Architecture and Design

A Woman From Dallas Invented a Towel That Looks Like a Tortilla and Won the Internet

Everyone has a great idea that’s going to make them rich. But more times than not, they wake up the next day, sober, and don’t follow through with it. But what happens when you do? What happens when you take that in-the-moment, genius idea you and your friends schemed up in the bar and actually do it? One Dallas native knows.

Meet Mary Dauterman, who is an expert at many things: going viral, creating successful ads, and of course, following through. An Episcopal School of Dallas and University of Texas alumna, Dauterman now works as an art director at New York advertising agency Droga5.

She’s worked on big budget commercials for clients like Old Navy and Clearasil, but that’s not what makes Dauterman and her work interesting.

She’s behind some of the most off-the-wall things to come across the internet. Take Dirty Library, the Tumblr page that turns children’s books into dirty illustrations.

The idea came while hanging out with a coworker. They started talking and before you know it, they were sketching dirty versions of children’s books. Dauterman pulled out a napkin and sketched a NSFW version of the Bernstein Bears.

“We could just do this the rest of the night instead of work on that other project we hadn’t fully formed yet,” Dauterman recalls telling her friend. “And that’s really where it took off.” They then created the Tumblr page with about 30 illustrations, which was featured on Buzzfeed, and shortly after they published a book that sold in Urban Outfitters. 

“We had to get all [the illustrations] approved by lawyers," Dauterman says. She sent her editor a list of about 200 children’s book’s names and the email got stuck in spam because of so much foul language. “I know what happened. It had ‘boner’ in it,” Dauterman says, laughing.

Dauterman recently sold her second book, What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?, to Harper Collins. She's writing it with her friend Chelsea Marshall. "It's a satirical children's book about how boring and absurd it is to be an adult," Dauterman says. "We've been describing it as 'the most honest children's book ever.'" The book will be released fall 2017. 

Another successful project is the GIFys, the Oscars for GIFS, with online votes determining who will be awarded as the best of the 'net. Dauterman got the idea for the awards when she noticed everyone in her office was sending GIFs through email. “Everyone is using them so much, there should be a way to celebrate this," she says. Soon, the GIFys were born. 

“That was definitely hanging out with co-workers and talking about creative ideas we were doing for brands and what kind of happens when you’re like, ‘This is such a cool thing, but no one would have a reason to make it, but it should exist, so why don’t we just make it?’”

That attitude has led Dauterman down a variety of creative paths in the last year, from making enamel pens that say "UGH,"  to a fake ad suggesting you buy your girlfriend tampons for Valentine's Day since in New York they're marketed as a luxury, to a zine comparing the comfort level of different chairs.

Her most recent endeavor is the Tortilla Towel, which came about when a friend showed up with a towel that looked like a different food. “We were just joking about towels because our friend got a hamburger towel and we were like, ‘Well a good towel would be a tortilla towel because then you could be a burrito.’ And we were kind of like, ‘Wait. We could figure out how to make this and do it.’ The goal of it is just to get a few of them and make the film and then we sold out. We were like, ‘OK, I guess we've got to order more. People actually want this.’”

Yes, people did want a tortilla towel, no matter how bizarre the concept was. After CNN, Huffington Post, Cosmo, New York Magazine and tons more outlets picked up the video ad for the towel, orders came flooding in. “We were like, ‘Oh my god, we have so much towel folding to do,'" Dauterman says.

Dauterman says she feels like she's always working. "I probably do need to take up meditation or something," she jokes. But the ideas aren't stopping. Between her long lists of ideas for projects — which she keeps on her phone — and the plethora of Tumblr pages she's reserved, she says she feels like she won't run out of ways to create.

"It's part of my life, just constantly working on something," she says. "I'm lucky to have a great group of friends who, a lot of them, live right around the corner from me. It's really natural to have a conversation about nothing that turns into, 'Oh, we should shoot a video about that,' which is great."

Dauterman and her copywriting partner Sarah Lloyd have started a creative collective to help facilitate those collaborations called, naturally, &Friends. They plan to rent a workspace soon that they will use to produce personal projects as well as those for work clients.

Up next is an animated webseries they're developing with another New Yorker by way of Dallas, illustrator and animator Amelia Giller. Big Cat Ranch will center on two sisters running a big cat rescue in the Texas countryside. They're planning to release the first episode in September. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paige Skinner has written for the Dallas Observer since 2014.
Contact: Paige Skinner