When you think of Crosstown as an incubator, your mind normally turns to the arts. In Carla Worth’s case, however, Crosstown proved to be an incubator for her all-natural cleaning service.
“Crosstown is where it all started. It’s our origin story,” she says.
Worth had been cleaning houses on the side for a number of years, before making it her full-time job in 2010. Two years later, a chance conversation with a Crosstown Arts employee changed her business’ trajectory.
“By a twist of fate, my friend Ryan Azada remembered that I had a cleaning blog. Crosstown was looking for someone to clean, so they took me on,” Worth remembers. “It was a bit much taking on those big spaces by myself, so I soon brought in my first subcontractor to work with me.”
From there, Worth says that business “grew and grew and grew.” Faced with a growing client list and workforce, she realized that she needed more cost-effective and quality assured cleaning products. It was then that she took a cue from her Aunt Key, the namesake of Worth’s company, and began to make her own natural cleaning products.
“Aunt Key was my great-great aunt,” explains Worth. “I would stay with her six days a week, so she was pretty much my second mother. She would clean using just vinegar and she was great about gardening. Really everything about her was great.”
One look at the labels of Worth’s self-concocted cleaning products and you can see the evolution from straight vinegar to more refined scents, restorative oils, and natural cleansers. There are no mystery words on her packaging— just clear, familiar ingredients that sometimes sound good enough to eat, or at least wear as a fragrance. So good, it’s “Mother-in-law approved,” according to the label.
Worth recently began to expand Aunt Key’s product line with body butters, soy candles, and lip balms— all made from 100% organic certified materials. She says she began making the new products as a fundraising tool for the Memphis Comedy Festival, and never stopped.
“I made this special ‘Burn Cream’ and gave 15% of the proceeds back to the comedy community,” Worth explains. “I feel like every business should give back. If I’m just sitting here pocketing all the money, that doesn’t make me feel better. Giving back makes me feel good, so I get something from it.”
“Every selfless act is selfish, too,” she laughs.
Aunt Key’s Apothecary currently employs 11 people part time and four full time. To Worth, though, she doesn’t consider them employees.
“We’re all friends, whether we were before we started working together or after,” she says. “We stay really connected, whether it’s about work or otherwise. We even trade off cleaning each other’s houses, so we don’t have to clean our own after working all day!”
When asked about her hopes for the future, her answer is simple: growth.
“Our cleaning branch is at a point that it’s growing on it’s own now, thanks to my business partner, Mallory Elkins, who deals more with our client interaction,” she says. “It would be nice to shift my attention to growing our brand and getting a wide line of our products into stores.”
Aunt Key’s Apothecary is headquartered at 437 N. Cleveland, an unassuming building that likely goes unnoticed by most passersby. (“We got really lucky in getting this space because it was the last space to grab up in Crosstown,” Worth admits.) They currently share the space with three other local businesses: The OAM Network— Worth’s husband, Gil’s, podcast network— as well as Dirty Cotton and Eponymous Print, both t-shirt printing companies which have close Crosstown ties.
“I like that it’s never lonely here and the space is literally always being used,” adds Worth. “Everyone here in the Crosstown world is nice and really, really supportive. I don’t think you see this in a lot of other places. It’s nice to be a part of it.”