“It has to be natural and come completely from Vermont!” Larry Plesent exclaimed to a stranger over 30 years ago while working as a window washer and brainstorming his initial idea for Vermont Soap. Someone asked him how he would create a product, something special that people would want to buy more than once. Plesent knew from the start that he would want to create a product made of natural ingredients.
He also knew that he wanted a large production of his product.
“I’m what you call a ‘batch man,’” Plesent explained. In his life and with his business, he loves large quantities of whichever items he creates. He does not just make one bar of soap but builds a whole factory for them.
Vermont Soap was founded in 1992 and ahead of the curve when it came to producing natural products. The company started small, creating organic pet shampoo, and expanded to shower gels, bars of soap, deodorant, cleaners, and more. Their products are eco-friendly, good for sensitive skin, and they do not use any artificial scents, colors, or dangerous preservatives.
Plesent quickly discovered that there was not a good definition of the word “natural” when he started making his products. He ran a blog questioning its definition and helped found the Green Products Alliance to try to differentiate the companies who used true natural products from those who did not.
“When we started, there wasn’t a large kit to work with, there weren’t a lot of materials that were certified organic. So, I was very interested in expanding that kit and seeing what we could do with using truly natural, raw materials.”
Now, as more definitions for the words natural and organic are forming, most all Vermont Soap products are USDA certified organic.
Vermont Soap also works on clean energy as a part of their sustainability efforts. In fact, the factory that produces Vermont Soap’s products out in Middlebury, Vermont, has a roof covered in solar panels. This is in line with the Plesent’s home life, where he powers his house the same way. His passion for natural living extends so far that he even spent a decade building his home from logs on his land.
“We call it the Get with The Program, Program,” Plesent laughs when describing the goals of the business. He hopes that his business and lifestyle can inspire others to change their way of living. The ‘program’ that Vermont Soap works on is to convince and help people systematically move towards sustainable, natural, plant-based products.
After almost 30 years running this business, Plesent successfully does something he and the other workers at Vermont Soap love. They are a great employer who prioritizes and rewards those who work with them. When asked how to replicate this success and give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Plesent took some time to reflect on his stories. His advice was to love what you do, play to your strengths, and stick to your desired path.
“Never quit—you may just be ahead of your time. Eventually, the world will come around to where you are.”