Cleaning Up Raleigh"This is my heart and soul. I get to combine art with nature."
Not many women can say they've gotten into Tom Cruise's shower or have lathered up Ryan Gosling and the cast of the "Harry Potter" flicks. Tracey Gurley has, thanks to a line of in-demand soaps and shower scrubs that are frequently sent to celebs or are part of awards show "swag bags." The North Carolina native didn't have her eye on Hollywood A-listers or the MTV Movie Awards when she started her thriving bath and body business; she was actually staring directly at her then-infant daughter.
When Gurley's daughter, Madison, was a newborn, she had extra-sensitive skin. "I would literally change her diaper 15 times a day," Gurley says. "I was panicky about her, about keeping her comfortable. That's when I started making products just for her — oils and soaps that I hoped would soothe her in the bath."
She discovered that her passion for creating natural soaps and body scrubs extended beyond her daughter's diapers. "I started researching different oils and different properties of oils and that kind of thing," she says. "I spent tons of time reading and making notes and began developing my own recipes."
From there, Gurley started giving her handcrafted products as holiday gifts and birthday presents, annual treats that were so well received that her neighbors started asking if they could get their hands (and feet and arms and legs) on her creations without having to add another candle to their birthday cakes. "Three years ago, some of my friends said, 'You know, you should really start selling this.'"
She did. The self-taught Gurley started an online shop and began working on more unique creations, always looking for an opportunity to incorporate local ingredients, whether it's beeswax or honey or Durham's own Fullsteam beer. (That's right. She makes lager-infused soap.)
For Gurley, keeping her customers' showers stocked has become a full-time business, and she personally handles every aspect of it, from painting the labels that wrap around each bar and balm ("It's more of a personal touch," she says) to writing press releases and making regular appearances at craft fairs and the North Raleigh Farmer's Market.
"Trial and error can take a tremendous amount of time!" she laughs. "You have to see what works. I do a lot of reading and research and, in the beginning, a lot of 'throw it in the trash' kind of things. But it's worth it when you're trying to develop new products."
So where does a woman go after she's (sort of) spent the day showering with the celebs? Hopefully out of her kitchen! Gurley's kitchen is her daytime chemistry lab, an overworked room where the china cabinet is stocked with herbs, and soap bars are cooking in the Crock-Pot. "It feels like I'm constantly pulling things out and putting them away," she says. Having a kitchen-based business at least gives her a good excuse to go out for dinner somewhere, with the Angus Barn being a popular favorite.
More often than not, however, you'll find her doing what she loves most — making soaps. The fact is, while you won't find it listed on the back of those hand-painted labels, Gurley's genuine passion for her work is a major ingredient in each one of her creations.
"This is my heart and soul," she says. "I get to combine art with nature."
Check out Tracey's Raleigh.