Patounis’ Olive Soap Workshop is a historical firm which has been in continuous operation since the 19th century in the town of Corfu. Its commercial activity was originally launched in Zakynthos. In 1891 the son of Apostolos Patounis built the premises of the soap workshop in Corfu (serving initially as an annex and later as the headquarters of the business), where it operates unremittingly to this day. Nowadays, the company has an extensive product distribution network, a large part of which operates abroad.
The company manufactures soap using a specific traditional/pre-industrialist method (the soap is processed-cooked in a cauldron) in which pure fatty raw materials (olive oil, olive-pomace oil), all Corfiot products, are used. More specifically, according to the authentic recipe, the production of soap involves the following stages: a. Processing of the soap in a cauldron (saponification, salting-out, cooking, leaching, cooling), b. Emptying the soap from the cauldron, c. Hardening, d. Stamping – cutting, e. Maturation, f. Quality control – packaging.
Today Patounis’ Soap Workshop is the sole company across the entire country that manufactures the authentic green olive soap, a traditional hand-made product, made of crude olive-pomace oil, the beneficial effects of which have been confirmed. The product draws its name from its green colour when it is fresh, a property that results from the high chlorophyll content of the olive-fruit. Olive-pomace oil, aside from chlorophyll, is rich in antioxidants which are found in the olive-fruit skin. They contribute to the antiseptic, disinfectant and healing properties that characterize the authentic green soap and turn it into a skin-friendly cleansing product.
The main product manufactured in the company, as in any other traditional soap workshop of the Ionian Islands in the past, was the green laundry soap that consists of crude olive-pomace oil and soda (sodium carbonate). In the old days, before the advent of synthetic detergents and washing machines in the market, it was a household essential. Today the workshop, apart from the green laundry soap, manufactures soaps for personal care.
In the Patounis family knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next and specifically from father to son. The apprentice learns the art of soap making by the soap maker from the very first stage of production which is the most important. One has to watch over the cauldron closely while the soap is cooked. The duration of learning is long and calls for numerous repeated saponifications. The process combines standard education through the acquisition of scientific knowledge of the highest level (the last three generations of soap makers of the Patounis family graduated from the National Technical University) and the non-formal, empirical training in the art, as every single saponification takes place in a non-industrial environment, namely in a mode that is not entirely standardized.
The significance of the soap workshop in the collective memory of the Corfiots is great as it preserves traditional values and practices making effective use of the local products in environmentally friendly manners. Patounis’ Soap Workshop is the last surviving example of a productive activity that flourished from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. This is why today it has become the subject of academic study, journalists’ interest, an element of experiential education of young people and particularly students and an attraction to those who visit the town of Corfu.
The value of this element is reflected in the decrees issued by local and other bodies when the Patounis’ Soap Workshop was threatened with eviction from its historical premises. In 2008 the building of the workshop together with its in situ equipment was listed as a monument of industrial heritage by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Products of the Soap Workshop are on display at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseille, France.