When Prep U Products Founder Michelle Houp couldn’t find natural body-care products for her sons, she created her own.
By Courtney Runn, Photos courtesy of Michelle Houp
Early into motherhood, Michelle Houp discovered the plight of living with young boys: They stink. Their uniforms stink, their rooms stink and their feet stink. And when they take their shoes off after baseball games in the summer, the car really stinks. With few hygiene products marketed specifically toward growing boys, Houp took matters into her own hands. She created Prep U, a line of personal-care products with growing boys in mind.
Houp first noticed a problem when her oldest son was 6. Not only was he beginning to have body odor, but he also didn’t want to use any of the products she bought for him. Everything was too girly or considered “baby stuff.” He also had sensitive skin and was allergic to most major body-care brands. She started asking around and learned other mothers were experiencing similar issues. An entrepreneur, Houp decided to create her own products that would not only fill this demographic gap in the market, but that contain only natural ingredients.
In a 2009 study, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 61 percent of tested children’s bath products contained toxic contaminants. Chemicals like formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane have been linked to cancer yet are commonly found in personal-care products. Unlike other industries, cosmetics products, which include hygiene products, don’t need the approval of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to be on the market, leaving responsibility largely up to the companies themselves.
“You watch what you eat,” Houp says, “but we’re not watching what we’re putting on our skin. What you put in your body is what you’re going to get out.”
Houp spent the next year and a half researching and dreaming before launching Prep U in 2017. Currently, Prep U offers body spray, active dry powder and a post-sport soak. Two deodorants and soaps are on the way, and Houp plans to continue expanding the product selection.
From manufacturing to ingredients, she tries to keep the company local, using resources from Texas. As far as the branding goes, it was her two sons who had full control.
“It is very much driven by that specific demographic,” Houp says.
She interviewed mothers and sons to get feedback about the look and name of the company. All the boys in the testing group kept choosing Prep U, finding its abbreviated form, “PU,” hilarious. Even the art on the website is created by Houp’s sons and their friends. Houp says it’s been a great experience for her family, and her boys come home from school brimming with ideas for their mom’s company.
This sense of community and creativity drives Houp. While she set out to put an end to her children’s body odor, she wants to do much more. On Prep U’s website, there is a “boyifesto” outlining the company’s mission. It cumulates in the line, “Making the leap to adulthood is a messy job. We’ll help you keep them clean.”
Houp sees her products not just as part of a personal-care line, but as a way of empowering boys to take responsibility in their lives and feel confident in who they are and who they will become as men.
“I want to shape boys,” Houp says. “There’s great messaging and giving confidence to girls and I’m all about that, but as a mom [of]two boys, where’s my stuff? This is how I want my boys to be raised. I want them to have that confidence. It’s still going to be awkward, but at least they have a step.”
Michelle Houp’s Tips for Becoming an Entrepreneur
Plan quarterly. Starting a company from the ground up can be overwhelming. And Houp has found that planning in quarters helps her break down large tasks and see incremental growth more clearly. And if you don’t meet that week’s or month’s goals, simply readjust.
Find mentors. Houp suggests finding people that make you think, “Wow, how did they do that?” Ask them to coffee and bounce ideas off them. When looking for a mentor, look for vulnerability, authenticity, genuineness and honesty.
Believe in your idea. “Believe in yourself first,” Houp says. “Believe in the idea. Do your research. Take it step by step.”
Don’t take feedback personally, and accept failure. Don’t be afraid to try something new. “If you’re going to start something, fail fast and fail cheap,” Houp says, noting it’s better to get out there quickly and receive feedback than fail after investing significant time, resources and money.
Have fun. Houp says she often reminds herself she never has to do this; she gets to do this and it’s so much fun. While building a company can be a lot of work, don’t forget about enjoying the fun along the way.