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A “Twiggy Fresh” Smile

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

“I’ve always wanted to do something that gives people a bright smile and at the same time helps the environment,” says Umar Ahmed, CEO and Co-Founder of Twiggy Fresh.

For Umar, a business analyst and social entrepreneur, the natural product poised at the intersection of “smile” and “environment” is a toothbrush.

In the United States alone, we throw away an estimated 800 million to 1 billion toothbrushes each year. Plastic toothbrushes are part of a much larger problem as they often cannot be recycled and do not decompose. They live on long after us in landfills and oceans.

Enter Twiggy Fresh, a Minnesota-based company dedicated to reducing our plastic footprint through natural oral care alternatives that are good for the consumer and for the environment.

“I had in my mind this product that I’ve been using every single day and I wanted to share it with the world,” says Umar. “I believe we have a responsibility to keep our planet clean for the next generation.”

As a kid in Somalia, Umar grew up using a miswak. A miswak is a fibrous chewing stick—a twig from the Salvadora persica tree—commonly used around the world for dental care. It is natural, does not require toothpaste, and comes from a long tradition as one of the earliest recorded forms of oral hygiene care.

Even after moving to the U.S. and using other kinds of toothbrushes, Umar still uses a miswak daily and introduces it as an eco-friendly option to friends and colleagues.

After considering the idea for many years, Umar and his wife decided to make Twiggy Fresh a reality and launched this past year with two products. Alongside the miswak, Twiggy Fresh offers a premium bamboo toothbrush that is BPA free and completely biodegradable (even the packaging).

“We are unique in that way because you don’t find similar companies who have two different kinds of oral care products,” says Umar.

There are other companies selling biodegradable and recycled toothbrushes and still others bringing the miswak to market. However, Twiggy Fresh is one of the first companies—if not the only one—to offer both a modern bamboo brush and a traditional chewing stick side-by-side.

Umar believes that our plastic-dependant habits can be broken and new ones formed if eco-friendly products like his become convenient for consumers. That is why he hopes that not only Twiggy Fresh but also their competition in the eco-toothbrush space do well in the coming years.

For Umar, it comes down to this: “How can we change our mindset in terms of small items that we use every single day.” At the end of the day, a toothbrush alone can’t solve our plastic crisis but small choices along the way can help us shift our perspective.

“Here in Minnesota, we take pride in our lakes and the natural beauty of our state,” says Umar. “We are proud to say that since last year we [have] sold hundreds of eco-friendly toothbrushes that didn’t pollute our lakes.”

To learn more about Twiggy Fresh or shop their eco-friendly products visit twiggyfresh.com.

Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center.  Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 
[email protected].


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