THE FILLAREE STOR-EE
Hi, I’m Alyssa, and this is the story of Fillaree — a business that emerged out of the time my life changed forever.
I found out the hard way how much my heart could stretch simply by being both a mother and a daughter. Within six months, I found out that my mother had ovarian cancer, and my 4 month old son had a tumor. It was benign, but still life-threatening without removal, and he would have to endure a partial craniotomy. Thankfully, the procedure went smoothly and my mother’s treatment was successful. They are both thriving today thanks to modern medicine. In order to feel some sense of control in this out of control situation, I began a search for answers: Where does cancer come from? Is it possible to prevent it? One theme kept coming up: toxins are everywhere, in our environments and where we live, work, and play. I realized how many toxins and carcinogens were infiltrating my everyday life.
I wanted answers, and I wanted to know what I could do. I was like any mother, immersed in that moment of reading the ingredients on the backs of labels, now more conscious than ever of what I was exposing my family to.
Integrity was important to me. I wanted to understand what I was putting on our bodies and what we were breathing into our lungs.
The next four years, I started implementing these values into my own home life with a newfound fervor. I began to shop in bulk. I brought reusable bags. I took my water bottle with me everywhere. I dedicated myself to ensuring that my actions represent my values.
I felt good about the new, more sustainable lifestyle I had established… but then my family grew again. I gave birth to my daughter, and I thought that nothing about my lifestyle efforts would change. I used and reused cloth diapers and felt much healthier and happier bringing her into a less toxic home.
But being a full-time mom while trying to solve the world’s environmental problems is overwhelming. The DIY, the washing, the cleaning, the brainstorming for every object’s reuse. I wanted to make as much of a difference as I could, but it was taking more energy than I could spare. There were some days where I could barely make breakfast let alone my own laundry detergent. This was very frustrating.
My own roadblocks stirred up a passion for transparency.
It was (and still is) missing from most mainstream sources of information that the average consumer can access. We do our best here at Fillaree and believe that everyone else is doing the best with what they’ve got, too. There is no judgment about your own journey with sustainability! I know it’s hard, and that’s why I want to make it easier.
It always felt so defeating, having to purchase a new plastic refill just to refill my one plastic bottle so I could avoid buying more plastic bottles. Infuriating, even. I kept saying that I wish I could just go refill my bottle myself. And there it was. A place that did exactly that.
True sustainability can’t be gatekept. It can’t be everyone’s entire life.
It has to be made easy and efficient, we have to be helped halfway. I wanted an accessible way to reduce waste. As we walked around the farmer’s market the next day, we saw another refill station! I turned to my family, eyes wide, and said…
“Do you think… I could do this?”
For four obsessive months in 2014,
I poured myself (ha) into the idea. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom to a one- and three-year-old. I became obsessed, reading and watching all there was about how to make liquid soap. Whisking and whipping up over eighty something recipes, tracking notes in journals about what worked and didn’t, until the first Saturday of April 2014, when I sold my first bottle of soap.
At the South Durham Farmer’s Market on my second Saturday, I sold my first refill. The week before I had explained my concept to a few patrons, and most gave a slightly confused smile, but Pat and Linda decided to take a chance on me. At the time, my soap was a dollar an ounce, and Linda had even brought a thirty-two ounce bottle to fill up herself.
They came back in a few months and refilled and still come in to refill loyally to this day!
That feeling of support from the very first customer is why community is crucial to me.
I served on the board of Don’t Waste Durham, Fillaree was one of the first donors to the Great Raleigh Clean Up, and we helped fund Trash Trout when it started. We’ve donated & participated in events with Ellerbee Creek Watershed Association and supported many other local non-profits.
From 2016 to 2018,
I worked on growing within this community I was so passionate about. Increasing access to sustainability meant having our soap be refillable besides just at our storefront! And if I could get it to different local small businesses that I aligned with, my hope was that we would both benefit from these customers, and I could support my neighbors with my product.
People were hesitant at first to partner with me on the refill stations. It was unheard of and a big chance that I was asking people to take on me. My friend told me to reach out to Stone Brothers & Byrd, a mercantile shop more than a century old. They sold in bulk, even things like molasses in bulk, so soap could sit right next to that on the shelf, right? After a few meetings and some convincing, the first Fillaree refill station was born!
Since then, we have established over fifty refill partners in small community businesses that align with our values all over the country! Our goal has always been to spread this ability to reduce and reuse something as essential as soap as wide as it would go.
From 2018 to 2022,
I learned what it was like to be an essential business during a pandemic. (Everyone needs soap!) In the past year and a half, we were able to lower the price of our hand soap even more. Fillaree came from passion and became a vision.
We were making and producing the soap ourselves — that’s a closed loop economy!
Circularity is enabled by everyone working together. Inclusion became a built-in imperative.
The sustainability field has a good number of women represented, but once we stepped foot into the manufacturing world, it was male-dominated. We are a small business that holds true to our values and uplifts women-owned businesses, and understands that in order to include everyone we must represent everyone, this shows through in many parts of who we are and what we do.
And now today,
I reflect on the evolution of Fillaree in the past four years and can not believe where she is now. As we go forward, I keep our values at the forefront and think through how to scale our business responsibly. Our goals of accessibility, sustainability, and transparency have led us to soap formulations and product offerings that aim for lower prices and greater accessibility.We have recently just started offering dental and vision insurance to employees, something that has been a goal of mine forever!
We have fun, think consciously, and stay clean at Fillaree. I cannot thank my community and support system enough for everything, and all the wonderful women who work with me here.