentally, but socially as well. I think sometimes it can be quite hard, because obviously the world is set up in a way that, being sustainable is often the less convenient option, and as a small, growing business, that adds a lot of obstacles! But never once have I felt like it isn’t worth it. Everything we do has sustainability taken into consideration, whether that’s sourcing ingredients, packing materials, or who we work with. We also actually just switched over to fully zero waste wrapping for the soaps, so it’s been exciting to be able to say that TANAKA is officially a 100% zero-waste product".

What are you working on right now?

"With the brand we have some exciting collaborations in the works, and you may even see some products being rolled out that aren’t entirely soap based, which I’m really excited about. I think TANAKA is in an interesting stage at the moment where we’re growing quite rapidly, and then I’m personally growing quite a bit – I guess we all are in a way through 2020. But ultimately I’m working on figuring out where we go next, and I’m excited to see how it all pans out".

Who or what do you look to for inspiration in your work?

"Mostly I’m inspired by nature, and the transformative healing power that certain ingredients can have on us. I’m also constantly inspired by hearing friends or family’s skin concerns, and wanting to find a solution for them through natural ingredients".

Favourite Instagram account?

"@girlsthinkimfunny for the best memes on the internet".

Favourite artist? 

"Kemang Wa Lehulere".

Favourite author? 

"Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie". 

Favourite band or musician?

"Maverick City Music (at the moment)".

Favourite scent? 

"Cedarwood & Black Pepper".

Most memorable holiday or travels? 

"Hiring a car and driving around Costa Rica with friends".

Favourite quote? 

"What's for you won’t pass you by".

Your brand is based in London, what are the best and worst aspects of London living?

"Oh wow I mean, I think that in a way all of the good things about London are also all of the bad things, if that makes sense? Like, it’s massive, there’s always something to do, it’s so alive with energy and every type of person under the sun is living in London. But then in the same way, it’s really hard to get around, can be impossible to see friends who live in different areas from you, it can be hard to disconnect and get in touch with nature or yourself because it’s quite a distracting city, there are so many people here and the inequality in London is horrifying. Also, I mean it’s so expensive so that’s definitely only a con! As much as I love London, I am actually leaving in the next couple of months! So the brand will soon be based in St. Leonards".

You have a whole day free - what would you do with your time (under 'normal' conditions) ?

"Check to make sure I’m not dreaming probably. No but I would probably wake up early but have a super slow morning, do a long yoga flow, listen to some music or a podcast and maybe read a bit. Then I would absolutely go for a walk with some friends. Pretty simple really!".

Shop Tanaka here.

Follow Tanka here.

Tagged: apothecary, Brands, craft, East London, eco brand, ethical brands, independent, Inspiration, Mercantile London, Spitalfields, sustainability