“The goal, of course, is to fund environmental cleanup, so I need to sell as many of them as I can to really make a difference,” says Christine “Tippy” Tippens, about soap she hoped to produce from local New Orleans materials. That was September 2010, five months after the BP oil spill began and several months before her venture, BirdProject, really got off the ground.
One year later, sales of her bird-shaped soaps show no signs of slowing. To date, Tippens—who was profiled in the Nov-Dec issue of Audubon—has handmade and sold about 1,000 of her black soaps that, when used enough, reveal a white, ceramic keepsake bird.
“When I first started, I thought it all had to happen very quickly and that it would end very quickly,” says Tippens, who moved to Louisiana after the spill to volunteer and start BirdProject. “The more I’m doing it, the more I see that it actually has longevity. It didn’t have to be just two weeks after the spill and that was it. The concept can definitely adapt to new needs.”
Tippens herself also is adapting to new demands. To streamline her process, she plans to switch from press molds to slip casting. She’s also making special porcelain birds to mark the year anniversary of the spill. And she continues to donate half of all proceeds to spill cleanup. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever really worked on. People just really connect with it,” she says. “It’s definitely one of those heart-and-soul projects. I don’t think those come around too often.”
As an Audubon volunteer, Tippens fed and monitored pelicans along Louisiana’s western coastline. “There were so many dolphins and a lot of different birds in the area. It was really just eye-opening to me to see how closely intertwined oil, fishing, refuge, all of those things are in all one spot.”