By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff member Melissa Kreis-Stephens homegrown business has become an overnight success, and itâ€™s only taken 15 years.
Kreis-Stephens, an avid outdoorswoman, is the collegeâ€™s math and science lab supervisor.Â Sheâ€™s also the owner of a suddenly thriving business of organic lotions, balms, and salves that has won a national award titled the Golden Innovator.
Kreis-Stephensâ€™ business is Tomboy Organic Skincare Co., and sheâ€™ll be accepting the national Best Brand award for organic salves and skin care from American Choice Awards during a February ceremony in New York City.
Her all-natural creations were judged as tops in the category. In all, American consumers judged 1,500 brands across 190 categories.
Sheâ€™s just returned from 2016 Governorâ€™s Conference in Nashville, invited by Governor Bill Haslam to speak. Her topic: â€œChampioning Entrepreneurship in Rural Tennessee.â€
â€œItâ€™s been a fast-paced last few months, sure to become faster!â€ the resident of tiny Deer Lodge in Morgan County said.
With her national award and the resulting publicity, sales of fancifully-named products like Jungle Jane Climbing Jam, War Woman Scar Oil, and Miss Muscle Fever are booming. There are also products for men, including a lip balm titled Rasputin D. Scalawag.
â€œI canâ€™t sleep at night because Iâ€™m up half the night making product and filling orders and also continuing to worry about supplying demand. My friends have carried that concern for many years, it is just now hitting home for me,â€ she said of her 23 products.
For now, Kreis-Stephens will remain in her full-time Roane State job of ensuring that math and science labs on four campuses and Roane State’s Higher Education and Workforce Training Facility in Clinton have the proper equipment and materials.
But long-term, the ambitious businesswoman wants to locate a Tomboy Organic Skincare Co. production facility in Deer Lodge to help revitalize her hometown.
â€œI have always known it was going to be a big business,â€ she said. â€œI created it to compete with brands like Badger Balm and Burtâ€™s Bees.â€
The path to her business started in her classroom in York Institute in rural Fentress County, where she taught biology, chemistry, and environmental science.
She showed her students a video about a Native American woman who combed the woods for an herb for a poison ivy remedy.
â€œThe students went wild,â€ she said. â€œThey wanted to go outside and look for the herb.â€
A year passed, but student interest in the poison ivy potion didnâ€™t wane. â€œWe ended up bringing the herb back into the classroom and putting it into solution.â€
It was stashed in a faculty freezer until a student with a bad case of poison ivy came in. As an experiment, the liquid was thawed and applied. â€œIt worked incredibly well. It stopped the itch and healed the rash,â€ Kreis-Stephens said.
She converted the liquid into a salve and then branched out. She studied â€œthe chemical load in skin care,â€ and started searching for herbal replacements.
â€œWe use herbs native to eastern deciduous forests,â€ and her children used the resulting lotions and salves, which produced â€œincredibly clear skin.â€
The name Tomboy was a natural and was born in her York Institute classroom in 2004. â€œIâ€™m a nature girl, a water girl and an athlete who craves adventure,â€ said Kreis-Stephens, a kayaker intimately familiar with the turbulent whitewater on Cumberland Plateau rivers.
A student later asked if her fledgling firm had a website and then launched one for her. The company was trademarked in 2011 and incorporated in 2014.
A first, Kreis-Stephens credited sales to word-of-mouth endorsements. Since her company won its national award, those sales have skyrocketed.
â€œTomboy products have earned a great reputation,â€ she said. â€œWhen we say â€˜expect results,â€™ thatâ€™s what we mean.â€
Bob Fowler is a staff writer at Roane State Community College.
This press release was submitted by Owen Driskill.
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