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Soap good enough to eat: How Melissa Torre went from chef to founder of Vellum St
Business

Soap good enough to eat: How Melissa Torre went from chef to founder of Vellum St

Torre’s training in the kitchen helped her craft a company with sustainable, local values

Vellum St Soap Company’s founder Melissa Torre believes we shouldn’t put anything on our skin that we wouldn’t put in our mouth.

Many commercially available soaps and skincare products are formulated with ingredients you would never eat. So why put would you put them on an absorbent organ like your skin? Torre posed that question, and her business was born.

Her tallow-based soaps, balms, and other products are made from food-grade ingredients, both locally and organically sourced. The two-person company (Torre and her boyfriend) is poised for growth. Products can be found at stores in the city, suburbs, south Jersey, Brooklyn, and even Portland.

By sourcing locally, Vellum eliminates the immense waste produced with packaging and shipping ingredients across the U.S. and sea. Recently, Torre spoke with Green Philly to explain how she started the company in Philly and where she sees it headed. 

Interview with Melissa Torre, founder of Vellum St Soap Company

Melissa Torre Vellum St soap company
Photo courtesy of Melissa Torre

When did you get the idea to start your own soap company? How did you get your first soap sales?

I started making soap back in 2012, when I was running my bakery Cookie Confidential. I had a recently discovered gluten allergy and was having a host of skin issues. As a chef interested in both nutrition and food sustainability, it wasn’t long before I started paying attention to not only what I put IN my body, but also ON it. So many commercially available soaps & skin care products today are formulated with ingredients we would never eat, so why slather them on your skin, which, like our digestive systems, absorbs everything you put on it?!

After a growing interest & extensive research, I discovered a slew of ingredients, many of which were leftover/excess ingredients in Cookie Confidential’s own kitchen, which held numerous benefits for the skin, most notably–animal fats … lard and tallow. I was mostly just making products for myself and a few friends, when a friend of a friend got a hold of a bar, loved it, and set me up with a pitch meeting for the new flagship location Whole Foods was opening. While we made the decision to cease doing business with Whole Foods once they were acquired by Amazon, I am forever thankful for the assistance, guidance, and opportunity their Health & Beauty team provided to me. There is a good chance I would have never decided to turn Vellum St into an actual business without their support!

Who else helps you make the product? Who is your distributor?

I personally formulate and produce every single item in the Vellum St line. We self-distribute. As of this year, my boyfriend has come on almost full-time to handle all of our shipping and fulfillment obligations. I’m hoping we will be able to keep him on full-time in this capacity even after the busy holidays.

Vellum St Soap Company
Photo courtesy of Melissa Torre

What sets Vellum Soap Company apart from local competitors?

Our commitment to local and upcycled ingredients is definitely number one. We source about 75 to 85 percent of our ingredients from within 100 miles of Philadelphia … this isn’t something any soy/olive/coconut-based beauty product in the region can say. When we first started, you would be hard-pressed to find other commercially available tallow products. Although the niche is expanding now, I don’t know of another company doing it locally. Aside from tallow, we incorporate at least one other “waste” ingredient into each product, from lemon peels to cherry seeds, to strawberry tops.

All of our glass packagings are 100 percent upcycled. We work with Bottle Underground to collect glass from the community, process and sanitize it, and then fill it with lotions, candles, and bath salts. In this way, not only are our ingredients sourced locally and thoughtfully, but our packaging is too. Being ecofriendly is not just a talking point or marketing angle for us, it is the core of our business. We are cognizant of this first–we make soap, candles, and skincare second.

Do you miss your work as a chef? Any plans to return to that career?

Over the last two years, I am finally starting to miss cooking for people a bit. I have flirted with the idea of doing some Cookie Confidential pop-ups, and a lot of folks have essentially been begging me to bring back some of our classics. While I don’t have the time, or quite frankly the desire to return to it as a career, I do hope to make some time pop-ups in the future, or perhaps to work on some consulting or collaboration projects with friends.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Torre

Where do you see Vellum Soap Company in the future?

I think we will continue to grow as a solid brand people from all walks of life can look to for quality and reliability, with a decent amount of fun mixed in. We are basic in some ways, especially in the skincare world … clean and simple products literally anyone can feel comfortable using, that work well, with no fluff, no trendy ingredients, but that comes in appealing packaging and scents.

I want to offer something that an eco-conscious hippie feels great about using, a tween girl is excited to be gifted, an auto immune-compromised friend finds relief in, a greasy auto mechanic enjoys washing his hands with, your mom loves moisturizing her face with. Head to toe, young to old, sensitive baby butts to calloused and overworked hands, I want them all to say, “Holy cow, this is good stuff!” From safe ingredients to delicious scents, I want it to truly be the soap people wish their mouths got washed out with!

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A Philly resident since 2006, Erin Flynn Jay lives in the city with her husband and two children. Recent writing credits include Next Avenue, Woman’s World and Youth Today. The topics she writes about include urban issues, economic mobility, childhood education, and women’s health. View all posts by Erin Flynn Jay

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