Milk Agency is excited to launch its first editorial series, celebrating the role of creativity in moving the world forward.

Across the worlds of art, entertainment, fashion, business and technology we’ve seen first hand the power of creative thinking to define the future.

Throughout our work with industry leading minds we’ve noticed three key themes have formed the basis of our approach to every partnership — culture, curation & collaboration.

This series explores these themes with the people we admire most through a set of playful exercises.

For our fourth volume of Creative Counts, we spoke to our friend David Watkins, co-founder of the sustainable laundry detergent brand Dirty Labs. David is an award-winning product designer and entrepreneur. He has spent his career designing, developing, and manufacturing consumer products for Google, Jawbone, Skullcandy, and Incase. It was during this time that he witnessed the excessive amount of manufacturing waste being produced for consumer products. As an avid climber and outdoor enthusiast, David brings his passion for nature and sustainability into his design process and has created innovative solutions to reduce waste and environmental impact.


After sending us the Creative Counts worksheets, we had a few follow up questions for David:

What about the exercise did you enjoy? 

I think receiving a printed paper packet with pens and supplies—that’s unusual these days, right? Everything’s built for Instagram, or social media and I thought this is refreshing!

It made me think about how being in Portland and settling into my house has also allowed me to be more “hands on” in a lot of ways that I wasn’t in NYC. For instance, designing and installing all my lighting fixtures, setting up my smoker and pizza oven, and figuring out the layout of my garden – which inspired my submission for this project (haha)

Can you tell me a bit more about your illustration? 

One of the things that I’ve missed for a long time is, even if you go to the farmers market, I feel like tomatoes f*cking suck – You just can’t get good tomatoes anymore. And so I was like, “Oh, I’ve got a sunny part of my outside area, I’m gonna grow some tomatoes, some peppers and whatever else. But that’s kind of a Portland thing. I haven’t met that many friends in Portland because of COVID but the ones that I have met, everybody kind of has their house and has their, you know, little side gardening project and it’s entertaining. The friend that I was collaborating on [the garden] with is somebody that has done this for a while – I helped get some special fertilizer for her and she brought over extra compost, and it’s like one of those neighborly kinds of things. In some ways, it’s really funny because I lived in apartments in Manhattan for five years and I’d say that at both places I never really knew any of my neighbors except maybe a hello once a year, or something when you happen to be at the door at the same time.

What do you look for in a collaborator?

I think for me, it’s finding skill sets that match up nicely. From the collaboration side of things, my chemist co-founder was the key to how Dirty Labs came to be – I could have gone to a chemical supplier and tried to white label something off the shelf, but working with an expert that’s your co-founder is pretty amazing. He has experience in everything from home cleaning products to personal care, he was the first chemist to bring a Febreeze type product to market—just incredibly creative. I think he was frustrated with big chemical companies where profit margins are the driver. I wanted to start something where sustainability and wellness, in terms of being better for you, was a core part of what we were building. And so we met, we quickly settled on laundry detergent as the place to start because 1. He had a thesis on how to make it better, and 2. I really liked it because it’s a care solution for apparel and home textiles. I think to get your voice heard today, you need a little help in the beginning. 

How does your past design experience inform your philosophy and decisions at Dirty Labs today?

I worked in consumer electronics for most of my career, and I think living and working in China you really see when you’re at the factory, “here’s what a scrapped run looks like,” and you know you’re building products that last a year or two—they’re not lasting for years and years, so all that stuff just becoming landfill over time. You think about, [for example,] before Apple had the Lightning connector, it was the 30 pin connector and all those cables are in landfills now, right? So for me, I wanted to continue to work with physical products but create things that people actually need and do a better version of it. My experience also was that a lot of companies want to do a sustainable side project, but it’s always more expensive and usually not as good, plus it represents a fraction of their sales.

I’d say for me it’s been having that kind of hands-on experience (or in-person experiences) [that] differentiates me from somebody who’s just really good at illustrating stuff… [When] you really understand what the manufacturing processes are you can kind of optimize designs to fit constraints.

Anything else you want to share about Dirty Labs?

We recently launched our plastic-free bottle with Grove Collaborative. It’s 32 loads of detergent in this little tiny a** bottle, so it’s hyper-concentrated and way better than carrying a huge plastic jug around. I really wish I had this when I was living in NYC.

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