How does one get into the organic, powdered toothpaste industry, you ask? For Perry Fields, founder and CEO of the oral care brand Frau Fowler, it all started with an unfortunate tick bite.
At the time, Perry had just finished her degree in food science and packaging engineering at Clemson University. A competitive runner for much of her youth, she was an accomplished US Track and Field athlete at the peak of her career training for the 2004 Olympics.
But all that came crashing down when a single tick bite developed into an illness related to Lyme disease. Forced to move back in with her parents, it left Perry completely debilitated and bed ridden for nearly five years.
What Perry didn’t know at the time was that her maladies originated from the removal of her wisdom teeth years before. The extraction triggered a slow, but eventually gangrenous infection in the pockets that once housed those teeth.
“I would have never known about it, had I not been bitten by the tick,” she explained. “The tick bite made me figure out that the wisdom teeth removal was the single biggest health issue I actually had.”
Thanks to the work of skilled biological dentists, she finally got some relief and was on the road to recovery.
Once she was back on her feet, Perry wrote a medical non-fiction book about Lyme disease recounting her own experience. But after selling 10,000 copies, she decided to cease further publication. “I wanted to move on from that life. I didn’t want to be known as the ‘tick girl’ anymore.”
“I wasn’t satisfied with running anymore either, my mind wasn’t being used.”
What did pique her interest was oral pathology and oral care. “I gained so much knowledge and understanding of medicine in a natural holistic way, and was inspired by the holistic approach that I took to get well.”
She stared looking into the ingredients found in conventional oral care products. “I think there should be better dental products out there because I had this wild allergic reaction to what’s in toothpaste.”
The ingredient that caused Perry so much grief was sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), commonly found in health and beauty products. “When you brush with toothpaste and spit it out, you think you haven’t consumed it, but actually it gets absorbed very rapidly,” she explained. “If you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it in your mouth.”
She tapped into this learned knowledge of oral care products and set out to create a less-chemically, highly functional proprietary blend of powdered toothpaste, without SLS.
Named “Frau” in honor of her German grandma and “Fowler,” her husband’s surname, Frau Fowler launched in 2016.
Living in Colorado, a state at the forefront of the natural product movement, Perry took Frau Fowler to the annual Naturally Boulder Pitch Slam that year. She had three minutes to pitch her young company to a panel of experts in hopes of winning a free booth at the Natural Products Expo, tons of business and marketing resources, and not to mention a whole lot of street cred.
Much to her delight, Perry won 1st place that year. It was a game changer for Frau Fowler.
Next, in need of some help, she enlisted her husband Ben. When the couple first met, Ben was a gold miner. “Like, a real gold miner,” Perry laughed. “He works on engines the size of a ballroom.”
In the beginning, the couple made tooth powder on the weekends. “We’d go balls to the wall on Saturday and Sunday,” Perry said. “It was a terrible schedule that almost killed us for two years.”
But now in their fourth year, she’s proud to still own 100% of the company. And, in late 2018, Ben left his job as a gold miner, and went full time with Frau Fowler, “because I can finally afford him,” Perry laughed.
Eileen Koop, the brand’s master chemist, also played a central role in Frau Fowler's founding. "If Tony Soprano had a sister that wasn’t Janice, that wasn’t crazy, that would be her,” Perry said.
Eileen has more than 30 years of consumer product development experience and was part of the launch of big name products like Oxy Clean, Orange Glo, Colgate Gel Strips, and the breath freshener Binaca.
So, who’s brushing with tooth powder these days? According to Perry, Frau Fowler’s signature product is for “anyone who wants something convenient and natural.”
Tooth powder is particularly an ideal choice for backpackers who are looking to cut down on pack weight while not neglecting their oral hygiene. Unlike conventional paste, tooth powder is significantly lighter and a small amount goes a long way. Also, it requires no water because you don’t actually rinse — just swish and spit for best results.
The more Perry shares about the brand, it’s obvious Frau Fowler fills her cup. “This is one of the few jobs I can get full satisfaction from. I get excited learning stuff; I’m learning so much every day, it’s crazy. And, I’ve always been a creative person. If I wasn’t, I think I’d be very sad.”
When not busy creating, designing, fixing, marketing, and innovating, Perry has found a new thrill in endurance mountain biking. “And I do a little jogging,” she added. “I ran 25 second 200-meter repeats, and now I’m talking about jogging!”
Ultimately, though, she gets a lot of fulfillment knowing she’s a part of something bigger than just Frau Fowler. “Pioneering is exciting. People don’t have the best options in oral care. It really hasn’t been innovated in a long time. You can do it in a holistic way that is still really good and really strong.”