Dri produces durable, fashionable, and environmentally sustainable umbrellas from ocean-bound plastic.
As a fifteen year-old, Deirdre Horan left her comfortable home in Acton, Massachusetts to join a youth group traveling to Gulfport, Mississippi. This was two years after Hurricane Katrina, and the community continued to struggle.
“What really struck me was the level of devastation that was still there two years later,” Deirdre explains. “It takes much longer than the initial relief to pick lives back up. People will always need assistance if they’ve been impacted. I saw at a young age that something can always be done for somebody.”
Deirdre continued to travel back to Gulfport year after year. But she also thought of how she could make a greater impact.
A shift in plans
In 2017, Deirdre watched a documentary, Garbage Island: An Ocean Full of Plastic. In the film, Captain Charles Moore made a comment that stuck with her. “He said something like, ‘The oceans to a degree help clean itself out. We need to address the amount that’s flowing in,’” Dierdre explains.
“I went down a black hole, researching recycling. I learned that plastic bottles could be upcycled into polyester.
“One day I was walking to work and my umbrella flipped inside out. I was wet, discouraged, and angry. I threw the umbrella in the trash can. I checked the tag. It was made with polyester yarn. The wheels started turning. I realized that I didn’t know who made any umbrella, let alone an eco-friendly umbrella.”
That’s when the idea came for an umbrella made from ocean-bound plastic.
“I ran around telling everybody I knew about this idea. And then, I realized that I had to buckle down and do some research. One of the biggest hurdles was finding someone who could make it ethically.
“I vetted multiple companies before I made my decision.”
The world produces 380 million tons of plastic every year. Much of that is for single-use.
But what about recycling? Much of the plastic that is gathered for recycling is sent to countries with weak environmental laws and poor waste management systems. According to Deirdre Horan of Dri, over 17 billion pounds of plastic flows into the ocean every year. That’s more than one garbage truck per minute.
In many of these low-income countries, waste pickers will pick up ocean-bound plastic and bring it to recycling centers. That plastic is pelletized and can be spun into yarn and polyester.
Dri umbrellas are created from upcycled ocean-bound plastic. The handles are made from fast-growing bamboo, and the shafts are stainless steel, which is recyclable.
Learn More About Deirdre Horan and Dri
Full Transcript, Deidre Horan, Dri Umbrellas
Deidre Horan: Hi, I’m Deirdre Horan, and I am the founder and CEO of Dri. So Dri is a company building a line of umbrellas from upcycled ocean-bound plastic. We’re going to be protecting our oceans while keeping people dry.
Tony Loyd: Okay. So it’s umbrellas, and they’re made from plastic that was ocean-bound.
Deidre Horan: Exactly.
Tony Loyd: Is that what I heard?
Deidre Horan: Yes.
Tony Loyd: Okay. So tell me more about that. Like, do you like set at a ditch at the end of the ditch, and just before it gets to the ocean, you scoop it up in a big net, and you take it to the factory? How does this work?
Deidre Horan: Sure. A lot of the plastic in the world flows in from Southeast Asia. Fortunately, that’s where a lot of the world actually sends its trash, and it’s recycling. So it ends up in those countries, and unfortunately, they don’t have great waste management systems. So a lot of it does end up flowing into the ocean – over 17 billion pounds every year, actually.
There’s a job in these countries called waste picking, and they gather plastic that can be recycled. So it’s considered ocean-bound when it’s within 30 kilometers of the ocean. So they’ll be in that region, pick up the plastic. That’s good for recycling, and they’ll bring it to the centers.
From there, it will be shaved down and pelletized labels removed all of that. And then that can actually be spun into polyester yarn. And the polyester yarn is what umbrella canopies are made out of.
Tony Loyd: Okay. And so the name of the company is Dri is that correct? But it’s D-R-I.
Deidre Horan: It is. Yeah.
Tony Loyd: Okay. And where are you with this project then? Are you up and operational? Do you have an umbrella for sale?
Deidre Horan: So right now, we’re in the prototype phase, which has been very exciting to be getting different prototypes and playing around with those. We’ve been doing some iterations. So instead of now having any sort of plastic handle or wooden handle that’s detrimental to the environment, we’re making them out of bamboo.
So it looks really unique, and it’s made sustainably now. That’s a really exciting part. And also, the shaft will be made of stainless steel, which is recyclable. So just making kind of incremental improvements where we can from, from tip to tail instead of just the canopies themselves,
Tony Loyd: From tip to tail. I bet you practiced that, didn’t you?
Deidre Horan: That’s actually the first time Tony, but I might, might use it down the road.
