This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Cocofloss is a product created by the sister duo, Cat Cu and Chrystle Cu. Cocofloss is a fun (and highly effective!) floss that is bridging the gap between a socially perceived arduous task, and a walk on the beach. Their vision imagines a future where everyone can keep their teeth for the entirety of their lives! Their reach is on the global scale, helping those at home develop good preventative oral hygiene habits, as well as those outside our borders, who may not have access to the tools and education needed to maintain a healthy smile. The truth of the matter is, flossing is not exactly exciting stuff… until NOW!
I’m Cat, and I started Cocofloss with my sister, Dr. Chrystle Cu! My sister is a tooth geek, philanthropist, and preventative dentist who graduated from Wellesley College and the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. I’m an entrepreneur, yoga-addict, and art-lover. I studied engineering at Stanford and worked in finance, art, and tech before joining forces with Chrystle to start Cocofloss.
What was the inspiration behind creating Cocofloss?
Chrystle is very prevention oriented – she’s that dentist who spends an hour educating each patient about their teeth and gums – and Cocofloss embodies her dream to make taking care of your smile more effective and fun. Chrystle’s dream is for everyone to be able to keep their teeth for life.
I love how Cocofloss is geared towards making flossing a fun experience! What are some of your favorite aspects of the product?
I love the Caribbean-blue floss color. It evokes freshness and blue oceans full of possibility. And of course, it’s functional! Folks can see their progress flossing as plaque contrasts against the blue threads.
Which one is your favorite flavor? Are there any limited editions to try?
Watermelon! Just launched this summer as a limited run.
What are ways that Cocofloss can incentivize people to develop good flossing habits?
Cocofloss delivers a flossing experience that’s both rewarding and fun!
When I ask a lot of young patients if they have been flossing, their main excuse is, “We ran out of floss in the house”. Tell us more about your 6 month floss plan!
Would you floss tonight if you knew more floss would be arriving tomorrow? Customer behavior suggests so!
If you guys have ONE piece of pro tip for people who can’t get into flossing, what would it be?
Flossing is an acquired taste. Floss daily for 21 days (the number of days it takes to create a habit) with Cocofloss and soon enough you’ll begin to crave it.
Would you care to share some of your favorite flossophies?
Bliss is a life lived in balance – take an adventure and enjoy the familiarity of home, take something and give back something, set big dreams for the future and enjoy improvisation also, eat your cake and don’t forget to floss too!
I notice that you guys love to travel, just like me! I think it’s especially important that you’ve linked travel with having floss with you, all the time, when you’re on the go. Any tips on how to remember to floss during times when we are busiest and most on the go?
Keep floss in your bag so that you can floss whenever you feel like it and don’t be embarrassed to floss on-the-go! I’m often that awkward human flossing in public or on-the-go.
How is Cocofloss making an impact on a global scale?
We’d like to inspire folks to keep their teeth for life around all corners of the globe. To name a few, we’ve donated Cocofloss to communities in the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Mexico. The worldwide floss party is just getting started.
I was born in the Philippines, so I share a connection with your mission. I, myself, personally returned home to Manila to give free dental care for a week. Can you share any insight as to how your experience was?
The global tooth decay epidemic is so painfully real. What people need most is prevention and nutrition education. Unfortunately, sugar is used as a universal rewards across all cultures. We need to shift the way people think about rewards, and instead educate and reward with preventive tools like Cocofloss.
How do you envision making preventative dental care attainable to all groups of people?
We’re using the internet and social media as vehicles for prevention education. Our Cocofloss website has free education for all, and we’re on a mission to make flossing something everyone looks forward to daily.
Where will Cocofloss go next?
We have big plans to help folks find their smile wherever they go. Stay tuned!
A sincere thank you to Cat and Chrystle, who took the time to talk about what Cocofloss has to offer. If you’d like to read more about my personal experience with Cocofloss, check out my review here!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number.
How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?
John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.
What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?
Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.
