- By Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
Austin mom Michelle Houp started a line of personal care products for boys after she found herself saying to her sons when they got in the car, “Do not take your shoes off anymore because I’m going to vomit.”
Her sons, Carson and Colton, who are 6 and 8, are really active in sports. They are constantly changing their clothes in the car and carrying around sweaty clothes and sports equipment. That stench extends to the house, too. “I can’t get rid of the smell,” she says. “We live in a frat house. There is something funky happening.”
She consulted with her fellow parents of boys that age and yes, something funky was happening there, too. It wasn’t going to be solved by Johnson & Johnson’s Head to Toe Baby Wash or other products parents start using when their kids are babies and have trouble transitioning out of.
Houp’s oldest son also started telling her, “Mom, I am not a baby. Why am I using all this baby stuff?” she says.
Houp went looking for products for boys with sensitive skin that weren’t in the baby category but also weren’t in the men’s category. She couldn’t find anything. She found plenty of fruity, bubble-gum-scented stuff for girls and manly men scents for men but nothing for growing boys.
She decided she would have to be the one to create those products. That’s where the idea for Prep U began, a play on P.U. and preparing for the day and night by getting clean.
Houp’s background is as the owner of branding and design firm Creative Tonic. Starting a second company seemed like the natural step to her.
Over the course of a year, she started testing different formulas that would be tough on sweat and stink but made with all natural ingredients and essential oils. She found a clear winner in her focus group of families with boys: What she calls citrus mint, which contains bergamot, frankincense, lemon, neem tree, tea tree and eucalyptus.
“It’s all baked in there,” she says. “It sounds bizarre, but it does meld well together.”
“It’s clean, it’s fresh, it smells like summer to me,” she says. “It’s not girly by any means.”
Prep U products are made in Austin and don’t have parabens, dyes, sulfates, aluminum, synthetic fragrances, genetically modified organisms or gluten. They are also not tested on animals — unless you count the boys in the focus group.
Prep U is starting with six products: body spray, active dry powder, deodorant, body wash, foaming wash and a post-sport soak. They all come in the citrus mint scent. She’ll develop an unscented version next. The products are available at prepuproducts.com for $12-$14.50.
Back to those testers — Houp tested the different formulas on her sons’ friends. “They were pretty nasty before,” she says.
They found the friend with the funkiest shoe and tested Prep U’s active dry powder versus some other powders to make sure it worked best. She also got an education from her test subjects’ fathers about sweat and man parts and what happens in a Texas summer to those parts.
Then she found that some of the parents were actually using the products, especially the active dry powder, themselves for after workouts or hot days.
For Houp, though, it’s really about the boys and giving them the tools to grow up with hygiene in mind.
“I would love to see all tween boys using this and owning those transitional years,” she says. She wants cleanliness to become more of a habit. And if they don’t, Mom can just use the body spray to spray them down before they get in the car with her.