Once upon a time I lived with my sister Alexandra in an apartment building in the shape of a dome.
She was just coming back to the Bay Area from living in a cooperative warehouse space in Brooklyn. It was a cool space; though haunted. The ghosts danced away in the air above human heads all the way up the 40 foot ceilings just like in Magnetic Fields’ song Busby Berkeley Dreams.
While living there, Alexandra met ShitBegone brand toilet paper. 100% recycled, 2-ply, unembossed, fair-trade, ShitBegone’s main selling point around our slice of dome was it’s elegant and colorful logo.
You could buy it by the roll, but the real value was buying it by the box. Each box came with something like 200 rolls and (AND!) a ShitBegone mug. Our father does not let our mother drink out of those to this day, but we welcomed the mugs to our collection.
Our favorite activity was stacking the rolls up in aesthetically pleasing ways. At one point we filled an entire spare bookcase only with ShitBegone. I wish I had a photo.
What glorious days those were. We would order a box and not think about toilet paper again, until we noticed we were low. A box would seriously last a year. We’d keep a pyramid of six rolls on the back of the toilet at all times, the logos all lined up and facing forward.
Months passed and she and I left our dome-icile behind. It became time to order ShitBegone again. I visited the website. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
ShitBegone in need of a new home????? ShitBegone gone?? It couldn’t be.
My new roommate Julia and I were down to the final six rolls, the pyramid a top the back of the toilet. We needed more toilet paper. It was with a heavy heart that I searched through the toilet paper options at big Longs. This was back in 2008; there was only one option. And it was expensive. No bulk discount here. And no mug.
Well, I concluded, the world cannot be without ShitBegone. If it needed a new home; I was going to give it one. My mind started racing. I emailed Jed, the creator of ShitBegone immediately and scheduled a time to talk.
It was going to take at least $30K to get ShitBegone up and running again. Well, that was okay, I had a plan. A viral campaign called SaveShitBegone asking people to pre-purchase rolls to get the company up and running again. No problem.
More than that, the paper source had dried up. And the manufacturer didn’t have another source and was going out of business.
A new paper source, a new manufacturer! And of course a new distribution company.
The manufacturer was going to be the hard part. Harder than I might think. It had to be able to wrap the rolls in a particular way. That’s how the artwork is featured so prominently. Most toilet paper is wrapped in paper with small logos scattered all over–that way it doesn’t matter where you cut it. It takes a different kind of wrapping machine to do it the ShitBegone way.
AND ShitBegone is a particular type of toilet paper–unembossed AND recycled. Most toilet paper is made of new-growth trees and embossed (an unnecessary waste of energy–something ShitBegone is not about!).
I shuddered to think of everyone in the world who wipes their butt with freshly cut trees. I shuddered to think of all these details that needed to be worked out!
Well, first things first. I needed a paper manufacturer. And a very specific paper manufacturer at that. Then I could figure out how much money I needed and from there…the sky was the limit! First I’d get ShitBegone going again. Oh the viral marketing possibilities! The new website will be awesome and educational.
Then I’d rebrand the toilet paper with a more parent-appealing name (bought the domain name secondnaturepaper.com though I was never that happy with it), and then I’d branch into cute & recycled tissue paper boxes, and paper towels, and….
I spent the next year collecting the wrappers off of every wrapped roll of toilet paper I could find. I was amazed by how many different kinds you could find and how many different paper manufacturers were listed in small print somewhere on the wrapping.
I would open all the cabinets in restaurant bathrooms searching for their toilet paper if it wasn’t obvious. I started a file for them; planned some day when I would take off work and start calling them all.
One thing led to another; work was busy. I became unhappy and left my job. Then I had to find a living to make. I didn’t make the calls but I still searched every public restroom for a new lead.
Finally I realized that it was now or never. But it had been a year and a half or so since I had talked to Jed. Sure the customers had found a new brand, but I was sure they too would jump at the chance to get ShitBegone again. I called Jed to make sure he hadn’t partnered with someone else. He hadn’t heard from me in awhile, after all.
He didn’t call back. I emailed. He didn’t email back. I called a couple more times, but I got the hint. I had proven myself a flake by falling out of correspondence and not following up within a timely manner. Or maybe he was just really busy with law school. An artist turned lawyer! What a concept.
Then the cost of recycled paper skyrocketed as Asian countries started buying recycled more and more. And, of course, now even CVS has a in-house brand of recycled toilet paper. There’s no way I could compete with their low prices with such small-scale production.
I know that I’m not the only one who misses ShitBegone. But I wasn’t the one to save it, and now it’s probably too late.