Crème brûlée. That’s what came to mind when Tracy Boychuk, co-founder of the Roof Crop urban farm, got a whiff of the spent botanicals her friends at Letherbee Distillers had given her, unsure of what to do with them.
Her next thought: “These smell too good to compost.” Thus was born the Roof Crop’s Gin Scrub Soap, now on the shelves at the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Logan Square.
While mass-market bath and body products often rely on questionable ingredients (methylisothiazolinone, anyone?) to evoke pleasing scents, local makers like the Roof Crop are taking a cleaner, food-based approach, turning out soaps, balms, and oils almost good enough to eat or drink. Here’s more on their goods.
1046 W. Fulton Market
High school friends Maureen McClure and Elizabeth Leipold started making soaps eight years ago out of Leipold’s apartment, thinking they’d give them away as Christmas gifts. The festive side venture “took over our life,” says McClure, who has a food science degree and worked for a suburban foodservice company at the time. ”We got really into the formulas.”
They launched an Etsy shop, then a website, as they expanded their repertoire to masks, scrubs, and face oils using natural ingredients, no “weird stuff,” says McClure. In 2015, while still working full-time—Leipold as a teacher, and McClure in the quality assurance lab at Lagunitas Brewing—they opened a shop in Roscoe Village.
In keeping with their “food-grade skincare” tagline, they source coffee beans from Dark Matter, their favorite coffee shop, to use in scrubs, soap, and lip butter. The acids in coffee exfoliate, lighten up dark spots, and tighten and tone the skin, says McClure. And, they’re the exclusive recipient of beeswax from Bike A Bee beekeeper Jana Kinsman, which they use in lip and body butter.
McClure and Leipold finally left their day jobs in the last year to focus on Scratch Goods. In July, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, they moved into a larger space in the West Loop.
Danielle Martin has figured out a better hangover cure than hair of the dog: hair-of-the-dog soap.
Her cocktail-inspired line ranges from mojito soaps to gin bath truffles and limoncello sugar scrubs. There’s no actual booze involved. Instead, she recreates their flavors and scents with oil blends and herbal extracts. “I take those primary notes—in gin, it’s juniper, lemon, fir needle—and use that to create the fragrance,” she says.
But she does use beer, such as in her best-selling Beer and Cigarettes soap (it’s PBR) and the seasonal Pumpkin IPA soap (which also contains pureed pumpkin). According to Martin, the yeast in beer draws moisture into the skin and the sugar promotes a strong lather.
A cocktail enthusiast and full-time industrial designer for a bicycle component company, Martin started making soaps to answer the question, “What if soap smelled like my favorite cocktail?”—in her case, a Sazerac. She sold her first soap, Absinthe, at a craft show in 2012 and moved onto Etsy as she added more products.
Working out of a production facility in Hermosa, Martin is up to more than 30 items, which she sells on her website, soapdistillery.com, in 11 Chicago-area boutiques, and in shops in nine other states.
The Roof Crop
1516 W. Carroll St.
Boychuk and co-founder Molly Meyer manage five rooftop farms in the city that supply produce to more than 20 wholesale clients. Boychuk was already experimenting with drying extra herbs and flowers to make into tea, bitters, and cocktail syrups. Soap seemed the next natural project.
She uses organic goat milk and honey bases from Oregon, but is looking for a local source. “Eventually, we want to make the bases ourselves,” she says. Otherwise, the soaps are about as local as you can get, incorporating oils infused with rooftop-grown herbs like chamomile and comfrey and, for the scrub element, Letherbee’s spent botanicals.
The flavors, if you will, will change frequently. ”We’re doing weekly blends of whatever’s seasonal, whatever flowers we have,” says Boychuk.
The Dill Pickle Food Co-Op and the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern, for which Boychuk also has developed two herbal tea blends, began selling the soaps this month. Also find them online and at the farm’s West Town headquarters.