5 things I learned from...doing business at the intersection of purpose and profit

Nicole White
Swell Team
May 11, 2018
Christina Ramirez, founder of PLUS ULTRA

Christina Ramirez came up with the idea for starting a bamboo toothbrush company as part of an assignment for her Global Studies major at UCSB. It wasn’t until years later while looking over distribution data for toothbrushes from behind her desk at News Corp that her school project became her mission and her dream.

Over 167 million toothbrushes are purchased each year in the United States alone. The image of all those plastic toothbrushes piling up across the planet set Christina 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.

Christina started her research and product development by getting a job on the ground floor of the most respected, conscious grocer in the country: Whole Foods Market. It was there that she learned what consumers wanted, what sold, and how a big retailer worked. Armed with that information, she began speaking with dentists from UCLA and USC about toothbrush design. She then took off to China where she began sourcing materials and building a supply chain.

PLUS ULTRA was created as a brand committed to creating common sense products that support positive change, transcend functionality, and serve the greater good. All this is done through sustainability, eco-conscious production, and philanthropy.

In December of 2012, PLUS ULTRA bamboo toothbrushes launched in Whole Foods Markets throughout greater Los Angeles. Today, toothbrushes for both adults and kids are available in Whole Foods Markets, Thrive Market, Erewhon Natural Foods, Mother's Markets, Natural Grocers, Vitamin Cottage, and independent grocery stores across 20 states.

The company continues to refine their products by looking for more eco-friendly materials, vendors and practices. PLUS ULTRA's vision is to expand its offerings to include more items that are used daily and produce those items in ways that are environmentally conscious and sustainable.

We sat down to talk to Christina about the 5 things she’s learned by running a business at the intersection of purpose and profit.

We’re blurring traditional retail’s boundaries

For me, the most exciting part is witnessing the two categories merge. In the past, health and beauty were viewed separately and treated as such: Vitamins and toothbrushes were health, and moisturizers and natural makeup were beauty. Consumers and retailers now see that the two go hand in hand! Beauty begins with good health, so I'm really happy to see and experience more beauty retailers expanding into health and wellness products. It’s great news for all of us, whether we’re in the industry or buying the products.  

Small changes add up

As a company, we've prevented around 1,000 tons of plastic from being thrown into our oceans! Aside from PLUS ULTRA, I personally do my part by refusing single use plastics everywhere I go. From grocery store plastic produce bags to plastic straws, cups, and to-go containers at restaurants. If I think it's wasteful, I'll just say no thanks!  

It’s going to be hard, but keep going

Don’t be afraid to fail. It’ll make you stronger and help you to appreciate your victories that much more. Fail forward and learn from your mistakes.  Do not give up. You only truly fail when you quit. Keep going and stay flexible as your company grows.

If you want something done right, do it yourself

I developed our supply chain from the ground up and continue to oversee our production and quality control. When we first launched, I created a proprietary production process with my own set of high standards and testing procedures. We only work with factories and suppliers that I personally approve and that comply with our needs.

Be good at what you do, then on the next one

Our mantra is re-defining utility for the greater good, so our goal is to be the eco-friendly brand for all utility products in your bathroom and for your lifestyle. While other companies create waste with their products, we aim to reduce waste. You'll see us launch more utility products with bamboo, as well as other eco-logical materials.  

Nicole White
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