Where are you from originally, and what’s your story?
Well, I’ve moved around a fair amount – I was born in Nashville, we moved pretty shortly after to New Jersey, where my family lived on a sailboat for a bit. Mostly, I grew up in Germany, in a small town near Heidelberg. We moved back to the U.S. for my teen years to Yorktown, VA – that was a pretty big culture change. My Mom is Dutch & my Dad is from Georgia, so they wanted my sister and I to grow up in both cultures (U.S. & Europe).
All of the moving made me very adventurous and curious, I love experiencing new places and exploring new things. I’ve also lived in New York, Richmond, VA, and Wisconsin before moving to New Orleans. I feel like I’m from many places and like them all for different reasons
Your background is in design, right? Where did you study, and what were your original goals as a designer?
Yep! I designed and made Furniture for 10-ish years, my undergrad degree is in Furniture Design. I’ve always been a minimalist/modern design fan and am attracted to creating things that are functional. I learned of Industrial Design and became drawn to the idea of making smaller modern design objects but with a larger reach. Initially, when I started applying to grad schools, my intent was to design modern, eco-friendly products. There wasn’t as much talk about the environment in product design then (2002). I was accepted to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn & had always wanted to live in New York. I lived there for about 5 years in Clinton Hill, Greenpoint, and Red Hook. After that, I accepted a job with Kohler, where I designed faucets for a few years, and I’ve also been a freelance designer/consultant.
Did you develop an interest in business and social entrepreneurship before, during, or after the start of your career?
I was interested in having my own business for many years and have always been curious about how other people started their businesses. I remember hearing about TOMS in 2008 and that really sparked with me. I had many small entrepreneurial type projects along the way and had also attempted to start a couple of design services for clients type business with friends that ended up getting pushed to the backburner for various reasons. I had never attempted taking a product based business idea all the way before starting my company.
I hadn’t heard the term social entrepreneurship before coming to New Orleans. When I did, it really clicked with me – I realized that this is exactly what I want to do. To use my design skills to do good for the world, to help change things for the better. It inspired me to start my company, where all of our products give back and are made of eco-friendly materials.
How did your experience in the industry contribute to the shift into a more socially positive practice? What is one thing you would most like to see change in the world of design and manufacturing?
Well, being a product designer is really tough as an environmentalist. One of the things that I liked about working for Kohler was that their products live long lives and are made to be very high quality. I’ve never been attracted to designing consumer electronics, which is the majority of the field, because of the short life span and toxic environmental impact.
I would love to see the long-term effects of products to be considered on a large scale within the industry. How do products being disposed of effect the environment for example. Or health of people in other countries, like when used electronics get shipped to China for recycling.
Also, the real cost of things – when you buy something for $3, that means it cost around .25 or less to produce. So, if you’re buying a $3 plastic cup let’s say, what are the other associated costs that aren’t currently attributed to that product? If you added in the costs of a workers’ poor health, environmental cleanup, how long it will last, what happens when it sits in a landfill, etc.- that cup’s cost is no longer only $3. Then, if you compare it to a cup that costs $15 that’s made by a local company using local, non-toxic materials – their prices are really much closer, but the local cup doesn’t have any of the toxic side effects. It can be overwhelming I know, but I feel like our Industrial Age mentality and processes have gotten out of control and really need re-thinking and re-working.