An interview with the founder of Goods That Matter.
Photo: Michael Tucker
An interview with the founder of Goods That Matter.
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.
Has it been rewarding to see the impact of your efforts? What are some of the most positive outcomes of your work?
It definitely has and in a lot of different ways. I’m proud to have donated 31K so far to our donation partners, I wish it was more - but I’m still working on that. I’ve also learned from our non-profit partners that the publicity/attention that Matter helps bring to them also leads to additional donations from other groups or individuals which is another nice benefit.
Working with people locally is also awesome, for example, I got a couple of larger orders for candles and bug sprays this summer, so that meant a summer boost too for the candle maker that we work with and for the woman who makes our bug sprays. The summer sales really slow down here, so it feels good to share the welcome extra.
It’s also really important to me to truly enjoy working with my collaborators. Emily of Sweet Olive Soap Works who has made the Bird soaps from day one is always a pleasure, we crack jokes and swap small business woes with every delivery/pickup. And John Fitzgerald is the best, it’s always a joy to visit his letterpress shop - he’s the most peaceful person I know. Everyone that knows John loves him and is a fan of his inspiring/social equality letterpress postcards that he passes around during Mardi Gras.
Another aspect that’s really enjoyable for me is to hear back directly from customers. It’s a pretty great feeling to hear how much something means to someone or how much they’ve enjoyed something. For example, I would never hear anything back about how someone liked their faucet when working for Kohler. It’s nice to see how the things that I’ve designed blend into people’s every day.
“It’s a pretty great feeling to hear how much something means to someone or how much they’ve enjoyed something...It’s nice to see how the things that I’ve designed blend into people’s every day.”
Tell us how you started Goods That Matter and how it's evolved over the years?
I started with one product, BirdProject Soaps, it was my way to help after the BP Oil Spill in 2010. From there, I was inspired to start the company - my idea was that all of the products would be made of eco-friendly materials, each item would fulfill a basic need (so no tchotchkes or market fillers), and each product would be tied to a social/environmental cause.
I had never taken a product fully to market before meaning in the past I had only been the designer or the maker. But, I hadn’t ever designed the whole package before, figured out the pricing and distribution, etc. I had a big learning curve, also in learning about business. Running a small business is very different than being a freelancer. I had to learn everything pretty much.
“Running a small business is very different than being a freelancer. I had to learn everything pretty much.”
Also, in the beginning, I was making the ceramic birds that are at the center of the soaps. I couldn’t find anyone here at the time to slipcast them so I did it. That was way too much to do every single thing. It slowed me down too business-wise since I couldn’t keep up with demand/interest as much as I could have otherwise.
Goods that Matter has evolved in many ways, it’s pretty crazy that the business will be 8 years old in November! The name has changed, it used to be Matter, Design for Social Change - that was confusing for a lot of people and didn’t best tell what we actually do.
I’ve learned how to be a better business person and operate things more smoothly. I also learned to reel in the things that I wanted to make product-wise. For me, as a designer, I’m curious about making anything - a wallet, a lamp, a shoelace, pretty much anything is an interesting design problem. I realized that I needed to reel it in for the brand - to limit our product offering to home goods, and since I’ve done that I feel like our company is easier to understand for our customers. But in the beginning, it was confusing, people were like - you make soaps, blankets, notebooks, and why? Now, that we have more of an assortment within the home goods arena it makes sense to people.
As we continue to evolve, I’m really passionate and concerned about the plastic epidemic, as an eco-driven company I’m working on how to make a difference in that area via my company.
How has working as a B Corp helped you grow and accomplish your goals?
I think that being a B-Corp helps customers to know that we’re really doing what we’re saying we’re doing. It also helps us to align with similar businesses, this helps people know that there are more and more businesses that are working to use biz as a force for good.
I would like to be more involved with B-Corp activities/meetups around the country but unfortunately don’t currently have it in the budget.
It seems like you have such a tight community. Has living in New Orleans been good for building that?