I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?
Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.
The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.
We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.
I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?
Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!
Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?
I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!
Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?
To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.
Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.
Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?
Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to email@example.com to get started.
Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.
Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.
How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?
We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.
What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?
Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!
How do you guys overcome difficult times?
Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.
How do you unwind and refresh?
Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.
What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?
Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.
One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.
If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?
Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂
Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
This post is sponsored by Plaine Products, a company devoted to reducing single-use plastic waste in everyday bathroom essentials.
Lindsey McCoy and Alison Webster are the sister duo that co-founded Plaine Products. Lindsey’s determination to reduce single-use plastic coupled with Alison’s design background fostered a new way for people, such as myself, to enjoy bathroom essentials without the guilt of having to buy plastic bottles. Additionally, their products are vegan, toxin-free, child-safe, biodegradable and never animal-tested! They have now become my go-to source for staple items such as hair conditioner and lotion, two products for which I have not found a better alternative, thus far.
What inspired you to start Plaine Products?
For 10 years, I lived in the The Bahamas doing environment education work. While I loved living there, it wasn’t all rum drinks on the beach. On a small island, there’s no first world infrastructure to insulate you from the piles of plastic we are creating. You see plastic bags, bottles, and flip flops on the beach, in the water, spilling out of the landfills, and strewn along the side of the road. There’s even a place so full of plastic it’s called Junk Beach. The message that plastic lasts forever, no matter how long we use it, is much more obvious living there than it is in the States.
I wanted to start using less plastic in my life. I started taking action: carrying a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags, skipping the straw at the restaurants and bars. I looked for other ways to use less plastic. But I couldn’t figure out how to get those plastic bottles out of my shower. I couldn’t find any alternatives that worked for me and my hair.
As we contemplated a move back to the States, I realized that I might be able to solve my own problem. Even better, I might be able to help other people use less plastic in their lives. I pulled in my sister, Alison Webster, who has a design degree and strong opinions about the quality of her products. Together, we spent two years working hard to make it easier for people to get quality products without having to buy single-use plastic bottles.
What is the mission or the goal of your company?
Our goal is to make it easy for people to get quality, toxin-free products without having to buy single-use plastic bottles. The less single-use plastic in the world taking up room in our landfills, spilling into our oceans, the better for all of us. And, although we didn’t start out to be a natural company, I’ve become a huge advocate of keeping harmful chemicals out of the products we put on and in our bodies as well.
I love that your product has natural ingredients. You guys are obviously not simply focusing on the environment, but also on the chemical make-up of the products people use on themselves too. What are your requirements for the ingredients that go into Plaine Products?
We spent a lot of time figuring out how to make sure the products themselves wer as environmentally friendly and as high quality as the packaging we decide to put them in. Happily, we found a manufacturer that is as committed as we are to natural products and ingredients. For example, originally our products had wheat and silk proteins, which were of concern to vegans and those with gluten allergies. While the silk proteins were from a biological source, our manufacturer was able to tweak the formula to remove those ingredients so that we could move forward without any concern from either of those groups. Our success thus far is not only because of the innovative packaging, it has also been because people genuinely like what’s inside the packaging.
What is the impact that we can have on the environment by switching to re-usable shampoo bottles? And why is using recyclable plastic bottles not a good enough solution?
While plastic is an amazing product, it doesn’t make sense for stuff we use once and then throw away. Companies use it because it’s cheap, but it’s only cheap because they aren’t paying for the cost of the waste it creates. More than 550 million shampoo bottles end up in landfills every year, and that’s just shampoo! While it’s great to recycle plastic, because it is downgraded when it is recycled, it can only go through the process once or twice before it heads to the landfill. Aluminum can be recycled infinitely and recycling aluminum actually uses less energy than creating bottles for virgin aluminum.
How are you guys working to create a circular economy?
