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Northeastern grad helps soap company
go from small business
to being featured in Whole Foods

Tori Farley and Joy Benzing have built Center Street Soap Co. into a brand that is carried in seven Whole Foods Market stores in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York City.

Tori Farley posing by laying on the ground surrounded by soaps.
1/26/24 – BOSTON, MA. – Northeastern alumnus Tori Farley a the co-founder and the head of marketing at Centre Street Soaps pictured on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024 in Boston. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Tori Farley’s specialty is working with startups before market launch. 

Ever since she graduated Northeastern University in 2015 with a degree in entrepreneurship and marketing, she’s worked with new businesses, even going so far as starting her own suspenders business, Better Than Belts, with her brother and fellow Northeastern grad. 

Her latest endeavor? Helping a small soap business expand from a kitchen in Connecticut to being stocked at Whole Foods Market stores along the East Coast.

Farley fell in love with working with startups while attending Northeastern, where she did co-ops at a range of companies so she could explore her interests.

“I made sure that when I was at Northeastern, I did my co-ops across the board in a lot of different industries and companies so that when I graduated, I felt confident in my decision to stay in entrepreneurship,” Farley says. “A lot of people who work in startups find their niche. I’m really good at figuring things out, so joining companies pre-market launch or early into market launch is my sweet spot.”

After spending years working with health and tech startups in the Boston area, Farley moved back to her home state of Connecticut at the start of the pandemic. It was there that she became reacquainted with Joy Benzing at craft fairs; Farley sold watercolors while Benzing sold soaps she made in her kitchen. 

Benzing started making her own soaps after finding the ones she bought at the store were irritating her sensitive skin. Her homemade concoctions are pleasing for the skin and easy on the eyes, according to the Center Street Soap website. This spring’s collection includes bars with floral and lace designs carved into the side. Scents range from watermelon crush to “perfect man,” a blend of Japanese grapefruit, bergamot, lemon, peppercorn, ginger, jasmine, patchouli, cedar and frankincense.

Farley first met Benzing when Benzing was working at a restaurant Farley and her family frequented in Connecticut. The more time the pair spent together, the more drawn Farley was to Benzing’s business. Eventually, Farley approached Benzing about becoming her business partner.

“I just really liked her,” Farley says. “That’s always been a priority for me, picking the team in every company that I’ve gone to. What’s most important is the team, because there’s a lot of flexibility in roles. Roles change. I’m interested in a lot of different industries and I just knew that we would be a really good complement to each other in terms of our skill sets.”

In May 2022, Farley joined Center Street Soap Co. part time. Using her background in marketing technology, she helped Center Street Soap Co. as they prepared to begin selling in Whole Foods Market. In September, Farley joined the company full time as a cofounder.

Center Street Soap Co. is now carried in seven Whole Foods Market stores year-round, in locations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York City. There are about 15 stores in New York, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts that sell the soaps seasonally. They are also sold at smaller retailers throughout the country as well as at artisan markets in Connecticut.

While Center Street Soap Co. remains close to its local market roots, Farley said the company has come a long way since she first joined. 

“It’s pretty dramatic,” she says. “You can’t fulfill Whole Foods orders out of your kitchen. Joy still handmakes all of the soap herself and we have some part-time employees that will help her with the production of it. … But she needed a true manufacturing studio space that was not her house to take on Whole Foods. Doing so, there are risks because you’re taking on a lease. There’s a lot of additional costs that you might not necessarily think about like getting UPC codes for your product. There’s a lot more financial management that comes into play.”

As Center Street Soap Co. grows, Farley continues to tap into Northeastern’s entrepreneur resources. She’s currently working through Northeastern’s venture accelerator IDEA’s ready stage programming so Center Street Soap Co. can apply for grant funding. She also worked with the Intellectual Property Law Clinic to get a trademark application on their name in December. 

“It was really helpful,” Farley says. “Northeastern has so many resources. I worked with Scout (Northeastern’s student-led design studio) at Better Than Belts and even working with them on another brand helped me start to put together Center Street’s brand because going through that process with them taught me how to think about a lot of design elements. I’ve definitely taken learnings from working with them in the past.”

Headshot of Tori Farley.
Northeastern grad Tori Farley helped cofound Center Street Soaps Co., bringing the small business to seven Whole Food Market stores across the East Coast. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Going into 2024, Farley says she’s applying for Northeastern’s Women Who Empower Innovator Awards in hopes of winning a grant to put toward marketing programs through Whole Foods Market. 

She also wants to build on the success Center Street Soap Co. experienced in 2023. Over 100 small businesses ordered from the company and they made 60,000 bars of soap in the last year alone.

“I think that 2024 is gonna be a good year for us,” Farley said. “We had 60 percent growth in our revenue from 2022 to 2023. And I’m hoping to do even more this year. For the first time, we’re planning further in advance than we’ve been able to in the past. … It’s very isolating (working for) an early stage startup. You don’t always get acknowledgment for your work; not everything has an immediate feedback loop, if you will. So when you work on growing the business for so many months, or on some big projects (and) finally you get a big sales bump, it’s good.”