Featured photo: Owner Temeka Carter named her company after the Black Belt area in Alabama which is known for its fertile soil. (photo by Michaela Ratliff)
Temeka L. Carter, her white-rubber gloves tainted orange with turmeric, waves excitedly as she emerges from her workspace in the back of her store.
“Would you like to try some products?” she asks each customer that enters her shop.
She leads patrons to a sink that serves as the washing area for hands and faces. On a nearby table rests organic facial washes, soaps and body oils for customers to test. She explains the benefits of each product and how to use it, always starting with the grapefruit and Himalayan pink salt-sugar body scrub to encourage the removal of dead, dry skin before moving on to the various butters and oils.
Carter owns and operates the Black Belt Soap Company on E. Market St. in Greensboro. She’s from the Black Belt area of Alabama, a region recognized for its rich, black topsoil, perfect for cultivating cotton. Although Carter moved to Greensboro more than 20 years ago to attend NC A&T State University and UNCG, she pays homage to her home state through the company’s name and logo, the cotton flower. Her husband and business partner, artist Jeff Petrishen, designed all the packaging for the company.
Carter’s skincare venture began with a visit to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. several years ago. The hotel provided seaweed soap in each bathroom, revealing a new shower experience to Carter.
“When I used the soap, I noticed the extra moisturizing, silky lather,” she says.
She was so impressed with the product that she contacted the supplier and placed her first wholesale order.
“From that time, I became a connoisseur of natural soaps and products,” She continues, “and eventually felt the urge to make my own.”
Carter furthered her skills during a honeymoon in Bali at the end of 2019. In addition to romantic dates and dinners, the 30-day trip was spent familiarizing herself with ingredients indigenous to the island, learning how to make coconut oil and perfecting her soap-making .
“The teacher kind of knew I knew my stuff,” she says. “She was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s another soaper in the house!’ But I just sit back and was like ‘I’m here to watch you.’”
Carter’s soaps are created with fruit- and spice-inspired scents, like patchouli and orange, lavender and vanilla latté.
“My favorite soap to make is one of our top sellers: green tea, lemongrass and honey. It smells citrusy and uplifting to the senses and feels silky on your skin,” Carter says.
She takes pride in her cold-processed gourmet soaps, which are made with lye and take approximately four to six weeks to cure. They’re offered in shapes like bars, cubes and cupcakes, which have sometimes been mistaken for food.
“We’ve heard stories that our cupcake soaps are so edible looking that kids have tried to take a bite,” Carter says.
She opts for carrier oils and essential oils like rose, Jamaican black castor and grapeseed oil to add to her products.
“I like rosehip seed oil because it is not greasy feeling and you can apply it directly on the skin as a carrier oil that helps to regenerate and heal the skin,” she says.
Spruce is a clarifying facial wash and shaving cream, jokingly referred to as the “kitchen sink” by Carter. It consists of a plethora of ingredients, including activated charcoal, African black soap, shea butter, Jamaican black castor oil, turmeric, witch hazel and more.
The space has been transformed to an area where customers are treated to a spa-like experience, with an array of products lining the walls and Afrobeats pulsing through the air.
Carter and Petrishen lead a healthy lifestyle, believing the notion “you are what you eat” to be true. They affectionately refer to topical skincare as “skin food,” as the products provide nourishment to the skin, like food to the body.
“I look for ingredients that have skin soothing, healthy properties such as avocado, sweet potato, bananas, flax seed gel and so forth,” Carter says.
Carter and Petrishen operated the business from home at first, deciding against a brick-and-mortar as they enjoyed having a flexible schedule, making it to trade shows and host pop-up shops. Carter says many customers assumed the business already had a store or was part of a franchise.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s online sales boosted, increasing the demand for extra containers and ingredients, causing the couple to run out of space in their home.
“Customers wanted to come to our home or meet us to pick up products and it became a chore trying to constantly arrange meetings,” Carter says. “I looked at my husband one day and said, ‘I think it’s time to get a store.’”
Carter and Petrishen contacted a friend for information on available spaces.
“My friend invited me to view her business space that day, and we contacted the leasing office for the property and signed a lease for a space next to her business,” Carter says. “Everything happened quickly, with little effort.”
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