Tony Loyd: Write that down because that was a good one. So, where did this idea come from? Like when did you become concerned about plastic waste?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So I became particularly concerned and passionate about the ocean plastic crisis when I watched a documentary actually on it, and it was a Vice documentary. Various journalists at that company went out to the great Pacific garbage patch with captain Charles Moore who’s considered the founder of the garbage patch actually.
So they went out with him, and the documentary was just so eye-opening to how much is out there, how much continues to go out there every year, and what the state of our oceans will and what it will be if we continue to allow this to happen. And Captain Charles Moore said something very interesting in the documentary that the ocean will to a degree, help clean itself out. And so, the big issue that we need to address right now is the amount that’s flowing in. And previously, when I first thought of Dri and thought of the concept of making the canopies from the plastic, I wanted to go into the ocean and pull out the plastic and had kind of a naive attitude about that, that all plastic can be recycled the same, and I could gather enough to make, a sustainable business. And I was kind of living in a bit of a fairytale land. Hearing that from him that we can take what’s bound and we need to make use out of that. And we need to address that instead of really pulling out what’s already in there was eye-opening for me and also excited me because that seems like a much more reasonable, doable task.
Tony Loyd: Yeah. Sometimes a reasonable ask is more beneficial than trying to do that the -big, I can’t imagine, having some machine that goes out in the middle of the ocean and harvests all the plastic and brings it back in, it’s a mixed waste and yeah, it’s gotta be a nightmare. So I understand also when you were 15 years old, there was something that happened that sort of caused you to say, it wasn’t just necessarily about plastic, but it was sort of like, I want to live this life of purpose. So what was that?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So when I was 15 and in subsequent years after that, I went to Gulfport, Mississippi, and it was after Hurricane Katrina.
Tony Loyd: Where were you living at the time?
Deidre Horan: So I was living in Acton, Massachusetts. That’s where I was born and raised and grew up. And so, I was in high school at the time.
Tony Loyd: And so you like got on an airplane and flew to Gulfport, Mississippi?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. Yeah, it was – sorry for some additional context, it was through a youth group. So myself and various other teams, many of whom were my friends, just had this really powerful experience together and went for multiple summers after that, which is just saying something because it is not cool in Mississippi in July. So.
Tony Loyd: And So. was this, I think you told me earlier that this was in 2005 when hurricane Katrina struck, that was, that was kind of the first trip that you made or not?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So it was two years after that. And that was part of really what stuck with me was the level of devastation that was still there even two years later. And even still today, actually, it’s really sad. It’s been so many years, and still, not everything is right there or anywhere that there’s a natural disaster.
It takes so much longer than the initial relief that’s given to actually pick back up lives there. So that was a big part of it that resonated with me is that people will always need assistance if they’ve ever been impacted by something like that or really anything. So I think that that kind of led to my purpose-driven life if you will.
Because I saw that at a young age that there’s always something that can be done for somebody else.
Tony Loyd: So, you saw this documentary about the garbage patch, and then you heard these encouraging words that said you could take the plastic before it hits the ocean. That was helpful. So how did you get started then? Where were you? Did you have any manufacturing background or sales background or, tell me that.
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So the short answer is no, I do not have any. I do not have any background in any of that. But I have learned that that kind of makes that almost has worked in my benefit a few times. Because I think coming in with kind of a fresh perspective and just being able to do this as I’d like to versus feeling restricted by ways that people have done it historically has given me a feeling of freedom in a way.
So that’s been that part of it’s been great. I’m sure if I knew a thing or two prior, that would be nice to fall back on, but you don’t know what you don’t know. So
Tony Loyd: Yeah. Sometimes naivete is your greatest gift. Isn’t it?
Deidre Horan: Yes, definitely.
Tony Loyd: You don’t know anything about manufacturing? You’re not really an e-commerce expert or anything. So what were your first steps to get started on this journey?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So first, I did, actually after watching that documentary, really went down a black hole of a lot of research into recycling. So that’s where it started. That’s how I found out that plastic bottles and PET bottles typically can be upcycling into that polyester yarn. And to me, at the time, that was just really an interesting fact.
And then, living in New England as I have my whole life, I was walking to work and my umbrella flipped inside out, and to very discouraged and angry, I threw it in the trashcan. And then I checked the tag, and it was a hundred percent polyester yarn. So the wheels started turning a little bit. I thought it through; I Googled eco-friendly umbrella.
I was looking for it wherever I could. I realized that I didn’t know who made any umbrella, let alone any eco-friendly umbrella.
Tony Loyd: I love that story. So talk about a Eureka moment, like you were just going down the street; you have this concept in your head. Now, this is an interesting thing. It’s like chance favors the prepared mind. So you’d been doing this research. You knew this about polyester. Your umbrella flips inside out.