Our whole model is circular. You order your preferred products. When your bottles are low, you order a refill, or you can subscribe and we’ll send the bottles automatically. When the refills come, you’ll switch the pumps over and send back the empty bottles in the refill box, while we at Plaine Products covers the cost. Then we clean the bottles, refill them, and reuse them.
As far as we know, we are the only company that pays for you to send your bottles back to be cleaned, refilled, and reused. Once the bottles have gone through several cycles, we’ll send them off to be recycled. The nice thing about aluminum, as opposed to plastic, is that when it’s recycled, there’s no loss in quality. It just turns right back into more aluminum. When plastic is recycled it is downgraded into a lower form of plastic until it becomes unusable and ends up in a landfill or the ocean.
Do you think that the environmental effects of the shipping of products (say from carbon emissions) outweigh the impact of plastic pollution at our landfills and oceans?
I always say if people have a local solution that’s working for them, they should keep doing it. This was created for people who didn’t have access to other options. That being said we are very aware of our carbon footprint. We use the US Postal Service so there are no extra trips made just to deliver our bottles. We are looking into integrating carbon offsets into our shop and we don’t ship internationally right now. Before we expand we want to find a partner so we can keep the bottles in country. Shipping them back and forth over an ocean doesn’t make sense.
I do appreciate that your product is available to me in particular, as I have also had a hard time finding a local solution to single-use plastic in my bathroom! As a follow up to the previous question, are there any plans to open stores, either in NY or across the country?
We already have formed partnerships with several existing retail stores, like the Package Free Shop in Brooklyn, and we hope our list continues to grow.
What new products can we look forward to?
We just added a travel size body lotion and we completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, so keep your eyes out for our face wash and face moisturizer, available on the site this summer!
Out of curiosity, what other ways do you personally reduce plastic waste in the bathroom? Any actionable tips?
I started Plaine Products so that I could get single-use plastics out of my bathroom. Up until that point, I hadn’t found another solution that worked for me. In addition to using our products, I have a bamboo toothbrush and I make my own homemade toothpaste (which is much easier than it sounds!).
I am SO glad you mentioned the toothpaste recipe! I cannot wait to try it out for myself. Lastly, are there any books, podcasts, articles, documentaries or other resources that you would recommend to people who are interested in reducing plastic waste?
There’s so much good stuff out there.Some of my favorite bloggers (all are also on social media), are Going Zero Waste, Be Zero, Litterlessand Zero Waste Nerd. There’s so much information out there and so many accessible ideas on ways to get started. I think people should focus on progress, not perfection. Pick one area to reduce plastic and see how that goes, celebrate the successes and don’t get hung up on the time you use single use plastic, it’s hard to avoid! Like anything else, it comes with practice.
Earth Day is this coming Sunday, April 22! To curb your plastic waste for Earth Day and every day, try out one of Plaine Products’s bath essentials. Or order them travel sized for your next vacation. This Earth Day, there will be a site-wide sale from April 20th to April 22nd, where all Plaine Products will be 22% off with the discount earthday at checkout.
Thank you for supporting the brands that support The Debtist.
Mandy Kordal is the founder of Kordal Studio, whose mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying their workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Their products are focused on knitwear made by experienced knitters based in both Lima, Peru & NYC. They create our garments using both handloom and Shima Seki whole garment knitting machines. Both processes create a fully fashioned product, meaning each piece is knit to the exact shape and there are no left over materials. All of their cut & sew wovens are produced in NYC and dyed at a local dye house in New Jersey.
How did you start in the fashion industry? What inflection point inspired you to start a sustainable company?
I studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program. During the course of the program, you are in school for half of the year and working in the industry for the other half. So, every summer and winter, I was traveling to a new city and working for fashion companies like Gap, Trovata, Hannah Marshall, etc. This was so helpful because I learned early on that I really loved working for smaller companies. After graduating I worked for a two years as an assistant designer, one year with Betsey Johnson and another year at Doori.
