It was on a camping trip when Huppy founders David Phan and Cathy Tran began to contemplate the intricacies of the ubiquitous toothpaste tube.
Made from a combination of different plastics and aluminum, most recycling centers won’t even accept them. “Every single tube of toothpaste we used as kids still exists today,” David said. Just as frightening, these plastics notoriously end up in our oceans and as micro plastics in our food chain, too.
As ocean lovers who dive, swim and surf Southern California’s coast, all this hit too close to home for the couple. “Seeing all the plastic that washes up on shore … I knew I wanted to tackle this problem. When you’re in the ocean and you come up from the shore and you see that’s actually true, you can’t take a blind eye anymore.”
So why toothpaste?
“No one on our team is a dentist,” David laughed. “But we brush our teeth twice a day, every day, and this is one of the simple switches you can make that has such impactful outcomes.”
David likens Huppy’s mission to the Zero Waste Chef blogger Anne-Marie Bonneau quote, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
“We’re not asking you to change your whole lifestyle. This is not a huge change,” he said of switching from conventional toothpaste to tooth tabs. “But collectively, if we all do it, we’re going to have amazing results.”
“It doesn’t matter if you still use plastics or go vegan, you’re taking one simple step, and you should be extremely proud of yourself,” he said of making the switch. “Just brush once in the morning and once and night, and you’re doing amazing things!”
In an effort to revolutionize toothpaste as we know it, the couple started their R+D in the grocery store, buying up all the toothpastes they could find. Going through the ingredients, they’d ask “Why is this in here? Why does this belong? Do I want that in my mouth?”
Next, they attempted to make their own toothpaste with good-for-you ingredients. “We bought the baking soda, the mint leaves,” David said. “We wanted to make a functional toothpaste that had really good ingredients.”
This operation started in David’s parent’s 100-square-foot spare bedroom. “But when the mint powders kept seeping into the living room,” he laughed, “we got our own warehouse.”
Putting together a formula sheet, they would mix, taste, brush, rinse and repeat. “It was a long process to get to where we are,” David laughed. Eventually they also sought out the help of a formulator.
On Earth Day 2020 Huppy launched three flavors of toothpaste tablets: Peppermint, Charcoal Mint, and for the young and young at heart: Watermelon Strawberry. “We knew it was not a great time,” David said of building a brand amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. “But there was no other time. The time was now.”
As a startup who is all about sustainability, David and Cathy wanted to change the narrative behind the impending doom and gloom of climate change. “We wanted to stay far away from that messaging.” With that, they combined the words “happy” and “puppy” to coin Huppy.
“We want to evoke a positive emotion when someone uses this product. You’re doing one thing good for the environment and that’s something to be happy about.”
Together, David and Cathy run the Huppy operation. “Working with loved ones is rewarding for sure,” David said. “She will call me out on things, we often have different views, but it’s a rewarding experience once we come together. Without her we wouldn’t have gotten the product we did. Cathy constantly challenges us to do better. And since we work so much, it’s extremely rewarding to spend more time with each other.”
“Being a startup, the lows are low and the highs are high. But it’s the feedback that keeps us going when the days are low.”
Initially, Huppy was created for the outdoor and travel market. But shortly after they launched in 2020, those activities came to a standstill. “We had to ask ourselves, who is our target audience?”
Turns out, there were plenty of customers looking for sustainably and ethically sourced toothpaste that was good for our bodies and the earth, whether they were on-the-go or not.
They even heard from parents who appreciate the mess-free-ness of the tabs, as well as the elderly with arthritis who have a tough time opening traditional toothpaste tubes.
Now that folks are hitting the trails and taking to travel, Huppy is quickly making its way to that original outdoor market.
Pop a tablet in your mouth, chew it up, brush, rinse and repeat! “It’s lightweight and it’s biodegradable so you can spit it anywhere,” David said. “I find a lot of joy that it’s good for the trail, soil, and the environment.”