You see the tag; it says polyester, and a little light bulb goes off on top of your head. What did you do then? How did you get started in the umbrella business?
Deidre Horan: First, I ran around telling everybody I knew about this idea and how this is a way that we could use this plastic in a creative way, in a new way, in a way that people would actually partake in and could see the benefits of it. So, first, I ran around telling everyone about it; Tony first, I’ll be honest.
And then I realized I had to buckle down and do some serious research to actually get this going and get it off the ground. I just, I started by seeing who would be able it’s offered this actual ocean-bound plastic. Because that’s one of the biggest hurdles is finding a provider that does it ethically, and that actually meets the requirement needed to make this considered ocean-bound plastic. I vetted multiple companies there. Made my decision. Then I looked into umbrella factories because I needed to find out how, what the supply chain for the plastic itself would be and then make the umbrella factory accommodating of receiving that shipment of the fabric of working with it.
So I tried to have all my ducks in a row with the most important part in my mind first. And then vet some factories after that as well, and make sure that they’re all up to code and then begin the process of working with them.
Tony Loyd: The place that’s making the material. Where is it located?
Deidre Horan: located out of LA, but they do the actual; they work with citizens, the waste pickers in those countries to do the gathering. They work with those organizations and those recycling centers.
Tony Loyd: You say those countries? What countries?
Deidre Horan: Oh, I’m sorry. The Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Tony Loyd: The umbrella manufacturer, where are they?
Deidre Horan: So they’re located in China, they’re in the same country as where the fabric itself will be made.
Tony Loyd: And so did you go to China?
Deidre Horan: So I have not been yet. I have my point of contact there, my kind of boots on the ground who’s been looking into the factories for me, going in and checking them out. Sending me some pictures and videos and things like that.
And I didn’t realize when I started on this journey that every single umbrella is still made by hand.
Tony Loyd: Wow. I did not know that
Deidre Horan: I did not know that either.
Tony Loyd: See, I’ve learned something on this already.
Deidre Horan: Yeah.
Tony Loyd: How’d you meet your partner in China? You just pick up the phone and call somebody in China or what?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So the ocean-bound plastic provider that I’m working with actually knows some people over there, and it’s a pretty tight network when you start knowing people, you know, somebody else, and you’re able to get someone trusted and have multiple conversations with them. From there, grow the relationship into something that will actually end up with making some connections in factories.
Tony Loyd: So you have some prototypes in your hand. How are you going to launch this?
Deidre Horan: So the plan is once the prototypes are perfected, the minimum order quantity is about a thousand yards of fabric. So roughly, that’s going to make a thousand umbrellas. So that’s a bit of a nerve-wracking, daunting to start, but I think it’s going to be, I think it’s going to be okay. I think that people are going to be really receptive to this idea. I’ve been doing a good amount of customer research and market research, and people are so excited to bring socially conscious products into their lives.
And that’s been really heartening to see. For so many in so many other ways, right? Not just for umbrellas, but just seeing that people are so open and engage with that idea has been really exciting for me.
Tony Loyd: Let me just back up on one more thing here. So you had to figure out where to have this ethically made fabric sourced. You had to figure out where to source these umbrellas. You had to figure out manufacturing and sourcing and all that. But you also had to figure out how to run a business.
And I understand you had some association with like IFundWomen and some accelerator programs. And so tell me what you did to prepare yourself business-wise.
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So IFundWomen has been amazing. I haven’t; they’re actually a crowdfunding platform as well for women. I haven’t gotten to that point yet in my journey, but that’s something that I’m definitely looking forward to with them. And they just have a great community and a lot of resources for women who are starting businesses.
The community itself is just constantly women connecting via calls, via emails, connecting with other people, and helping you reach out to people in their networks. So it’s just a really beautiful environment of people helping people. And I learned a lot through them, and I’ve learned through this entire thing, just the importance of picking up the phone and calling somebody.
You’re always going to learn something that you didn’t know, and you never know who they are. So that’s been super helpful, and the accelerators as well have been; it’s all just kind of about making connections. And I love the ability to also help those people who I know. And that just feels really encouraging as well.
Tony Loyd: Which accelerators were you part of?
Deidre Horan: So the main one that I was part of is called First Founders. And that’s just been a great experience for that reason in itself that everybody’s the first founder, so we’re all trying to navigate the waters. And yeah, and just everybody’s willing to help each other out. And I think it’s just entrepreneurship is a daunting task, but you also join a really cool community of people. So it’s very exciting.
