Tell us about yourself!
Hi! I’m Tara Johnson, owner of Soft Smile Vintage. I chose the name because I am a notorious soft smiler, and hey, not everyone deserves to see your fangs! I am a long-time lover of all things vintage and have always loved retro furniture and design. When I was 12 years old, I saved up all of my baby-sitting money to buy a super retro-looking hot pink futon for my room. Then, in high school, I would unashamedly wear sequined 80’s dresses to dances and of course had to find a yellow, vintage dress at a local consignment store to wear to prom. I have always loved the idea that vintage items hold stories of the past and their previous owners. I tend to think vintage items are well-made and buying second-hand gives an item a new life while reducing waste!
When did you start @softsmilevintage and what made you fall in love with it?
I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Social Work (MSW) with a concentration in Behavioral Health at the University of Maryland. After quitting my full-time job in August 2020 to pursue my degree full-time, I had to quickly find a way to pay my bills despite my busy school and internship schedule. At that time, I had found a quarantine hobby making candles in vintage, up-cycled containers from thrift stores, yard sales, friends, my attic, etc. I made a candle out of anything I could get my hands on -- from an old coffee mug to a 1960s butter dish! I had always looked fondly at local vintage stores that had carefully curated mid-century modern looks, furniture, and home decor. After a month of unemployment, I took the leap to start my business, Soft Smile Vintage, in September 2020, which combines my love for candles, vintage items, and reducing waste. Part of what drives my creativity for the page is curating the styles of my furniture and home decor finds to match my candles for unique vintage looks. Sometimes I will hold onto an item for 3 or 4 months before listing it because I want the items to jive together with every listing series. It’s also been fun to use my photography hobby to capture the essence of my pieces with natural light so that they can resonate as much digitally as they do in-person.
Tell us about your @softsmilevintage shop/page!
Soft Smile Vintage is all about reusing, recycling, and sustainability! I hand-pour my candles with an all-natural soy, coconut, and palm wax blend scented with non-toxic, phthalate and paraben-free fragrance oils to create a high quality, clean-burning candle. I also use a combination of crackling wooden wicks and cotton wicks in my candles. Finding up-cycled containers not only reduces waste, but gives the opportunity to create a really unique candle. I use recycled materials such as shoe boxes, used gift wrap, gently used bubble wrap from packages, and newspaper to package my candles and vintage items for shipping.
What motivates or inspires your business?
Partnering with the local community and other businesses has been a huge motivator for me with Soft Smile Vintage. I’ve participated in many pop-up markets at a local antique store, supporting other vintage resellers and candle makers, and have partnered with local businesses to sell my candles, in addition to making candles out of their company mugs for their clients. I’ve enjoyed the journey of meeting inspiring creators (much like DHAA) that are pursuing their passion and just going for it, even if they don’t have everything figured out just yet. Trusting the process and connecting with others has driven me to keep growing my business.
What's the main lesson you’ve learned since launching your business?
Firstly, I don’t sell anything that I don’t personally like. The problem with this is that every time I find something really unique, I want to keep it! A friend of mine who has been reselling for over 20 years gave me the best advice yet: “you will always find another cool thing, so just sell it and make room for the next superior item,” and I have found this to be true. Each time I’ve found a rare and prized vintage item that I have been on the hunt for, I eventually find something even better for my customers.
DM or email to shop!