Milk Street Soap Company
Kim and Roger Meacham weren’t looking to change the lives of their family, friends, and neighbors on Ocracoke – they were just looking for a way to help their son.
A Company Is Born
Four years ago, the Meachams’ then two-year-old suffered from a serious case of eczema. Kim, a force of great energy and vivaciousness, went in search of a homemade remedy. “I picked up a humble library book on soap simply because it was a beautiful book,” Kim says. “In the middle, I found a recipe for what is now our Mocha Milk soap bar. We checked out piles of books each week, and this delicious, tiny little seed of curiosity bloomed in an entirely unexpected new direction in our lives.”
After gathering some ingredients she had on hand, plus a few items ordered from the local hardware store, Kim developed “the first, sloppiest, wonkiest rash-healing bar. Within a bar, [our son’s] eczema issues nearly cleared. The next two years brought mommies wanting bars at play dates, and family and friends requesting them for Christmas.” From there, soap making took over the Meacham household. According to Kim, every surface was covered “with cookie sheets of hundreds of bars curing. In a grand act of romance, my husband gave me a flat of plywood for Christmas, and he subsequently created our Milk Street Soap bubbly factory under our house. The Meacham household returned to somewhat normal, and the company was born.
“We believe in long-lasting soap bars that bloom around you in your shower with a symphony of luscious, complex essential oil blends,” Kim continues. She describes their soap as being “preposterously bubbly, skin-nurturing, animal-friendly, organic, fair-trade, and [made with] sustainably-sourced ingredients.” Kim also takes pride in the fact that Milk Street Soap Company is locally produced and that they pamper everyone who uses their soap bars. “A good nurturing shower is no secret,” Kim explains. “Bathers tell their friends – and their local shop owners!”
Those local shop owners have been happy to jump on board too. Milk Street Soap Company can now be found in 38 retail locations throughout the Outer Banks, Raleigh, and other areas that extend all the way up to Maine. “Our business model is like a dandelion puff,” Kim says, “and our rocket growth has been almost all word of mouth. Our little bubbly factory cranks out about 75 pounds of soap each morning, starting at 4 a.m. The huge loaves get cut into bars before they’re put on racks that line the walls to cure for a month or more. After that the bars are wrapped and sold through our wholesale Soap Stockists, online through our website, or on the road and in person at markets.
“If we can get you wet, we’ll have you hooked!” Kim teases, and the Milk Street labels even advise potential customers that their soap may be habit forming. But now that the local market has been conquered, Kim is looking forward to more online sales. “In an immensely talented team effort, Milk Street Soap will soon launch a super sexy new website with beautiful photos taken on gorgeous Ocracoke Island that feature lots of local friends and business owners modeling 1920s circus costumes. It will be a game changer for information about us and extremely easy shopping!”
Open Source Ocracoke
Once Milk Street Soap Company became a success, both Kim and Roger wanted to help their fellow Ocracoke business owners find sustainable year-round growth. “The island’s economy depends almost solely on tourism or commercial fishing,” Kim explains. “That being said, the discussion at our dining table for years has been about how to live in such an awe-inspiring, natural place among the most wonderful people and thrive. Growth is typically very hard won, and it can simply slip away in an instant given that we’re 23 miles out in the ocean.”
The Meachams held a community potluck two years ago, and they invited all the local residents to come out and start a discussion based on “mutual caring, trust, hard work, non-competitive support, and better island economics. The initial group created ‘Open Source Ocracoke,’ and this quickly took a life of its own. The name embodies open support, information sharing, and trust.” Today, Open Source Ocracoke is an organic organization that supports the island’s business owners and other residents with regular meetings that are designed to enhance their knowledge. “We are barn raising, inspiring, hiring each other, breaking into teams to learn infrastructure, asking for help from wiser people than ourselves,” Kim says.
All the members of Open Source Ocracoke are already seeing broader recognition beyond their small community. “We have the support of our local Hyde County Economic Development officers and [officials at] the Beaufort County Community College Small Business Center,” Kim continues. “We are even being watched by the biggies in Raleigh, and Open Source Ocracoke has been called a successful incubator without walls.” Kim is incredibly proud of the work this organization does, and she encourages anyone who lives in a small community to check out Open Source Ocracoke on Facebook for more information.
It’s Not a Job — It’s a Calling
“In a better-than-fiction twist of fate, we uncovered an old family journal of healing remedies from the 1900s while cleaning the garage,” Kim says. The journal belonged to Mary Elenora Tierney, Roger’s great-grandmother, and it’s full of 19th-century medicinal recipes. “She could pretty much cure anything from freckles to dysentery,” Kim explains. “She was a maven at tooth powders, shampoos, hair tonics, and wrinkle creams. Interestingly, along with warts and malaria, a tan must have been a terrible thing for a woman at the turn of the century. There are 15 different formulas to bleach skin and remove tans.” Surely the opposite of today’s sun-loving, beach-adoring Outer Bankers.
Kim sees the possibility of drawing on great-grandmother Tierney’s recipes for future product lines within Milk Street Soap Company. “Many of these ‘ancient family secrets’ have been used by our family for years,” she says. “We are in the process of testing and adjusting to expand our organic line into beauty products and green daily useful things inspired by the wisdom of this amazing woman’s journal.” But, perhaps not all of them. “We will not, however, be making cold cream with Spermaceti Oil, brow thickener from Sulpher of Ether, or tan remover that includes Sugar of Lead…modern common sense here!”
Starting a family business can be a daunting, labor-intensive, and stressful endeavor. But for the Meachams, it’s been a great ride so far. “Growing Milk Street Soap Company has been deeply satisfying for our family, and it’s created an opening for us to learn and thrive. This time in our lives feels like puzzle pieces that are unknown at first, but, with thought and support from all kinds of curious places, they click into place…from the kitchen to global commerce!” When asked if Kim thinks she’s found her calling, she doesn’t hesitate. “I would say yes, I am coming up on my calling. Honestly, I really, really love it!” ♦
Meaghan Beasley supports all local businesses and will, if given a chance, fill your ear with information about why shopping at a mom-and-pop store can save your town.
All photos via Milk Street Soap Company.