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The Pip Box A beauty subscription box promoting only cruelty-free beauty brands.  The Mouse Potato A digital design agency specialising in social enterprises, charities and companies doing great things.

Sofi Evans (founder of The Pip Box (PB) and The Mouse Potato) and I, hit it off immediately. It’s hard not to like someone when you both produce the same Fringe notebook, are mutually addicted to the stilton and walnut pate from The Cheese Shop, and get to chat for an hour about beautiful things which also do good. It certainly doesn’t hurt to also be sipping cappuccinos in Gustum, whilst snacking on delicious amaretto biscuits.

Before launching both businesses sometime in February this year, Sofi was working full-time in the Wirral as a graphic designer. She’s originally from North Wales, but her heart’s been firmly in Chester for the last 6 years. Sofi cites Telfords, The Architect, Veeno, Corks Out and Ginger as just a few reasons she set down roots after a brief stint in London (she’s aware that they’re all drinking establishments, but I back her up).

Getting her puppy Pippa, prompted Sofi to take more of an interest in animal welfare. When she came across a post on Pinterest which revealed that some of the big beauty brands were testing on animals, she was shocked – it featured brands she used every day. ‘I felt frustrated that I’d been loyal and they were quietly doing this. So I wanted to make the switch to cruelty-free beauty. I cancelled the beauty box I was signed up to and started to have a hunt around. I really struggled – it’s not very regulated, brands can even print bunny logos on their products, fake cruelty-free logos. It’s not illegal, there are so many loopholes.’

Distressingly Sofi goes on to say, ‘I see brands doing everything they can to not be open and honest about it. And they don’t have to be. For example, they claim to be cruelty-free, but are paying another company to test on animals for them. It’s false advertising.’

I hardly wear any make-up these days, but as Sofi points out, it’s all sorts of products across the beauty and medical spectrum – not just limited to cosmetics. ‘Rabbits are often tested on; they’re gentle natured and not likely to bite. They also don’t have tear ducts, so they can’t cry away what’s put in their eyes.’

Sofi is keen to steer away from gunning for certain brands. Her objective here isn’t to name and shame – ‘we don’t want to make people feel guilty. It’s just about spreading awareness and letting people know that there are other options. We put tips on our Social Media – cruelty free logos that you can actually trust – there’s 3 of them. And a set of questions to ask brands if you’re unsure. Their responses shouldn’t include no, if, but or maybe. We try to be more positive, promoting the products in the box, brands that do good.’

They’re happy to field questions from anyone (not just subscribers) and offer up advice, or recommend beauty bloggers. This desire to spread the cruelty-free word goes far beyond the bottom line.

We discuss the expense involved in anyone looking to make the switch to ethical. ‘I was digging deep through animal testing policies trying to get to the truth. I made a lot of mistakes as it was so tough to navigate, and wasted a lot of money exploring it.’

The Pip Box includes a range of travel of full size items (entirely cruelty-free of course). You can also select Vegan Friendly, a tougher request but one Sofi is only too happy to fulfil, ‘a few products contain bees wax but we replace them.’

I wonder if there’s anything that isn’t a nightmare to source an ethical alternative for. ‘Not really. There are more options out there then you’d think. We struggle to put foundation in the boxes, but only as that’s so personal – hopefully later down the line we can tailor boxes to skin tone etc. We’re still happy to recommend companies.’

And her favourite product? ‘I’m obsessed with Bloomtown sugar scrubs, you don’t need any moisturiser when you get out the shower, and they come in lots of different scents which smell gorgeous. I’ll probably use them forever.’

Prices start from £13.50 (plus postage and packaging) for 5 products. Most of these are accompanied by discount vouchers for those that fall in love and want to upsize. It’s certainly a cost-effective way to try before you buy; the October box brags a retail value of £50. ‘The upcoming ones will be £60-£70. People will always get more than what they’ve paid for.’

Sofi’s chuffed with the support of beauty bloggers, especially those who’ve been on board since day one. Her priority is the word getting out that there’s a cruelty-free alternative available. She doesn’t put any parameters on the reviews beyond encouraging the blogger to share with their followers if they like what they try.

So how do they pick what goes into each box. ‘We try to do it seasonally – summery spritzes and lip balms, winter is more about body oils and lotions. We do lots of research into brands we want to work with, and they also reach out to us. The aim is to get people to switch, so it’s always full of universal things; face wash, body wash etc. and at least one make-up item. Hopefully in 6 months or so they’re saving money and they’ve found products for life.’

I’m especially lured in by the pending Christmas box, which will include extra treats and festive faves. They’re also keen to showcase brands previously featured that were popular in 2017. The one year birthday of The Pip Box is February 2018, so subscribers can expect a special Birthday Box then too.

We touch on Sofi’s second business, ‘The Mouse Potato’, a digital design agency specialising in social enterprises, charities and companies doing great things. I googled ‘Mouse Potato’ before we met up – ‘a person who spends a great deal of time using a computer.’ Sofi tells me, ‘it’s in the dictionary! People either love or hate the name, but either way it’s memorable.’

As The Mouse Potato are so clear about the type of companies they want to work with, I wonder what would happen if someone approached them without those values. ‘It’s not happened yet, but I would be clear that they’re not really suited for our services. I also think what we believe in, means something to our clients. They want to work with us because of it.’

With two successful businesses in her pocket (Elle Magazine named PB one of the best UK beauty box subscriptions this year and Theo Paphitis from Dragon’s Den is a big fan too), Sofi seems like a good person to turn to for advice on going it alone. ‘If you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work – so choose something you’re passionate about. There’s no reward without a little risk but try to ensure it’s calculated and well thought through. You will make mistakes, and worry (and in some instances sob!) but you’ll also learn things and come up with tried and tested solutions. PB involves a lot of tight timings and deadlines, it also relies heavily on suppliers. So getting as organised as possible is essential, and giving myself wiggle room. Things pop up unexpectedly, so you always need a Plan B. I also make To Do lists every Sunday night, and set reminders on my phone for anything essential.’

Team Amble are jumping up and down with excitement as we’ll be reviewing our very own Pip Box later this year. However, we didn’t want to leave you out little Amblers, so here’s a discount code for 10% off your first box – AMBLE

Read a shortened version of Sofi’s, ‘Beauty and The Brexit’ feature here.