Thank you! I do feel lucky to have a great group of friends and collaborators. Absolutely, New Orleans is a mecca for collaboration and community. It’s one of my favorite things about it really and the reason that I was drawn to stay here. People are real, they keep it real, and I truly appreciate that.
Who are some of your favorite collaborators?
I love to collaborate and have so many fave collaborators! We have a recent collaboration with Learn To Live, a local healthcare non-profit. We collaborated to make a custom first aid kit, journals, and are currently working on a cool tote.
Also all of the people that I work with on a regular basis: Sweet Olive Soaps, Mad Darling, and John Fitzgerald letterpress to name a couple.
I also love to stay in touch w/ architecture and design friends around the country: architecture and design friends,Spatial Affairs in L.A.; restauranteur friends in Richmond, VA - Proper Pie & ZZQ; and one of my constant collaborators and co-conspirators, Jen Galvin in NYC, a water film-maker, check out her recent film the Memory of Fish.
What else about life in New Orleans contributes to your work and life?
New Orleans is so much about community, which I adore. I feel lucky to have a lot of awesome communities - entrepreneurial, makers, designers, besties, cycling, art, photography and of course, these communities overlap too. There are also so many non-profits and people whose mission is to make things better in the world here. I think the spirit of helping each other is so strong here too — someone said to me early on ‘the rising tide floats all boats’ when referring to people doing well in New Orleans. I really like that for the most part, everyone wants everyone to do well. It’s not a ‘this is all mine’ kind of mentality - it’s more ‘we’re all in this together.’ It’s been really important to me to work with local makers and businesses so that the money spent by my business stays here.
It’s also very social of course, so whether business or personal, there’s always some kind of fun and enjoyment to be found. And the love of food, I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to have lunch and think about where to have dinner.
What is one surprising thing you've learned since moving here?
New Orleans is full of surprises, isn’t it?
Hmmm, one practical surprise is that there aren’t more public pools in the city. I mean, on those extra steamy days it would be awfully nice if more people could get in some water to cool off. There are a handful of public pools, but it seems like we should have a lot more.
It would also be really nice if the beach on the lakefront would re-open, I recently was surprised to hear that it was closed due to lack of not knowing how to prevent people from drowning after there had some been some drowning deaths.. Which is terrible, but it’s a shame to close it to everyone. I know that our city isn’t wealthy, but it would be awesome for it to re-open and have some lifeguards during set hours.
It’s ironic to be completely surrounded by water but to have such little access to it.
“I think the spirit of helping each other is so strong here too - early on, someone told me ‘the rising tide floats all boats’ when referring to people doing well in New Orleans.”
At what point did you realize New Orleans is home?
Haha, like so many that come here and fall in love with it, pretty early on. I came here for a design research trip when I was starting the BirdProject. I wanted to make sure that I designed the details of the project respectfully to the area and was working freelance at the time, so had some flexibility in my schedule. I had never been here before, although I’d felt the city calling to me for some time. There are so many things about it that felt like home to me - the beauty of the architecture, the warmth of everyone that I met, being able to walk / bike, the art and music, the inherent water. It reminded me of many places and immediately felt like the place I’d been searching for. My first visit was in August too, it was hot as a B, but I much prefer heat and humidity to the cold. The first place I stepped foot in was R Bar, which is still one of my faves.
What's your favorite thing about working in the city?
Hands down the people. In every aspect of my business, I truly enjoy talking and working with everyone - from the shop managers that carry our goods, to the makers that I work with, to customers or people that come into our shop, just everyone. It’s extremely rare for someone to be a jerk. On the contrary, people are warm, funny, and a pleasure to chat with. That’s truly a New Orleans trait, it’s very personal and easy to love. I call it an intimate city, from saying hello when you pass someone or chatting/joking while waiting in line - I love how warm people in New Orleans are.
Do you have any artists, designers, or producers that greatly inspire your work? What about any mentors?
