Written by Sasha Wirth & Photographed by Paige Green
On a busy street in North Oakland, nestled beside an old-school barbershop and a deli selling everything from donuts to Chinese food, stands a green converted storefront. At first glance, it appears to be just another commercial space, perhaps even a warehouse. But past the metal gate and a door decorated with a botanical wreath, an unexpected two-story loft space awaits.
Inside, twinkling lights sparkle over a ledge lined with potted ferns. Neat rows of spices, legumes and other ingredients share space with colanders and a wooden Swedish Dala horse. There are musical instruments tucked into a corner, shelves laden with books, and a collection of photographs adorning the walls. And in the center of it all stands Megan Bre Camp, to whom this enchanting place is both home and work-a cozy oasis for her small family and inspiring headquarters for her beauty and home goods company, Summer Solace Tallow.
“It’s a multi-purpose space,” she smiles, tucking a strand of shoulder-length black hair behind her ear. “Upstairs we have a photo studio, soap curing space and library. Down here we manufacture the rest of the Summer Solace Tallow products, cook and relax. And play our instruments! We can play as loudly as we want, which is great.”
That is, if her toddler isn’t napping, of course. Sharing the space with Megan are her two-year-old daughter, Ulrikke, and husband, Brian. ‘We’re a fire family,” she beams. “Brian is an Aries and Ulrikke and I are Sagittarius. We’re full of passion and energy.” Which is evident in every nook and cranny of the loft. No corner goes underutilized. Even the bathroom becomes a temporary dark room when needed for the couple’s interest in film and Civil War-era tin plate photography.
This ability to pursue and execute all her creative endeavors in one place has made it easier for Camp to balance motherhood with all her passions, especially launching and growing her business, which uses unconventional tallow as the base for all its natural products.
The idea for Summer Solace, however, did not originate within the loft. “It came to me during a routine dentist appointment, of all places,” she laughs. “I had the idea for the company on a Monday, created my scents within two days, obtained our business license on Friday, and had three accounts before the end of the week. It was a whirlwind, but it all came together the way it was supposed to.”
In business for almost four years, Megan credits her upbringing and culinary experience for influencing and nurturing her unique line. Born and raised in the chilly interior of Alaska, Megan’s family was devoted to homesteading, fishing, camping and living off the land. Her father was a military man from Vietnam and her mother was of Filipino-Spanish descent. Both believed in a self-sufficient lifestyle. Megan grew up with a respect for nature and indigenous cultures, which has directly translated to business decisions she has made for Summer Solace-from using ancient ingredients to sourcing from native tribes.
As a young adult, Megan attended culinary school at the University of Alaska Anchorage and soon afterwards made her way to California, finding a job at Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley and then going on to work as a French chocolatier. Her immersion in the Weston A. Price philosophy of eating locally and seasonally at Three Stone Hearth, coupled with her experience working with fats like cocoa butter at the confectionary, made her foray into using tallow-the unique component of all her products-inevitable and natural.
“I had worked with tallow as a chef, but was intrigued to use it as an ingredient for something else. When I began experimenting with it and researching its age-old uses, I recognized its healing properties for the skin and its minimal impact on the environment. I knew I had to use it!”
Through her neighborhood butcher shop, Camp found the quality tallow she was looking for. Sourced from family farms Stemple Creek Ranch in Marin and Magruder Ranch in Mendocino, the 100 pounds of suet (the raw form of tallow) she purchases every few weeks is fresh, buttery and, most importantly, local.
“Not many skin companies are able to source locally, but we are,” she says, beginning to assemble the tools of her trade on the wooden kitchen island. “It’s all part of establishing a Slow Skincare Movement. We are using what we have close to home, grown by organic farmers and sourced from happy cows. It’s common sense. There’s no waste. It’s a political choice.”
Arranging her ceramic dishes, jars of golden flowers, and mixing spoons mise en place on her workspace, Megan pulls a bowl of infused tallow from the refrigerator and lines it up next to a fresh, untouched batch of suet. To control the quality of the end product, Megan renders all the fat herself. The suet starts off as white-pinkish bits, which are melted slowly on her vintage white stove for a few hours. Once done, the suet morphs into an oatmeal-like texture (i.e. the tallow) that is strained and ready for the infusion process.
Camp slips on a denim apron and grabs a handful of calendula blossoms-picked from her own garden or occasionally purchased from San Francisco Herb Co.-and sprinkles them into the strained oil. This batch, she explains, will now be cooled for 24 hours in the refrigerator. After that, a new base for all Summer Solace products will be ready.
