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Reinventing the Toothbrush: Umar Ahmed, Twiggy Fresh
24 June 2019 - minneapolis

His mother would travel abroad when he was younger. Journeys to the Gulf Countries from Somalia seemed like a world away for a young Umar, especially when she would be gone for weeks at a time. His mother was an entrepreneur, a trader, a woman who had an amazing talent to create things. Seeing how hard his mother worked, inspired him both as a young kid and now as an entrepreneur himself.

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Umar Ahmed is the creator and owner of Twiggy Fresh, a company that makes and sells natural bamboo toothbrushes. Growing up, instead of using a toothbrush to clean his teeth, he used a miswak twig made from the Salvadora persica tree. These twigs have been used for thousands of years as dental hygiene tools.

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It’s a jarring fact that Americans throw away roughly 1 billion plastic toothbrushes per year. For Umar, this was a problem. And he saw a solution. Combining his passion for environmental protection and his upbringing in the entrepreneurial spirit, Umar started Twiggy Fresh at the beginning of 2018.

The miswak twig is a natural product and poses no problems as far as waste creation. But he knew that Americans would never go for such a product. So he figured out a way to make a 100% natural toothbrush. And Twiggy Fresh was born.

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The toothbrushes are made from bamboo for the handle and natural nylon for the bristles. Making these toothbrushes may be a small thing in relation to the giant problems of waste creation and environmental pollution, but Umar continually comes back to the importance of taking small steps.

“When you think about big things, global problems, yes they are big. But also you have to believe we can take small steps to achieve what we want to achieve. That will inspire not only you and me and others but also maybe a lot of people who did not even know about what you’re doing.

In order to create change, we must break down the big problems into smaller action steps.

Umar also highlights the value of learning. He says that he’s learning every single day, not only as an entrepreneur, but as an individual, a community member, and as a father.

Living a life of open-mindedness has created the space for Twiggy Fresh to grow and begin making an impact in this place Umar calls home. He says by doing this work, he’s finding new ways to be a part of his community and to have a positive impact on the environment.

This is the mindset that composes the core of Impact Hub’s mission as well. There is room for change in our communities and thankfully, there are many doing this change-making work. For Umar, it’s been motivating to be part of a network of people doing meaningful work. The opportunities to learn from others, partake in workshops and other training sessions, and network with passionate people has been life giving to him and his work.

Living out this meaning is living out hope, something Umar has in abundance. The connections he’s made and continues to make with his community are an antidote of hopefulness for him. It’s a hope that transcends his work life. He talks with excitement about the life his kids have growing up here in Minneapolis, a radically different environment from that of his own upbringing. He cherishes the chance to see his kids grow up here with the opportunities that they have.

“There’s a lot of good in everybody and if you can just see that, then we can not only benefit ourselves but also our future.

It’s this hope that continues to move Umar forward. It’s a hope that can move us all forward.

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Participating in the Green Gifts Fair in Minneapolis

Participating in the Green Gifts Fair in Minneapolis