BUFF CITY IN THE MAGIC CITYThis Tennessee soap company comes clean about bringing its all-natural products to Birmingham.
By Emily Sparacino
Photos by Dawn Harrison
Jeff Collier isn’t OK with people just picking up items in his Buff City Soap Company shop in Hoover. No, he wants them to smell everything, too. How else will they find their favorite soaps, bath bombs and body butter?
Another rule in Collier’s shop, which opened behind Krispy Kreme Doughnuts off U.S. 280 in May, is no one should leave empty-handed. He knows if people give the products one chance, they’ll likely give them another. And another. Lather, rinse, repeat.
“We always want people to try our soap,” he says of the all-natural bars lining tables and crates in the shop. “Commercial soap is not what you think it is.”
Buff City Soap started as Bartlett Soap Company, a small business born in founder Brad Kellum’s garage in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2013. Unlike some commercial soap products, Buff City products are free of paraben, phthalate and detergent, and the soaps are exclusively plant-based and made with coconut, palm and olive oils. Phrases like “Awwww Natural” and “Buff Naked Ingredients” on the shop walls speak to the clean and environmentally conscious composition of Buff City’s products.
“They are 100-percent natural, including the color and fragrances,” Collier says. “We take a lot of pride in our soaps.”
If the contents of the soaps don’t get people’s attention immediately, the names of the soaps will. Princess Fiona, Mimi’s Lemonade, Sun Dried Cotton, All Hail The Queen and Mama Liked The Roses headline the list. The men’s wall – a collection of soaps and beard products targeting even the manliest men that might avoid a soap shop – is also full of eye-catching names, like Shave & A Haircut, Scarface, Urban Cowboy, Ferocious Beast, Blue Collar Soap and Oatmeal Stout.
“We find that a lot of husbands live vicariously through their wives,” Collier says. “They enjoy it (the soap) just as much.” Translation: Men might not frequent the shop like their female counterparts, but they’re using the products at home––and likely asking their wives to pick up reinforcements of their man soap the next time they’re out. In addition to the soaps––one of which is an unscented variety called Sportsman Soap for the avid hunter––Buff City offers beard balm, beard oil, shower oil and facial cream for men.
A bestseller among teenage and some adult customers is the activated charcoal facial bar, a black disc resembling a hockey puck that contains activated charcoal with hemp oil, coconut oil, shea butter, spearmint and eucalyptus essential oils. The blend is designed to gently treat skin for conditions such as acne and redness. The charcoal bar is the only product Birmingham’s Buff City doesn’t make in-house. Everything else is made in the shop each week.
“We really have great hopes for the store,” Collier says, and adds the 280 shop will be a “factory” location for future Birmingham-area Buff City locations, which would join existing locations in Tennessee (Bartlett and Downtown Memphis Pop-Up), Mississippi (Olive Branch and Tupelo) and Colorado (Castle Rock).
Collier and his family moved to Birmingham from Memphis nearly a year ago. He travels back to Memphis once a week to work at his radio stations there. Radio is how he was initially introduced to Buff City Soap. He did commercials for the company, started using the products and became a “behind-the-scenes spokesperson” for them. “I fell in love with the products,” he says.
The company offers college football themed soaps diehard fans will appreciate, and has released a new line of fall scents, including Pumpkin Spice, French Vanilla and Hot Buttered Rum. With the holidays approaching, Buff City will gift box anything, too.
The shop also offers Hello Soap Box monthly subscriptions. Each box contains a different combination of scents and products delivered to subscribers’ doors every month. Facial toners, sugar scrubs, citronella lotion bars and pet soap are popular with customers, too. And Buff City works with a dermatologist in Memphis to make sure its products are as beneficial to the skin as possible.
“We’re really serious about our soap,” Collier says. “A lot of people come in with skin issues. It does make us feel good. We have products that really do help people.”
In addition to the U.S. 280 location, Buff City products are available at The Sassy Shopper in Alabaster, Riverchase Galleria and Brookwood Village. According to Collier, Buff City will expand in Birmingham and Tennessee in the coming years. As for Collier’s U.S. 280 shop, located at 5361 U.S. 280, the future is bright.
“There’s an extreme sense of community here,” he says of the area. “We put ourselves right in a good spot.”
Buff City Soap Co. is open Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit Buffcitysoap.com or @BuffCitySoapBirmingham on Facebook.