‘Wash your stink off, er’y day’ Mississippi bus driver’s soap business becomes internet sensation

Published 10:19 am Sunday, April 2, 2023

It all started with an itch. No, not an itch for success and fame and fortune. It was an annoying itch, an itch caused by commercial soaps every time Jessie Whittington showered. One that was so bothersome, Whittington’s mother tried various ways to help. Finally, goat milk soap seemed to do the trick. It allowed Whittington to shower without causing the painful itch.

Now there was another issue. Goat milk soap is often expensive: handmade, usually found in boutique stores or festival booths instead of the neighborhood discount store or supermarket.

Living on their property in rural George County, she worked full time as a school bus driver for the George County School District. She began researching the process to make her own goat milk soap. She started making the soap for herself and eventually sold bars to a few people in her community. As more and more people tried the soup, more and more people wanted the soap. Country Lather Soap Works was born.

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That’s when coffee on the porch with her husband led to a bold step.

“He said, ‘Baby, you’re losing more working on that school bus,’” she said. “I thought about it and thought he was right.”

She began spending more time making her soaps. She didn’t have a website and she didn’t put much effort into marketing because word-of-mouth was working just fine. In the fall of 2020, she found funny or informative videos do wonders for marketing, reaching people wanting a diversion from the solitude of the Covid-19 pandemic. The names of her soaps, such as Grit-R-Done, Goodness Gracious Sunshine!, or Possum Blossom, also helped gain attention. She has added other products such as bath bombs and lip balm.

“I posted a TikTok and it blew up!” she said. “I’m not a technology person. I’m from the generation that where we used them, computers were old and big. Remember those big ole floppy drives?”

After the TikTok post, she received 12 orders within 24 hours. She had a friend that had some experience in websites, and the friend helped her set up her site.

“That was huge to me! That was massive,” she said.

Although she can’t talk about the visit much, she was recently the guest of TikTok in Washington, D. C. She and her husband were flown by the company to meet with leaders.

“That was a blast! Me and my husband had never flown. They were able to fly us out of Gulfport,” she said.

TikTok also featured Whittington and Country Lather Soap Works during a series of documentary-style videos about small business owners using the platform. The videos often show up on Prime and other streaming services during commercial breaks.

“I use Shopify and every time I get an order, it makes a ‘cha-ching’ sound,” she said. “It was cha-chinging constantly!”

Her website has a statement that orders are taking longer to process and asks for patience because of the number of people buying her products after her story streamed. Her business has outgrown her house, and she’s constructing a dedicated building on their property.

“We’re finishing the inside ourself,” she said. “We hope to be in it in three or four months.

“We’re just going where the Good Lord takes us. Who knows where we will end up?”

God is certainly opening doors for Whittington. She’s shipped soap across the United States and the world, including shipments to the United Kingdom and Canada. When asked about the most unique place she has sent her handmade product, she immediately responded, “American Samoa!”

“I said, ‘Where in the world is this? I don’t remember that abbreviation. It’s a US Territory. It’s hard to (ship there) because I still had to do a customs form. I have to do one for Puerto Rico, too,” she said.

Ironically, shipping was still the same standard rate as to American states.

“I called my shipper and asked and they confirmed the rate,” she said.

Wherever God leads her and her husband, she said it’s going to be based in George County, Mississippi. Born in Laurel at the former Jones County Community hospital, now known as South Central Regional Medical Center, she moved often as a child. She lived in Moselle, a tiny community between Laurel and Hattiesburg; Lumberton; McComb; Ellisville; and now near Lucedale.

Married in 2004, she told her husband she doesn’t plan on moving again.

“I moved so much as a kid,” she said. “Mississippi is home. There ain’t no better place.”

Even with her newly found international success, she still finds time to drive a school bus, often a form of leisure and ministry.

“I’m subbing some,” she said. “It’s not a job you do to make money. It’s a job you do because you love the kids. I start my route at 5:45 (a.m.) I’m doing part of my old route right now.”

Country Lather Soap can be found online at https://countrylathersw.com/. Check out Whittington’s videos on TikTok @countrylather2020. To see the TikTok video feature on Whittington, click here.