Based in St. Louis, Missouri, and created by husband and wife entrepreneurial team Eric and Geri Cope, Smile Squared designs their sustainably produced, eco-friendly toothbrushes in the United States, and gives one to a child in need for every one that is purchased.
Smile Squared toothbrushes are available for purchase online through the company’s website, and in select brick-and-mortar retailers and dentist’s offices throughout the United States. Smile Squared aims to give one million toothbrushes away to children in need by 2015.
MO: I love the idea for a sustainable, eco-friendly product that has a philanthropic edge. What inspired the idea for Smile Squared? What did your ‘aha’ moment look like?
Eric & Geri: We took a humanitarian trip to Guatemala in 2010. We happened to be traveling with a group hosting dental clinics at local orphanages and community centers. At one point, they came over and asked us if we would help them.
We soon found ourselves teaching quite a few little kids how to brush their teeth. With no sinks or running water, Eric was assigned the task of holding trash sacks open for kids to spit in. We saw first-hand the effect that poor dental hygiene could have on a child’s health. Many children had preventable and severe dental problems. Many of them didn’t even own a toothbrush. Untreated dental issues will have a profound effect on a child’s life and wellbeing throughout their lifespan.
The idea for Smile Squared started when we got back from that trip. After doing a bit of research, we came to the realization that many kids in developing countries all over the world don’t own toothbrushes, or even have access to basic dental care. According to the World Health Organization report, up to 90% of children in most developing and low income countries have cavities that go untreated. We wanted to help improve the health of these kids by giving them toothbrushes.
We didn’t want to start a charity or believed it was the best model to meet this need. Our “Buy One, Give One” philosophy ensures the purchase you make has a direct impact on the world. Anytime you buy a Smile Squared toothbrush, we’ll send one to a child in need. Together we can take a small step for big change.
MO: What did the development process look like for the toothbrushes? Did you face any particular issues or obstacles when you reached the production phase?
Eric & Geri: As we began to research toothbrushes, we read stories and articles stating that around 50 million pounds of plastic toothbrushes are tossed in US landfills each year. This prompted us to search for viable alternatives to plastic. Our appeal to be eco-conscious led us to bamboo. Bamboo is grass, not wood; it’s harvested in a sustainable way and is a biodegradable and renewable resource. The bamboo handles are biodegradable, and the packaging is recyclable. The Smile Squared toothbrushes look like a basic, classic toothbrush, but they’re better for the environment.
Because our bamboo is sourced in Asia, the largest obstacle we encountered was finding a legitimate, ethical and honest manufacturer. We tried doing this on our own, but soon realized we were out of our element. After talking with our CPA, we were connected to a mutual client of his; a consultant specializing in working with Missouri based companies desiring to do business in China.
We then embarked on a long journey of vetting out manufacturers and due-diligence. After a due diligence trip to China with our consultant, we signed a contract with our manufacturer. We now deal directly with our supplier, and are quite comfortable with our decision.
Other hurdles we faced included learning about, navigating and complying with the US Customs and FDA requirements. The FDA considers a manual toothbrush to be a Class I Medical Device, and requires manufacturers, applicable products and sellers to be registered with them. We are FDA compliant on all levels.
MO: You’ve managed to gain a fantastic amount of traction so far with a large presence of Facebook, Pinterest and featured on sites like apartmentherapy.com and the dailycandy.com. How have you managed to gain such impressive momentum in a short period of time?
Eric & Geri: There was a certain amount of organic growth in the beginning stages of our business, because our company and mission are compelling, and people can easily relate our story. We recently started working with a publicist to help spread our story. We have lofty goals as a company, and need to approach our sustainability and giving in a professional way. Making sure our story gets out to a wider audience is one way to accomplish this.
We started out with a focus on creating Facebook and Twitter content, but more recently realized the power of Pinterest. We have had several orders and vendor inquiries from the US and Canada through our exposure on Pinterest.
MO: For each toothbrush bought you donate one to a child in need. Can you talk about the process of putting together the donation aspect of Smile Squared and creating a network to support your vision?
Eric & Geri: Our goal from the beginning was to work with established non-profit organizations with existing dental components in the work they do. A few of the larger non-profit organizations we currently donate through include Buckner International and International Justice Mission.
Buckner International (www.Buckner.org), works in the US and 15 foreign countries, meeting the needs of orphans, vulnerable children and families, with a broad continuum of care. Smile Squared toothbrushes are given out in conjunction with dental clinics held by Buckner staff and volunteers.
Then International Justice Mission (www.IJM.org), is a global human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. Smile Squared works with their Aftercare team by supplying toothbrushes for aftercare kits given to those rescued through IJM’s efforts around the world.
MO: I love the packaging and look of the toothbrushes. What influenced and inspired the design process behind the Smile Squared products?
Eric & Geri: In a way, our design and packaging mirrors our philosophy of being basic and simple. We provide a simple solution to a basic problem. With a myriad of colors, shapes, features and gimmicks, It’s almost overwhelming when you shop for toothbrushes in the marketplace. Ultimately, it’s almost a relief to find something basic, simple and effective. It’s even better when there’s a direct effect for the greater good attached to your purchase.
MO: How many toothbrushes have you been able to donate so far? Have you had the opportunity to see the impact you’re making firsthand?
Eric & Geri: We rolled out just before Thanksgiving last year, and have been able to donate over 7,400 toothbrushes. In such a short time, we’ve have had our non-profit partners send us photos of children with their new toothbrushes in Mexico, Cambodia and Guatemala. It was also an honor to be able to participate at a dental clinic for children in Guatemala City this past February. Understanding something so basic can have such a big impact on a child’s health is what keeps us striving towards our goal of donating 1 million toothbrushes in the US and abroad every 3 years. We’re always keeping our eyes open for more pictures in our inbox!