And then it’s time to add in the other delightfully unexpected ingredients.
Summer Solace’s soap, lip balms, skin salves and candles are known for their unique blends and scents. The company’s soap bars, for example, are filled with seaweed from Mendocino or coffee grounds from local Four Barrel Coffee. Hawaiian coconut shells make up a charcoal soap, while other bars are filled with lavender sea salt or vetiver.
Megan went on to explain that if the growth of her skincare line continues, she would be interested in reaching out to a company that provides Contract Manufacturing so that she can take her business to new heights. For now though, she is busy working on new products.
“We use an old French technique to make the soap, which utilizes sea salt water,” explains Megan. “After being poured into a mold, the soap is cured for 5-8 weeks, so it ages like a good cheese or wine.” It’s a patient practice, but one that yields truly different product offerings.
When it comes to candles, one of the company’s bestsellers is Souchong Debut, a musky, spicy tea-infused candle with leaves sourced from Imperial Tea. Another favorite is Organic Evergreen Essence, blended with a woodsy mix of conifer scents-spruce, juniper and cedar, to name a few.
“Tallow candles were the original candles,” points out Megan. “They burn naturally and cleanly, unlike the cheaper, refined fats and oils that became popular after the Industrial Revolution.” For an extra special touch, she adds beeswax from her own rooftop hives-and from those of a fellow neighbor-to each of her candles.
“We try to leave the smallest ecological footprint possible,” she says.
For her salves and lip balms, this means purchasing local olive oil from a Native American tribe called Seka Hills and getting all her essential oils and absolutes from Floracopeia, an ecologically-responsible company in Grass Valley. The impact of every decision and ingredient is considered thoughtfully, and every blend embraces the herbal wisdom of old. For instance, the Deep Moon balm for women is full of sage and tulsi, which help balance hormones. Feel Better Chest and Muscle Rub contains anti-inflammatory clove and eucalyptus, while Chef and Gardener’s Balm has soothing chamomile and myrrh. All the components work together synergistically.
For the coming year, Megan already has a lineup of new products. There’s a partnership with a local birthing center to create a balm for babies, and a community-specific request from San Rafael to make a cannabis balm for pain relief. There are also salt scrubs, hydrosol sprays, and a new soap made with Yolo Valley clay planned to round out the product line. She and her husband have also begun negotiations to expand into a neighboring space and open up a storefront and gallery within the next few years.
In everything she does, Camp is clearly an advocate for keeping things local. Even her pop-up shop and farmers’ market booths-San Rafael on Thursdays, Grand Lake in Oakland on Saturdays, and Temescal on Sundays-showcase and support other Northern California artisans, among them linens line Coyuchi. “It’s important to be aligned with others that share the same values,” she says.
While some customers may be unfamiliar with or wary of using tallow, Camp’s energy and openness to discussing its benefits quickly turn them into converts. “I was a vegetarian for many years, so I understand people’s initial questions about using animal fats,” she concedes. “But I believe there are three reasons why using tallow is a wise, sustainable choice.” She puts the pot of suet on the stove to warm.
“First, it is a traditional fat that has been used for thousands of years. There is a tried-and-true history there. Second, the tallow we use at Summer Solace comes from local and eco farms. We are supporting responsible animal husbandry within our community and helping use the whole animal. There’s no waste.” She stops to give the pot a stir.
“And lastly, animal fats mimic human sebum. They don’t strip the skin and are nourishing and healing. This is especially important for people who struggle with issues like eczema.” What she’s too humble to mention is that she herself is a wonderful testament to the therapeutic benefits of her products. One look at her luminous skin and it’s hard not to be sold.
Summer Solace’s product line offers more, however, than being effective and natural. Every component and ingredient also offers a tangible connection to place. The seaweed from the California seashore. The calendula grown in her own garden. The tallow from nearby farms. Each element is deeply rooted in Northern California-the place Megan and her family have made home.
As Megan moves about her kitchen, unwrapping a bundle of beeswax and checking on the tallow, she suddenly pauses. Looking at the ingredients surrounding her, she says: “You know, you can’t get much closer to being food for the skin than this.”
And she’s right. Though with the added thoughtfulness that imbues each item-from sustainable sourcing to embracing ancient techniques-Summer Solace’s products undeniably nourish on a much deeper level altogether.
Look for Summer Solace at farmer’s markets on Saturdays at Grand Lake, Sundays at Temescal, and Sundays at San Rafael. You can find them online at summersolacetallow.com