Michelle of Tea Time Creations is known for her beautiful soap cakes, cupcakes and other dessert-inspired soap. But Michelle doesn’t just sell soap! Her company offers event rentals such as tables, china, and glassware. The combination of party rentals and soap party favors sets her apart in both industries. Soap makes amazing favors and decoration, so it’s a natural fit for the party industry. Read more about how Michelle’s journey in business and soaping below!
How long have you been soaping for and how did you get started?
As a frantically busy, trying-to-do-it-all-single mom running a household, maintaining a career as a court reporter, and raising my son, my nightly routine would always consist of a hot bath with my own special blend of essential oils to help me unwind from the daily hustle and bustle of life. Money was tight, and I was running low on my essential oils. I was looking for a way to incorporate my essential oil blend into my own bath products, instead of purchasing expensive brands in scents I really didn’t care for.
I made my first batch of soap about five and a half years ago, and I was hooked. Truth be told, I may have been a bit obsessed. At first I used whatever oils I had on hand in the house and makeshift molds I found at thrift stores or yard sales. I was gifted several gallons of olive oil and several pounds of lye by someone I didn’t even know simply because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was able to begin soaping without a lot of start up costs. I even soaped with rainwater, because we have lots of that during the rainy season here in Florida.
Can you believe this is all soap? Just look at the amazing detail!
What sort of advice would you give to those soapers just starting their businesses?
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It’s important to have a business plan, which can change over time. The best thing I did was take a micro enterprise class, which even landed me in a commercial for the program. I learned how to write a business plan, figure costs and expenses, price products, pinpoint my target market, etc. I listened to guest speakers talk about how important it is to have a professionally designed website, business cards, labels, proper packaging, and ideas on how to promote and market a business.
I am very lucky that my aunt is a graphic designer, and she was able to help me with designing my website, company logo, etc. When I first started soaping, I was using handmade tags which I printed off the computer. I didn’t realize how unimpressive they were until I had a shop owner ask me to change them. Needless to say, it was a lesson learned. My aunt is now in charge of all of my printing which she does through her company. Ideally, you want your packaging and print materials (business cards, labels, etc.) to stand out above the rest, as they may very well be that “first impression” you only get one chance at.
While everyone may not have access to professionals, there are free and low cost resources available through the Small Business Administration or similar agencies depending where you live. Volunteers are eager to help you succeed in your new business, so take advantage of the resources available. It’s important to take a few extra steps to ensure your business runs smoothly.
How did you come up with the name for your business?
If ever a “happy place” exists, mine would be an English garden filled with lots of aromatic flowers, fancy teas, and an endless amount of pastries! I picked the name in large part because in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sure where my soapmaking would take me. I wanted a name which wouldn’t limit my creativity to strictly one product. I am taking baby steps when it comes to my business. There are so many things I want to do in the future, and I am looking forward to growing.
Wizard of Oz Cake Soap, complete with ruby slippers, rainbows and a dog embed.
We just love your soapy cakes, could you tell us more about them?
When I was pregnant with my son (who just turned 17), I took a basic cake decorating class at the local craft store thinking it would be nice to make birthday cakes for my soon-to-be bundle of joy. But just like the nursery rhyme, what I thought was sure to be a girl made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice, turned out to be a wonderful little boy made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. So my cakes ended up more more like Indiana Jones and dirt bikes than the Tinkerbell and butterflies I had originally envisioned.
Once I noticed the similarity between soap batter and frosting, the idea just came to me in passing. I really didn’t even know if it was possible to create a cake out of soap, let alone create some of the intricate designs which appeal to me. I was able to use a lot of my old cake decorating supplies which had been sitting around collecting dust. I used what I had on hand and I tested a lot of techniques and recipes until I came up with consistencies I was happy with. And although I make bar soaps and am drawn to the fancy swirls (which I have yet to completely master), I get the most satisfaction out of creating and designing a soap cake. I really try to push the envelope and am always excited to see the end result. Sometimes the finished product is very different than what I set out to design. It is very challenging to come up with packaging for my cakes. That is a work in progress right now.
Michelle’s Frog Cake Soap; the little frogs on their lily pads are so cute!
What inspires you to create?
There isn’t one particular thing which I draw inspiration from. I tend to lean toward the uniqueness and history of vintage items. It may be a pattern on a particular piece of vintage china, a beaded dress in the consignment shop, or simply something random. I love honey and use it for just about anything. I get mine from the beekeeper a gallon at a time! I really wanted to make a honey oatmeal soap, so I designed a cake entirely around honey bees and sunflowers for no other reason than I like honey. My flower pot soaps were designed around a painting I liked. Anything goes! And like most soapers, some of the best ideas come in the middle of the night.
What is your favorite Bramble Berry product?
When I originally started soaping, I intended on only using essential oils and natural colorants. I finally gave into the temptation of Bramble Berry, and I’m glad I did. I was like a kid in a candy store. I use a variety of Bramble Berry’s products, including colors, fragrances and even the silicone liners — I hate creating unnecessary waste by continuously lining molds with freezer paper. But I would have to say by far my favorite product is the Plumeria Fragrance Oil. I love plumerias, and have several trees in my yard. During rainy season, I pick all the flowers daily and arrange them around the house. Bramble Berry’s Plumeria Fragrance Oil smells just like the real thing!
What is your favorite type of product to make?
Because I live in Florida, I’ve always limited myself to simply making soap. I’m happy to say that this week was my first time making bath bombs, and I love them. I can see myself easily trying several different recipes and taking lots of baths.
Custom ylang ylang soap created with a handmade stamp.
Tell us something unusual or unique about yourself!
My exercise of choice is yoga, and I even have one of “those” yoga swings. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there. Sometimes I hang it up outside and do some really deep stretches. I’m out there hanging upside down, so I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I am crazy.
What are some of your other hobbies and interests?
I really enjoyed making ornaments for the tree this past Christmas. I collected pine cones, but I was especially tickled to find Shrinky Dinks in the store. I got such a kick out of watching them melt in the oven. It reminded me of my childhood. I do have a goal to learn to crochet one day. I want to make the intricate doilies.
This gingerbread house is made completely out of soap! It’s sprinkled with glitter and jojoba beads.
Have you ever experienced a horrible soapy fail? How did you work through it, and what did you learn?
Sometimes I really want to make soap but get started too late when I’m tired. I did win the Design Mania contest, but also created a disaster in the process. I make a lot of hot process, and I make it in a pot in the oven. This particular recipe was a large one, and I couldn’t find the lid. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal and was too lazy to look for the lid. Well, needless to say, most of my soap crawled out of the pot and continued crawling all over my oven. I learned it’s much easier to clean up the dried, cooled soap than it is trying to clean soap batter.
What is your number one soaping tip?
If you need to cool your lye water down in a hurry, keep the ice cream part of the ice cream maker in the freezer. Take it out when ready to use. Fill it with a small amount of water. Then put your lye water pitcher inside of the water bath. Your water temperatures will get cold very fast. It’s similar to an ice bath, but works at lowering temps much quicker.