Coming Clean: Erin Zaikis + Sundara Soap


Erin Zaikis is on a mission to save lives with soap. Photo by MICHAEL YESHION.


“I had gotten myself into it and I knew I could get myself out,” Erin Zaikis has a serene strength in her tonality. She’s referring to the moment she realized she wasn’t fulfilled in her life. Erin found herself sick in Thailand with fever. Her hair fell out. Her boyfriend (at the time) dumped her while she was in the hospital. Her loving parents had to come collect her. While immobile, she had plenty of time for introspection and started admitting to herself that her office job was making her absolutely miserable.

“My passion is to leave the world better than how I came into it,” Erin humbly reveals. Yet, her career path was leading her in a different direction. By her own assertion, Erin was once your typical spoiled 19 year old kid. She had been raised by parents who were active in their community but she personally had never gotten a sense of extreme poverty or how hard life can be when one’s surroundings completely lack resources.

A trip to India blew her mind. “I stepped out of a car onto what I thought was cardboard only to discover it was an amputee homeless person on the street.” She had never seen such poverty and felt compelled to get involved. “I see unfairness in the world and realize, I can do something.” She started by working in child trafficking for 4 years in India and Cambodia.

As she made ties with the communities she was striving to help, she met a boy who had never heard of soap. Again, her mind got blown. The young boy was not alone. Erin kept digging and discovered many areas of the world not only lack clean water but also lack access to soap. In fact, according to Unilever, an estimated 70 million people in India have no idea what soap is. When she relayed this discovery to her friends in the states, no one believed her. “The western world takes the ubiquity of soap for granted. We spend big money on so many things when soap is so low-cost.”

The leading cause of death for children worldwide is diarrhea caused by infections and dirty water. While clean water is and remains a high priority, Erin attests that soap can make a significant dent in the spread of eye and skin infections, pneumonia, diarrhea and other diseases that can be quashed through basic hygiene. “Two million children die every year from diseases that could be prevented by washing your hands.”

“You can spend thousands of dollars in vaccines and medications, $200 on clean water initiatives, $11 on building a toilet or $3 on soap.”

sundara soap vanichi

Sundara soap pictured above counterclockwise from the top right: Chai Tea Soap [ginger, cardamon, clove and cinnamon with antioxidant-rich coconut oil and turmeric] $4.99. Lemongrass & Pomelo Soap [Thai lemongrass extract, pomelo essential oil and organic coconut flakes] $4.99. Organic Pink Grapefruit Soap [fresh grapefruit oils with healing calendula petals and rosemary extract] $7.99.

Seeing soap as a low-cost solution that can also empower communities, Erin started Sundara, a soap company that donates part of its profits to clean water initiatives and soap workshops in India, Haiti and Cambodia. Her workshops teach women and men how to make soap as well as how to safely cleanse and recycle soap from hotels so it can be redistributed to their families and neighbors.Now, Erin’s mission has expanded to get people talking and simply acknowledge the problem as well as one simple solution. She hopes people will continue to visit, join her social media and spread the word, volunteer and become campus or community ambassadors for soap. “No one is anti-soap,” Erin exclaims with a smile. “We just need to be aware.” – Alexander CAMPBELL