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Taking Plastic Out of Tooth Care: An Interview With PLUS ULTRA Toothbrush Founder, Christina Ramirez

Adult_Child_Brushes PLUS ULTRA

Plastic Sucks!! And it's everywhere we look, even our tooth care regimen. We love finding innovative companies that are doing their best to take plastic out of our daily life equation and especially out of our mouths. We were lucky enough to catch up with Christina Ramirez, the vision and hustle for PLUS ULTRA (Founder and CEO).

Start the new year off plastic free and see why you won't want to use any other toothbrush!

Christina Headshot

What sparked the idea for Plus Ultra?

I came up with the idea for starting a bamboo toothbrush company as part of an assignment in my Global Studies class at UCSB. It wasn’t until years later, while looking over distribution data for toothbrushes when I worked for a News Corp company, that I made my school project my mission and dream. Over 167 million toothbrushes were being bought each year in the United States alone! The image of all those plastic toothbrushes piling up across the planet set me in motion to reduce plastic waste by redefining the conventional image of a toothbrush. And this was the beginning of what would eventually become PLUS ULTRA. I started researching and developing the product by getting a job on the ground floor of the most respected, conscious grocer in the country, Whole Foods Market. I learned what consumers wanted, what sold and how a big retailer worked. I started speaking with dentists from UCLA and USC about toothbrush design, which then I took to China to source materials, factories and built the supply chain.

When was Plus Ultra founded and how did your partnership begin?

My vision for the company and desire to make a positive impact started when I was a Global Studies major at UCSB. After I started the company, I met Brand Strategist and Creative Director, Lenore Mason and we clicked!

Where did the name Plus Ultra come from?

PLUS ULTRA means “further beyond” in Latin. It's the national motto of Spain and the directive that Queen Isabella gave Christopher Columbus as he set out to find the New World. Today, it is the mantra we've adopted to inspire innovation and to remind us to do better. While at UCSB, I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain to learn about my grandfather’s heritage. Naming the company PLUS ULTRA paid homage to my family, to beautiful Barcelona, and was the essence and core of our vision for the company.

What inspired you to focus on oral care specifically?

In my writing class back at UCSB, I was asked to create and focus on an area that no one else had.  There were NGOs, corporations and philanthropic non-profits that focused on providing those in need with food, vitamins and vaccines, but no one had ever focused on the neglected epidemic of poor oral hygiene. When I had learned about how many plastic toothbrushes were produced and thrown away each year, my mind was blown! I decided that I was going to do something about it and start a toothbrush company that would make a positive impact on the world.

What has been your biggest triumph as a brand?

Interesting question! I look at all victories, big and small and appreciate them all. For me, it is probably taking a dream and making it a reality. This was my college thesis, and now it is my every day. That’s pretty exciting to me.

What has been your biggest struggle?

When we first launched, the biggest struggle was starting with zero capital and constantly selling out of stock. It was hard to keep up with demand with little production on hand. Now that we are in mass production, scaling and expanding in a sustainable way is struggle. But these are all the good struggles to have!

Where do you hope to see the brand in 5 years, 10 years?

We want to expand our product line to other products of utility, in the personal care category.  Definitely growing to international distribution and opening new channels like airlines (I would love to see our toothbrushes on Virgin Airlines!) is definitely a goal of ours. Because our company is founded on the principal of creating products that inspire the greater good, I think it is just as important to talk about what we hope to contribute to society. As we grow, we want to give back and solidify partnerships with cool programs and organizations.  Whether teaching kids in schools about oral hygiene or supporting an art project in a town that promotes community- inspiring conscious consumerism and sending positive messages in creative ways is something we hope to continue doing.

Have you noticed a shift in the consumers desire for more sustainable, non-toxic products?

Absolutely! People are learning about the chemicals in plastic and other toxic materials and are shifting their purchasing to cleaner and more sustainable materials. People are concerned about what they are putting on/in their bodies. From shampoo and skin care products to toothbrushes, people are paying more and more attention and reading labels and asking questions. It’s awesome. Plastic not only can have a negative environmental impact, but can also be harmful if chemicals like BPA leech out from the plastic and into the human body.  Can you touch on your choices to eliminate plastic from the toothbrush equation? When measured against plastic, there is no contest in terms of bamboo's more eco-friendly qualities. Not only does plastic release toxins into the environment during production it also never biodegrades but instead breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces eventually making its way into our food and water sources. The image of a plastic island the size of Texas floating in our Pacific ocean is horrifying. Introducing a plastic-free option to people is exciting. And when customers realize that it is better for them, and better for the planet- they get excited!

Why bamboo?

Bamboo is such an incredible material. It’s sustainable, durable and has anti-bacterial properties. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Classified as a grass, bamboo can grow up to 3 feet in a day or 1.5 inches in an hour. It is a renewable resource that can be harvested between one and five years, unlike some hardwoods that can take up to forty years to mature. Bamboo produces more oxygen and absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees so its crops are actually helping to combat climate change. When measured against plastic there is no contest in terms of bamboo's more eco-friendly qualities. Not only does plastic release toxins into the environment during production it also never biodegrades but instead breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces eventually making its way into our food and water sources. The bamboo handle from our toothbrush can be disposed of in an active compost and will biodegrade!

What steps do you take to ensure your products are sustainable?

I have visited all factories and have developed the quality control procedures myself, so I know exactly who is handling our materials and products and have set the highest standards. From raw materials to labor, I am hands on with every single step- start to finish. Bamboo grows super fast and is becoming a staple. It’s exciting to see these large factories innovate with the shift in demand for better products made from better materials. Beyond the toothbrush itself making an environmental difference, your company reaches out to support local charities.  Can you tell us more about that? We support like-minded organizations by helping them spread the good word! We love the work that you do! We also support the work that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Parley do! Telling people about how much plastic ends up in our oceans, beaches and landfills is extremely important to us. We also recently fundraised for the Whole Kids Foundation, which builds gardens and salad bars in elementary schools to teach kids about healthy eating. The handle of each toothbrush is emblazoned with a different positive affirmation.  What inspired this design choice and which quote is your personal favorite? The positive affirmations are unique to our brand. This decision was actually a practical element. Because we don’t use artificial colors or dyes, the affirmations serve as a way to differentiate toothbrushes in the household! My personal favorite is one of our kid’s toothbrush phrases- the “Cavity Crusher”! And of course, Hello Gorgeous…

What would you say to consumers looking to make non-toxic changes in their life, whether personally or environmentally?

I would say thank you for making a positive impact! Your change matters and contributes the greater good. Take a look at everything you use on a daily bases, from disposable coffee cups to straws. See if there is a way you can stop single-use waste in your life. Look in your house, and find products that you use every day like a toothbrush and consider materials that are made with natural materials and require less manufacturing. Then consider the best way to dispose the product.

Where can people learn more about Plus Ultra or purchase their own toothbrush?

Our website is www.livePLUSULTRA.com where people can learn more about our brand and even purchase eco-packs (1-year supply) of our bamboo toothbrushes. Fans and customers can also stay involved with our facebook and instagram pages: Facebook: www.facebook.com/liveplusultra Instagram: @liveplusultra

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Brianne McKay
Brianne "Brie" McKay is an enthusiastic lover of life, who is fueled by creativity, joy and adventure. She is a firm believer in the power of wellness and that learning should be fun. She loves writing, painting, nontoxic beauty, live music, vegan noms, nature and travel.
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