ALEXANDRIA,VA- Mellenie Runion is expanding her Truly-Life ultimate urban garden! Her Del Ray backyard simply can’t handle all of the garden space it takes to grow all the loofahs, herbs, and flowers for her home-based eco-friendly company, Truly-Life Eco Skin Care and Garden Gifts. Demand has finally outpaced capacity, and now after 11 years in business, instead of outsourcing to some local farm nearby, Runion is simply getting what she needs by growing plants in the gardens of her neighbors.
“I’m getting close to an all-organic lifestyle,” Runion told The Zebra. “The business continues to grow every year. It has allowed me to keep up with growth, not making a million, but I’m making a living and I’m happy with that.”
A majority of Runion’s customers, about 60 percent, come from out of the area. She usually meets at the Old Town Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and sells her lotions, smudge sticks soap-infused loofahs and lip balms in area stores and online.
“I sell more at the farmers’ market than all my 11 retail stores combined,” Runion said. “More and more people are looking for the ingredients that are in the products that they buy. I’m the only person in my immediate family who hasn’t had cancer, and my products have such simple ingredients that people are astonished when they see a product that is made with only four natural ingredients.”
Doing It Herself
Runion, who has lived in Del Ray with her partner Andy for more than 20 years, was born in Fairfax and raised in the Shenandoah Valley. Her father was a lumberjack and her mother ran a ski lodge, and she credits their example for her entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic.
“I come from people who do it themselves. My dad built our house. He was a plumber and a craftsman. That kind of sets the tone for your whole life. You think, ‘I can do that,’” Runion said. “I use biodegradable materials and very little printing. It’s still relevant and it matters more since I started 10 years ago, given the condition of the environment.”
A Fresh Start
Runion wasn’t always devoted to an all-natural lifestyle. She was a staff photographer for the U.S. Department of Energy for nine years and then switched careers to become the director of marketing for a public relations firm in D.C. for 11 years. How did she make the switch? You can blame it on the dog.
Every year, Runion would hold a birthday party for Max, her Jack Russell Terrier (who passed away this year at 18 years of age), and made party favors for their guests. In 2008, she took the leap and started selling all-natural soaps, and continued to improve her skills – until she got federal jury duty and realized that a life without vehicular congestion was possible.
“I got federal jury duty and suddenly I didn’t have this long commute. It was amazing. I just had to go to the courthouse on Eisenhower Ave.,” Runion said. “Now I don’t have any commute at all, which is nice. I just have to go downstairs.”