Man, I would love to have a mentor. I have had one in the past during a Propeller fellowship program, it was wonderful. I’m really inspired by art and love going to museums and galleries - some faves are Yayoi Kasuma, JR, Alexander Calder, William Eggleston, also some fave local artists are Alex Podesta, Katrina Andry, Ida Floreak, & Max Seckel.
Some of my fave inspiring designers are Ray & Charles Eames, Patricia Urquiola, Cameron Sinclair, & Hella Jongerius.
These days, my work is mostly inspired by what’s happening in the world and by science/nature. I pay close attention to the news most of the time, although these days I have to take Trump breaks as he’s attacking everything that is important to me — it’s been very stressful since he’s been in office. But I’m inspired to find ways to help the problems that are happening in our society and on our planet. For example: climate change, the plastic epidemic, and social inequities are what I’m most focused on and inspired by these days.
“There are so many things about it that felt like home to me - the beauty of the architecture, the warmth of everyone that I met, being able to walk / bike, the art and music, the inherent water. It reminded me of many places and immediately felt like the place I’d been searching for.”
Wisdom you’d share with your younger self?
Feel good about you, feel good about being confident. I was a painfully shy kid and it took me a long time to really feel confident and comfortable being me in the world. I recently watched ‘I feel pretty’ with Amy Schumer and thought, that’s really it - the key is being true to yourself and feeling great about you, just don’t go overboard and be a selfish jerk.
I’ve always been determined and motivated, but I would tell the younger me to take bigger risks sooner, which I think is connected to feeling confident.
What's on the horizon?
I’m thinking most about ways to help reduce plastic use and other ways to help reduce the effects of Climate Change these days. These topic are both important for everyone and every thing around the globe and New Orleans is really affected by both. We have a plastic waste problem and are at the forefront of climate change issues. It would be amazing if New Orleans could step up and be a hub of leadership and inspiration for both issues.
When did you open the Good Shop?
A little over 3 years ago, we opened upstairs from Church Alley Coffee on OC Haley. It was really difficult to find an affordable retail space, the real estate bubble was really spiking then. I noticed that Church Alley had an unused loft space so asked if I could sublet it. It was also my studio space at the time, which Justin Shiels and I shared. The GOOD Shop has had a few forms - we shared space with Stacks Bookstore, Justin Shiels, and Good Cloth. We’ve also hosted pop-ups for a few months with like-minded local makers, like Smoke Perfume & Zeko Jewelry.
After OCH, we then moved with Church Alley to Canal Street in MidCity a year or so later. We recently moved to Magazine Street earlier this year and are now sharing space w/ Rachael Adamiak Jewelry, we’re right next to White Roach Records in the green building next to Whole Foods. We love our new neighborhood and have really been enjoying our new home.
Who are your partners?
The GOOD Shop is a collaboration between Heartsleeve Tees, Tchoup Industries Bags, and myself. Each of us has a social/environmental mission for our business. We also are all women-owned, which is pretty cool. We share overhead and divvy up the shop days, it’s made it a really affordable (logistically and financially) way to have a brick and mortar space. Together we have a full offering of unique local goods, come on by!
How good has it been to have a space for the mission and conversation? What sort of unexpected things have happened because of it?
It’s been great to collaborate with like-minded businesses. It helps tell the story to our customers both individually and as a group.
Sharing the space and shop tasks also makes it more fun, you can often feel isolated when running a small business. When we do shop events or host pop-ups, it’s more fun when we all throw in ideas and meetup to plan upcoming events or shop needs. It’s also a divide and conquer kind of approach, it’s really helpful to divvy up tasks needed for the shop.
It has also led to collaborations, swapping biz advice, and new product inspirations. Heartsleeve does all of our screenprinting for example and Tchoup and Matter have collaborated to make a wallet from upcycled bike inner tubes.
What else would you like to share about the shop?
We have a couple of fun pop-ups in the works - one already in the books is with FAIT, a new plant design store and solarium on wheels, they’ll be doing a plant design workshop at our shop in October. Also, Wonder South will be popping up sometime in the coming months, stay tuned!