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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Behind the Label: Vermont Soap

A variety of Vermont Soap products are available at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op.
A variety of Vermont Soap products are available at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op.

Less than ten minutes away from campus in a solar-powered warehouse, Vermont Soap manufactures dozens of organic personal care products. Vermont Soap has been perfecting and expanding its natural soap products for over thirty years and distributes its goods locally and internationally.  

Larry Plesent founded Vermont Soap in 1992 after struggling with personal skin sensitivities. He experimented with non-synthetic products before successfully developing a formula that cleared skin irritation. According to Plesent’s LinkedIn profile, his “specialty is ‘organic stuff that foams.’” 

“He [Plesent] decided to start a company where he would create these products himself after really finding very few options in the marketplace. He developed some products that he liked, that worked for him, and then started spreading it out,” Matt Drinkwine, senior private label accounts manager for Vermont Soap, told The Campus. 

While Vermont Soap originated with bar soap, the company has since expanded its product line to include more items, including foaming soap and cleansers, cleaning products and pet washes. 

“We found that a lot of people had sensitivities due to those types of products that they use to clean their bathroom or kitchen or washing floors. And also for doing laundry, which is another big trigger. Laundry detergent can cause itching and rashes even on some people’s skin,” Drinkwine explained. 

In addition to producing its own line of soaps and cleaning materials, Vermont Soap manufactures products for other companies, known as private-label or white-label products. Drinkwine, who has worked at Vermont Soap since 2006, is in charge of white-label products.

Companies have the option to customize the scent and make additions to the formula. 

“Quite a bit of what we do here is working with other companies that maybe want to create a product for their existing line of personal care products, or some companies that are trying to break into the personal care kind of market,” Drinkwine said. 

He described Vermont Soap as “primarily a New England brand,” and all products are manufactured in Middlebury. Vermont Soap partners with the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op to sell products locally. 

Its products are also, however, sold nationwide and even internationally to countries like Japan and Singapore. Vermont Soap also used to operate a retail store on Exchange Street Middlebury, which closed in 2023 after 25 years of business. Drinkwine cited the pandemic as a primary reason for its closure. 

Vermont Soap currently operates online.

Sourcing local, organic ingredients is a cornerstone of Vermont Soap’s ethos and a business practice on which the company prides itself. The company’s website includes the tagline, “Organic before organic was cool.” Drinkwine said that consumers have become increasingly aware of the benefits of more natural products. 

“We focus on making organic products from food-grade ingredients. They’re really high quality organic ingredients, and that’s what we’ve focused on building our reputation on,” Drinkwine said, adding that one of Vermont Soap’s missions over the years has been to educate people on the benefits of organic personal care. “Now it’s pretty well known, and people kind of know, ‘Hey, you know, why am I putting this synthetic stuff on when it's probably gonna cause me allergies or irritation down the road.’”  

When asked about his favorite Vermont Soap product, Drinkwine mentioned the foaming hand soap with the lemongrass scent. 

“I love the feel of the soap and the way it works and the smell of it. I think it's really fresh and juicy, lemony,” he said. 

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Charlie Keohane

Charlie Keohane ’24 (she/her) is an Editor at Large. She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and a Senior Writer.   

She is an environmental writing major and a psychology minor from Northern California. Outside of academics, Charlie is a Senior Admissions Fellow at the Middlebury Admissions Office. She also is involved with the women’s track team and hosts Witching Hour, a radio show on 91.1 WRMC. In Spring 2023, she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, watching Greta Gerwig movies, polar plunging, sending snail mail, and FaceTiming her rescue dog, Poppy.