I don’t know if there was a specific point or moment that marked when I was inspired to start a sustainable company. I guess I approached starting my company the way I would begin any relationship. I wanted to treat the people I worked with well and with respect, to consider the impact on the environment, and to create beautiful quality clothing. Along the way, I worked freelance design jobs for larger companies to supplement my income and became very aware of the impact the fashion industry was having on the environment. The amount of over-sampling and textile waste alone was horrifying! In the end, I guess it was a combination of wanting to create a company that embodied my values and learning about the real impact this industry has on the environment, having our company be as sustainable as possible was the only option.
How did you find the courage to start?
I think any amount of courage came from my friends and family, who have been my champions since the beginning and I honestly couldn’t have started without their support and encouragement. But also, I was 25 when I started the company. Previously I had been working as an assistant designer making 30k a year in NYC, so I didn’t have much to lose! I was extremely lucky to not have student loans, I knew how to live in the city on very little money already, I didn’t have a family to support, etc. Those factors helped a lot! Not to say that is the only way, but it made the decision to start a little less scary.
What is Kordal’s mission statement? What do you hope to accomplish with your company, in terms of changing the way the fashion industry works?
Our mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying our workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Our hope is that our existence as an alternative to fast-fashion, along with many of the other sustainable brands out there, provides customers with a choice. We have the power to change things through our purchases. We saw it with the food industry! Even Walmart now carries organic products because more and more customers purchased it. If all of these smaller brands can prove that investing in sustainable fashion is not only important but also profitable, then we can shift the thinking of the larger companies as well. At least that’s the hope!
What requirements do you have to ensure a sustainable and slow fashion model?
My personal requirements are that all of our employees, vendors, makers are all paid a fair wage. That all of our fabrications and yarns are natural fibers that will eventually bio-degrade back into the earth, and as much as possible we are working with Organic Certified materials. We are also committed to reducing the amount of plastic use in our shipping and receiving, we recently made a switch to mesh reusable bags for all of our garments vs. working with poly bags.
In a very demanding industry such as fashion, how do you resist the pressure of creating for 52 seasons? How do you keep you and your brand grounded?
Ha! Oh man, creating just two seasons is already insane at times! Are there really 52 seasons? I think we’ve been lucky to work with boutiques that share the same values as we do. We don’t work with large department stores for example, so we’re able set our own pace, more or less. I also think we’ve been able to stay grounded because we don’t have investors or external influences pushing us to produce more things faster It’s been self funded from the beginning, which means our growth has been slow and steady.
How do you source fabric ethically? What other ways do you ensure ethical practices for your company?
We are lucky to have a great community of sustainable designers here in NY, so when I’m trying to source a new denim fabrication, for example, I don’t have to start from square one. I can reach out to friends in this group to help begin my research. For designers starting out, I would recommend the BF+DA sourcing library. They’ve created a great sourcing library for all sustainable fabric and yarn vendors! Other ways to ensure ethical practices is to look for certifications from your vendors, such as Fair Trade or GOT.
In what ways can consumer’s contribute towards making a change away from fast fashion?
Supporting smaller brands, asking the larger companies difficult questions, like “Who made my clothes?”, buying second-hand or vintage, and staying away from synthetic fabrics (they will stay in landfills for hundreds of years, just like plastic!).
What governmental policies do you feel could go into effect that could improve the fashion industry?
Import-Based Tax – I think if there was an tax on imported goods that would help level the playing field for domestic manufacturing.
Are there any particular podcasts or books about fashion that you could recommend to readers?
Conscious Chatter, this episode is really awesome!
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion
Molly Acord is the founder of Fair + Simple, a company created around the act of gift-giving. Desiring to give people a simpler way of gifting products that are fair trade and that have a humanitarian impact, Molly created a gift card that can be redeemed for any item in an ethically sourced collection. “Gift giving is my love language, handmade is close to me, and serving others is a privilege. This is where I fit.”
What inspired you to start Fair and Simple?
