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LOHS grad's partnership with Dress for Success Portland is a win-win

Tolu Tahmassbi will give away 500 jars of her coconut oil cream


In the Philippines, the coconut is known as the tree of life, and one young Lake Oswego woman has taken that to heart by creating a product that she looks upon not just as a skin cream, but as something that can change lives.

Tolú Tahmassbi, a 1996 Lake Oswego High School graduate, calls her cream Tolú — The Essential Bliss in a Jar. She is so passionate about the healing properties of coconut oil that she is handing out 500 small jars of the product at the upcoming Dress for Success Oregon gala Friday at the Portland Art Museum.

“We’re an anti-poverty organization, devoted to helping low-income women and to promoting economic independence,” said Barb Attridge, a Lake Oswego resident who is the executive director of Portland’s Dress For Success.

One way to help these women is to provide jobs, and that is exactly what Tahmassbi wants to do. She would love to build a client base from the exposure of her product at the event, but even more, she hopes to join forces with Dress for Success to ultimately produce and market the cream, using a workforce of women from the organization.

Bliss in a jar

What is so special about Tolú cream?

Well, that would be everything, Tahmassbi said, noting that Tolú means sunrise in Persian; her heritage is both Persian and Peruvian.

The product is a hypoallergenic, all-natural, multi-use cream made largely from coconut oil, a product Tahmassbi is passionate about.

“I formulated it with a biochemist, and it is basically coconut oil with a few added ingredients to bring out the benefits of the coconut oil. It’s safe for a baby’s bottom, it’s safe for everyone,” she said.

Tahmassbi developed the formula for the cream after consulting with Dr. Raymond Peat, an editor and researcher who looks at aging, nutrition and hormones from a biochemical perspective. Peat, who has a doctorate in biology from the University of Oregon, directed her to research sites showing that coconut oil is “antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic,” she said.

Tahmassbi began making the cream in 2005, but had to set it aside for a time because she was so busy with her teaching career. Although she is still teaching Spanish part time at Forest Hills and Hallinan elementary schools, she decided the time was right for a partnership with Dress for Success.

She makes the cream herself, taking pride that she buys her coconut oil exclusively from Glory Bee Foods in Eugene, which in turns supports coconut farmers in the Philippines.

Sustainability

Tolú cream has a long shelf life and is sustainable, she noted, adding that the glass jars, metal lids and labels are recyclable; it is also economical because the cream replaces so many other products.

It can be used for shaving, for makeup removal, as a moisturizer for skin and hair and also has healed cuts, she said, noting that one of her teenage customers told her it “zapped his zits.”

Because she has so many allergies, Tahmassbi cooks exclusively with coconut oil, noting that it has helped her lose weight; she also credits the oil with reversing her hypothyroidism, resulting from Oregon’s cold, wet winters.

Tahmassbi has four rescue dogs as pets, and said they too get a daily dose of coconut oil, and “their coats are beautiful.”

As for the upcoming, sold-out gala event, Tahmassbi is looking forward to stirring up some interest in her product, but even more than that, she wants to work with a team of women from Dress for Success who have a passion for producing her cream, and who will in turn learn about and pass on the benefits of coconut oil.

Mentor

The partnership came about because Tahmassbi’s mentor and long-standing family friend Vince Whiting has been a supporter of Dress for Success since 2009.

“I couldn’t think of a better match — Tolú cream and Dress for Success link together to help women, to build their confidence to enter the workplace, and to feel better about themselves,” he said.

Whiting became aware of the organization when his wife, Patricia Whiting, passed away in 2009 and he donated all her clothes and jewelry to Dress for Success.

“She had been a three-term state legislator, the first woman and the first minority elected from Washington County in the 1970s, and she was a community activist. Dress for Success is exactly what she believed in,” Whiting said.

He began to support the organization by sponsoring five tables at the organization’s gala event in 2010, and has since brought in more sponsors from various university representatives and other corporations where he built up contacts in his 40-year career in sales.

Whiting believes in the organization so much that he is the driving force behind the Patricia Whiting Career Center that opened in the fall of 2012. The center houses computers and a library, and provides a professional space for the educational component of the organization.

Tahmassbi’s parents, Connie Bieberach and Mariano Deorbegoso, both professional musicians from Lake Oswego, performed at the opening of the career center, Attridge noted.

Tolú cream is “just what Dress for Success needs; it will provide job opportunities and a stable cash flow. Producing the cream will be a way to get the ladies working and Dress for Success will receive a percentage of the profits,” Whiting said.

“It is the start of an enterprise. We’d like to franchise out of here with directing the operations, training the ladies and working with distributors,” he noted.

Attridge added, “This is a win-win. It opens up opportunities for the women we are serving and it creates a funding opportunity. It is perfect for our clients and our supporters.”



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