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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.
- Toothbrushing Techniques with Bogobrush
- Raising Social and Environmental Awareness, One Toothbrush at a Time
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.