There was a point when I realized that my buying practices were likely having a negative impact on the world, and I began to educate myself on how to change. It is so overwhelming, and almost paralyzing, at first. I was inspired to start Fair+Simple from a desire to make it simple to give a cause-based, socially-conscious gift.
Where does the name Fair + Simple come from, and what does it represent?
The idea for a simple gift card fell from the sky, and I knew immediately it was a calling. I called my husband, a school-teacher, and right away pitched the idea. He also received an equally excited call a few minutes later with the idea for our brand name. Fair means that every gift in our collection is fairly-traded and cause-based. Simple represents this idea that a recipient of a F+S card can redeem it for any single item in the collection. When you don’t know what to get someone but you want to shop ethically, you can give a card and let them choose their own gift.
Fair trading | Simple giving.
What values do you want your company to represent?
We desire to offer a meaningful gift that simplifies our customer’s life, while positively impacting the person behind the product. We value sustainability which involves both ethical manufacturing and intentional design.
What do you hope to change in the way we as a society consume products?
Gift giving is a unique time to make a difference. Instead of defaulting to a Starbucks gift card (no offense to Starbucks!) every time someone isn’t sure what to give, I want customers to use that opportunity to support fair-trade artisans around the world who have need. Instead of careless and easy, it’s careful and simple.
What is the humanitarian impact of the companies F+S supports?
We seek to benefit those in high need. The gifts in our collection support a series of impact including clean water initiatives, a recovery house for women, fair paying jobs for impoverished people, vocational training, micro-loans, and educational sponsorships. While I love culturally rich and highly skilled artisan products, my heart is more geared for the marginalized people who have nothing: no skills, no startup money, no market access.
Does Fair + Simple look into eco-friendly products as well, or do you focus more on the social impact primarily?
To me, environmental and social responsibility are inextricably linked. I believe social impact starts at the supply chain. If you are using natural fabric, that means it starts at the seed and the farmers who grow it. This extends to how a product is made, how it is used by customers, and how it ends its life cycle. People and planet are all over these steps. We have also noticed that the fair trade world is a bit inundated with items like jewelry, scarves, and leather goods. We will always have these items in our collection where impact is the greatest, but we are currently making strides for some products that support our values for simple living and high impact sourcing.
How do you go about choosing which companies to partner with?
We look for companies that have both a beautiful mission and product. I believe women and education are the main catalyst for change in a community, so we primarily work with companies that support these two initiatives. We also need to have a well-rounded collection, so this plays a factor in which companies are in the collection. No matter what, the cause of the company must be the main reason why they exist and they need to align with our developed standards of production. I have a deepening desire to connect customers with the person behind the product, so I have started to work directly with groups where there is a high need. This includes single moms weaving coop in Peru and a sewing coop in the Philippines! These products are scheduled to launch in the Spring. I only have so much buying power, so I make it count.
In a perfect dream world, what is your ideal future in terms of the way consumers and makers interact and trade and purchase goods?
In my dream world, consumers are intentional about purchases. Over-consumption is obsolete, and people buy what they need and take care of what they have and give where there is need. Less disposable, less carelessness, less disconnect. More reuse, more intention, and much more connection.
To help with your gift-giving endeavors, Fair + Simple is offering TheDebtist readers 15% off with the coupon code “debtist15“. As always, every item in the collection gives back to a partner company’s mission. Offer valid until March 31, 2018.
Julia Ahrens and Laura Ahrens are the sister duo that started Miakoda New York. Julia is a fashion designer who turned vegan and had a new-found interest in creating a company that treats animals, people, and the planet equally well. Her yogi instructor sis Laura inspired her, and together, they co-founded Miakoda.
What was the inspiration for starting Miakoda?