Tony Loyd: Well, I love this story. So you figure out how to get the material. You figure out how to make umbrellas. IFundWomen, you’ve joined that organization. You have this accelerator program, so everything’s been perfect. Right? You laugh. Come on. Wow.
Deidre Horan: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not. I think my favorite story about how not perfect everything has been is that I received my first sample umbrellas, and the fabric was not waterproof. So that was a pretty…
Tony Loyd: I can’t imagine that would be a problem, a not waterproof umbrella.
Deidre Horan: yeah. So that was started to when you go outside, so excited to test some umbrellas that you’ve been working on for months, and then the rain just right on through, it was a very humbling experience.
Tony Loyd: Yeah. So do you think you’re going to do a crowdfunding campaign on these then?
Deidre Horan: Yeah. So I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from Biossance, which is a clean beauty brand is incredibly generous of them. And so I’m going to work with that for the initial launch. And then after that, probably for my second round of production, I’ll do a Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I haven’t decided – or IFundWomen.
I haven’t decided on the platform yet, but that’s where I’m hoping to raise the funding for the second round.
Tony Loyd: So you’re going to get a thousand umbrellas. You must have a lot of friends and families if you’re going to unload a thousand umbrellas somewhere.
Deidre Horan: Fortunately. I do have a very large family, not a thousand, so I am going to need to find some people that are outside of that group. But yeah, I think between them and the, as I mentioned, the connections I’ve been able to make thus far. I think that hopefully, the network that I’ve grown, if you tell a friend, then we’ll be able to get these out there, and just they’ll have a little giant logo on there for you.
Pretty, there’ll be one with a turtle on it, which I’m very excited for, but the rest are going to be pretty relatively a dark green, a Navy blue, a charcoal kind of sticking with the ocean theme colors for the time being, so they’re going to be pretty Unisex and just have a little Dri logo on there just to show that these are made sustainably, and it’s an exciting brand together.
Tony Loyd: Let me know when they’re ready. The next time I replace my umbrella, I will definitely pick up a Dri umbrella. So what do you think has been most rewarding on your journey so far?
Deidre Horan: I think receiving these samples, receiving the prototypes, and knowing that this is literally plastic that could be harming our marine life, harming us, polluting our air. Polluting our water has been very gratifying to physically hold that in my hand. But I think something else that I’ve really learned through this journey, as I was mentioning, is that people helping people is an amazing thing to see. You get on the phone with a complete stranger for three minutes, and they’re connecting you with their brother’s best friends.
Like it’s just very, very endearing and heartwarming to see how willing to help each other out we actually are when it comes down to it.
Tony Loyd: So if you could pass along one key piece of advice to someone else, what do you think that would be?
Deidre Horan: Don’t stop. Just keep going. Don’t stop. I like to tell a story that I started Dri, and I stopped it because it was so much work. I was so overwhelmed that a year later, I came back to it and said, I’m ready to do this. I’m going to take this challenge on, and we’re just going to go for it
Tony Loyd: Tell me about that moment. Tell me about that moment when you like you go, “I just can’t.”
Deidre Horan: Yeah, I was surrounded by paperwork, and it was that moment. You mentioned do you have experience in manufacturing? Do you have experience in any sort of sustainability. I just didn’t, and it was a moment of “I have no idea what I’m doing.” And it just got overwhelming, and other things, I had a full-time job.
I had other things going on, so it just fell off my radar a little bit. And I just, I love it. And then the idea came back to me a few years ago or a year ago, actually right before, before COVID hit. And it just came with this absolute certainty that this is it. I’m going to do it.
Tony Loyd: So if people are looking for Dri online, where would they look?
Deidre Horan: So we’re on Instagram at Dri_umbrella, or our website is Dri.earth. And we’re also on Twitter at Dri_Umbrellas.
Tony Loyd: And it’s D R I, not D R Y. Yeah. Okay, good. I want to make sure people are looking in the right place here. If you were to call on us to go and do something as a result of this conversation, what would that be?
Deidre Horan: I would say to really think about what you’re purchasing and what that impact has on the world. I think conscious consumerism is incredibly important. And even if it’s typing in an eco-friendly blank, whatever you’re researching, whatever it is, if it were to be an umbrella, for example, before umbrella, type in sustainable or environmentally friendly, just to see if something’s out there and there’s a sustainable alternative that you can invest in and not have to buy again, a few weeks later, that won’t end up in landfills.
I think that that’s a pretty, pretty easy step to take and a very good place to start.
Tony Loyd: All right. Well, thank you so much for being with us on Social Entrepreneur.
Deidre Horan: Thank you, Tony. It’s been a pleasure.