Growing into brick-and-mortar

As you enter The Black Belt Soap Company at 416 East Market Street, you may be greeted by one of the two owners – Temeka Carter and Jeff Petrishen. Your gaze may go upward toward the two chandeliers that signal the formality of the shop. Jeff will tell you that they ordered the chandeliers from Amazon and then spent hours putting all the glass pieces together.  Or you may find yourself looking at the orderly shelves displaying soaps, body oils, scrubs and skin-care products, handmade with herbs such as mint or rosemary, or vegetables such as sweet potatoes or okra.

The store’s name is derived from the area of Alabama that Carter called home as a child. This strip of rich black topsoil across the center of the state called The Black Belt originally grew cotton – the logo of the shop bearing the region’s name. 

Carter originally sold her soaps online (www., at craft fairs and at specialty shops in Greensboro. But as the business grew, and Carter’s and Petrishen’s house overflowed with boxes upon boxes of soaps and the ingredients for making them, they decided it was time for an actual brick-and-mortar. “We were grateful for the business growth, but initially did not want to manage a physical store,” says Carter. “We either needed to purchase a larger home or get a store, as the business was starting to take over the house. Local customers wanted to stop by and pick up orders or arrange a meet up. Scheduling became another job!” Overall, they are pleased with their decision, as their house is now a home again and customers can visit the store to shop at their leisure. 

Diving into the creative endeavor of soap-making was part of Carter’s grieving process over the loss of her only child, Chloe, who passed in 2014 just before her seventh birthday from an undetectable blood clot that caused an embolic stroke. Working with her hands helped her process her feelings and put her energy into something that helps others. Each year Temeka celebrates Chloe’s birthday and has a license plate that bears her name. She freely talks about her, saying “Chloe is very much part of my life.”

Carter and Petrishen have been married for three years after a long-distance courtship between Greensboro and Boston. Petrishen has a background as an entrepreneur in the arts as both a painter and photographer, and is responsible for the business’s branding, such as product label design. For Petrishen, the transition from living and working in New York City and Boston has required some adjustment. “The pace is certainly different,” he says, “but I’ve met some really nice people since being here.”

In addition to running The Black Belt Soap Company with Petrishen, Carter is as multifaceted as the crystals that hang from the shop’s chandeliers. She holds a doctorate in rhetoric and composition from UNCG and teaches courses in African American studies, women’s studies and holistic wellness at N.C. A&T.  She recently returned to veganism and is currently studying to become an integrative health coach. Should you think Carter and Petrishen are a couple of workaholics, they know what travel and pleasure are all about. Each year they close the store for a winter break between Christmas and February 1st to enjoy a vacation. This year they are headed back to Bali for the second time, seeking product inspiration while indulging in an entire month of happiness for themselves.   

Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater is an Professor Emeritus of English at UNCG. Her specialties include rhetoric and composition as well as literacy and ethnography. Temeka Carter is one of her former students.

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