After going vegan, I no longer wanted to wear or create clothing that exploited animals and used animal fabrics/skins/fibers. I worked in the industry and felt so conflicted when asked to work with these materials. I tried to look for a company that I felt comfortable supporting and designing for, but there were so few 100%-vegan-companies and they weren’t hiring (and most were pretty small!). This was my initial reason for starting Miakoda. As I thought about what vegan fashion meant for me, I realized it goes beyond animals and includes the planet and other humans. I really wanted to work for a company that made me feel like I was making a difference by our planet in a meaningful way. I love fashion and I love designing, but design without purpose and reason felt extremely lack-luster to me and I really wanted to create something that felt meaningful and purposeful to me.
What values do you want to portray most in your company?
It is so important to us to portray the idea that humans, animals, and our planet are ALL important and it’s our responsibility to treat ALL of them well. With that message, we also want to encourage that NO positive action is too small. We value when consumers make a conscious decision. Whether you have learned to shop ethically and make sustainable choices, or if shopping with us is the first time you’ve ever heard of clothing made from bamboo… you’re making a difference and we value that!
What are ways in which Miakoda practices ethics and sustainability?
All of our garments are made from organic and sustainable plant based materials. No animals are harmed [a.k.a. no wool, no silk, no fur, no leather, etc] and no toxic chemicals are used to grow our fibers [only organic cotton here!]. We choose to only work with fabric suppliers who are equally as committed to monitoring their supply chain, providing safe work environments, and paying fair wages. We cut and sew our garments in an ethical NYC factory that we visit regularly. We truly believe that happy fibers sewn by happy workers create happy customers!
Name one thing that you love most about your work? What is the hardest thing about your job?
The thing I love most about my work is seeing people wearing and enjoying the clothing we create. It is so rewarding to create something that I am passionate about and seeing other people enjoy it! The hardest thing is reaching new customers and to make our mission reach more people.
How do you decide which factories you work with and how do you ensure that they are producing fairly?
We have worked with a bunch of factories in NYC. Before I work with them, I always visit the factory and check out what they’re all about. We are lucky to be based in NY, which is one of the safest garment centers in the world. Fair labor is hardly enforced overseas and there have even been instances of sweatshops and slave labor in California. We talk to the factory owner about labor and what they do to support the workers they employ. There a bunch of sure signs that a factory isn’t what they claim to be— when they don’t let you watch your garments be sewn [out-sourcing to cheaper factories while pretending to be making your garments is a real thing!], when you’re only allowed to stop in when the owner is there, and when they don’t welcome random visits to check-in. It’s important to talk to the factory owner, talk to the garment workers, and to keep your eyes open to make sure what you’re being told is actually what’s going on.
What are some challenges that you see in the fashion industry and how does Miakoda try to improve the industry?
There are so many challenges in the fashion industry at this point in time. We are so much based in a fast-fashion model which focuses on how much can we get and how cheap can we get it for. Garment workers are paid cents per garment sewn and consumers expect garments to cost dollars. Miakoda’s effort is to educate why this is horrible—not only for the workers slaving away to make the clothing, but for the planet as well! Our workers are paid a fair living wage, work normal hours, and are treated with kindness and compassion in a safe work environment. Our materials are high quality… grown with love and compassion for the planet as well as the workers harvesting them and the workers knitting them. We believe in quality not quantity—and quality doesn’t just refer to the craftsmanship of the garment, but to the lives of the workers involved in bringing the garment to life.
Do you believe purchasing power goes a long way with changing the way the fashion industry currently is, or is there something else that you would like to see happen in the future that can facilitate the change away from unsustainable and unethical practices?
I totally believe that purchasing power goes a long way! We’ve seen how the dairy industry has been deeply hurt by consumers purchasing more dairy alternatives and plant-based milks. Supply and demand is very real—companies can’t afford to make something that people aren’t buying. The goal isn’t to put these unethical and unsustainably companies out of business [per say] but to show them that people WANT sustainable and ethical clothing so that they can shift what they are doing to create a better future for our planet.
Why the focus on staple pieces and athleisure wear?
