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Take a shower, clean the Gulf

As if a hot shower weren’t pleasure enough in itself, now you can actually contribute to the post-BP disaster clean up as you scrub. Here’s the story:

Tippy Tippens, another one of our new NOLA citizens, felt called to help our beleaguered city, so she left her freelancing life in Brooklyn and traded it in for a social good startup life in NOLA. It might not take fresh eyes to fully appreciate this place — where neighbors yell “good morning” from down the block; where culture and beauty reign; where it really, really rains; where all it takes is a bicycle to get you from here to there. But after living places where this kind of thing never happens, NOLA conversions like Tippy’s tend to be passionate.

Before Brooklyn and New Orleans, Tippy was an industrial designer for Kohler Bath and Plumbing in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. It’s a company that employs 30,000 people across the globe, and they have a good record for giving back; but still, Tippy kept asking herself, “Does it really make a difference if I create another new faucet to sell at Lowe’s?”

The Bird Project soap and ceramic center.

The Bird Project soap and ceramic center.

And then she had the idea for The Bird Project. She was so motivated by this idea that she just up and did it, packed her bags, found an apartment, created her company, Matter Inc., Design for Social Change and launched a Kickstarter campaign. Four months later she was selling her modern and simplified bird-shaped glycerin soap. Like the toy in a Cracker Jacks box, at the core of the soap you find a prize: a little white bird made of Louisiana clay.

“Through the daily act of washing, you will eventually free the clean, white ceramic birds inside — potent symbols of restoration and recovery. The soap is shaped to be cradled in your hand and is a powerful representation of all creatures affected by the spill.”

By producing the soaps down here, all the money paid to suppliers and makers stays down here. The soaps are made locally by Sweet Olive Soap Works (Emily is a third-generation soapmaker and New Orleanian) of natural, locally sourced ingredients with a light cypress scent — reminiscent of Louisiana bayous (this is a Rigaud Cypress, a historical Parisian scent founded in the 1850s; they smell heavenly!)

Sales of the glycerin soaps help fund groups working on oil spill cleanup from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. Fifty percent of profits go to Gulf Restoration Network and International Bird Rescue. That’s 50 percent, no mere marketing gesture! Personally, young and altruistic people like Tippy give me hope that operating solely out of financial self-interest may have reached a saturation point. I can dream, can’t I?

Several months after launching The Bird Project, she met Andrea Chen, Executive Director of Propeller, the social and environmental incubator in Mid City. Now in collaboration with new partners, several new products are being introduced. Like letterpress books with charming cover titles like My Momma Said, Dreams Matter and Be You. A percentage of those sales will go to the I Have A Dream Foundation. Another new product is a swaddling blanket that forms a heart as it wraps the little one; there are two versions, one with proceeds going to Architecture for Humanity, which is helping to rebuild the coast after Hurricane Sandy, and the other to Birthmark Doula Collective, a new local birthing support group.

With her industrial designer creds, Tippy was familiar with tackling new projects, working with new materials, learning to make new things. I asked if she had designed the birds on the computer and then found people to make the models. No. She made both bird shapes out of modeling clay, then made the molds herself. The little white ceramic bird at the heart of the soap is not only a keepsake, but also a gentle reminder of the scenes we all saw on TV of helpless birds being washed of their oily black crud. Well, if what goes around, comes around, Tippy’s good karma has traveled fast and, it seems, come full circle; the birds are being sold in the gift shop of her former employer, at the famed John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan.

If a trip to Wisconsin is not in your near future, you can shop for Tippy’s products at here. She will also be among five local start-ups pitching their ideas at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, in the Downtown NOLA Arts-Based Business Pitch/ Creative Industries Day, from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at Gallier Hall.

P.S. Check out the men’s bathroom at the Kohler Arts Center.


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