Whenever I bought specialty pieces in the past I saved them for ‘that special occasion’ or wore them a few times before my style changed and no longer loved them the way I did when I purchased them. Staple pieces can be loved for years and years no matter how your style changes. We choose to focus on athleisure because comfy clothes are the best clothing. I personally hate the feeling of getting dressed in the morning, leaving for the day, and an hour or so into the day feeling majorly uncomfortable in the outfit I picked. In the past I would look forward to going home so I could change into something comfy and take off my tight jeans, constricting t-shirt, itchy sweater, etc. I find that I am in SUCH a better mood when I wear comfy clothing—I feel more confident in myself and less irritable. Our goal is to make compassionate clothing, and personally, I don’t feel I can be the most compassionate human being that I can be when I’m super uncomfy in my clothing.
If you had to choose one word to describe your design style, what would it be?
Comfortable! 100% definitely. If it’s not comfortable I don’t want to design it or make it or wear it.
Miakoda is one of the few companies I have seen promote body positivity in their advertising. I think that is awesome! What started this idea and how do you try to create a good example of confidence for women everywhere?
Thank you so much! I really think it’s so incredibly important for humans of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities to be represented in media. From a consumer’s point of view, I personally hate when I’m trying to buy a garment and I can’t even tell what it will look like on my body type. I think it’s so helpful for customers to see the garment on a bunch of bodies to be able to envision it on themselves. From a personal point of view—I am SO sick of black and white thinking that’s perpetuated in the media. The idea that only one body type is beautiful, or that only one hair color is beautiful, or that only one type of intelligence makes you intelligent, or that one lifestyle makes you successful. It’s simply not true and we don’t want to be another company falling into this mindset that you aren’t enough and perfect as you are! I’ve heard so many women say that they hate shopping online because looking at models makes them feel horrible about their appearance. Whether it brings up feelings of not being thin enough or not being toned enough or having smooth shiny hair or acne free soft skin… whatever it is, the thought that a beautiful, intelligent, kind human can look at the images we put out into the world and feel bad about themselves is horrifying to me [seriously!]. All of our models are beautiful… and not just because they’re “pretty” and because they’re “models” but because they are really wonderful humans [*disclaimer: we have been so lucky to work with really awesome models who are absolutely amazing!].
When do you feel most beautiful?
I feel most beautiful when I’m having a conversation with someone I love where I am just constantly laughing and so engaged in the conversation and enjoyment that it doesn’t matter if my eyeliner is running down my face from the tears in my eyes, if I’m making the “ugliest” laughing face, if my entire face is red from hardly being able to catch my breathe. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. The days I’ve felt the “ugliest” are the days when I try to make my outward appearance look the best. I can easily say that every time I’ve ever gotten my hair and make up professionally done and dressed up for a fancy event, I’ve felt horrible in my skin the entire day.
If you could teach a whole generation of younger girls one thing about the meaning of beauty, what would it be?
Beauty is immeasurable. It’s not black and white. It’s not a number. It’s not a color. It comes from being a good person. You can change your make-up, your body shape will change as you get older, you can cut your hair differently, but the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself and talk to others and treat others will make you feel more beautiful than anything else. I promise.
What is your current definition of success?
This is such a tough question. I hate to think of success as a monetary accomplishment, so I’ll say my current definition is how much of a positive impact are you having. Do you practice mindfulness and implement sustainable practices in your daily life? And do you treat yourself and those around you kindly? Money is important to live a comfortable life, but living a life you can feel proud of and that can impact others in a positive way will leave a much more lasting impression. I’ve never been to a funeral where someone boasted “We will miss XYZ person because they had a great career and made a lot of money.” It’s definitely more common to hear “This person always made us smile”, “This person had a great sense of humor”, “This person always thought about others”, etc., etc.
What are your top favorite books, articles, or documentaries that shaped your lifestyle or way of viewing the world?
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and The True Cost take the cake for most influential shapers of my lifestyle.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I want Miakoda to be my legacy…. to be remembered for making an impact on this world and on an industry [fashion industry] that so desperately needs reshaping.