Archive for Upcycling

Maya’s Ideas

Maya Penn is an entrepreneur, coder, philanthropist, designer, animator, writer, and illustrator. She was just 8 years old when she started her first company. Penn got interested in eco-friendly alternatives when her dad taught her about solar energy. She then discovered how harmful chemical dyes were to the environment and sought to combine that into a business idea. Penn out started by making ribbon headbands out of unused fabric around her house. The businesses started out with a $200 budget and grew from the profits received from there on out. Penn was taught how to sew from her mother. Her father was an entrepreneur and taught Penn about business and computers. At an early age Penn learned how to take apart a computer and even coded basic HTML at age 10. She now codes her own website. Her current online store is called Maya’s Ideas where she sells handcrafted clothes and accessories that are eco-friendly. The fabrics are organic or recycled. In 2013, Penn brought in $55,000 in sales and gave 10% to local charities. Penn always gives back to charities because her parents taught her to share with the less fortunate. Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet is her nonprofit and Penn volunteers locally to this day. In addition, Penn creates also creates videos that she animates, writes, and produces about the environment. She has also created two children’s books and has a novel on advice to young entrepreneurs. Penn advises to start an idea journal. She also said to “….believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Don’t get discouraged if things are going slower than you expected. And don’t give up too quickly.”


Alley Cat Designs

Jewelry for the Purrr-fect Touch

When Alyssa was a little girl, she always looked forward to the special times when her grandmother would visit, bringing with her a bag stuffed full of art and craft supplies. Alyssa was creative by nature, so it never mattered much to her what was in the bag – it was all about the joy and excitement of creating something new, something beautiful, something that hadn’t been there before.

It was during one of these afternoons with her Grandmother that Alyssa first discovered her love for jewelry making.  On that particular afternoon, the craft bag was full of beads, string and jewelry wire, and as the two sat making Christmas presents for her mother, a new passion was born.

From that day forward, Alyssa wanted to do more than just make beautiful new things. She wanted to make things that made other people feel beautiful. Alyssa had always found joy helping other people feel as beautiful as they always were in her eyes, and with her grandmother’s beads in her hands, she realized that she now had the tools to do just that: make things that could help women see just how beautiful they really were. And she was right – ever since clasping that first bracelet of plastic beads around her mother’s wrist, Alyssa has been designing the type of jewelry that makes the wearer feel beautiful and which reminds everyone that it is the bird that makes the feathers.

Today, Alyssa is fresh out of Cornell University with degrees in Business and Sociology and is working to launch her jewelry company, Ally Cat Designs . What began as the passion project of a little girl in love with all things beautiful has grown into a business which has inspired and empowered women all across the globe. Alyssa spends as much time traveling as she possibly can, drawing inspiration from women around the world. Along the way, she supports local artisans by collecting materials to incorporate into her jewelry, all of which is utterly unique and designed around the women who inspire her.

Alyssa prides herself on not being limited to one style or aesthetic; instead, she has something for everyone: from classic to edgy, minimalistic to romantic, each piece is handmade and one-of-a-kind, made to reflect the individual beauty of every customer. Her designs also reflect her commitment to sustainability and accessibility. Fast fashion this is not! Each of her piece features timeless style and is made to last.  But rather than using rare metals which are expensive and easily broken, Alyssa carefully selects materials which are more widely available and which stand the test of time. Great thought is put into each and every element of the design process so that each piece tells a story.

Alyssa likes to keep things personal; for her, it’s all about relationships. She is dedicated to her clients and designs with them in mind. Her favorite method of sales is house shows: by bringing clients together in an intimate environment, she gets to meet and be inspired by the women she serves. She mingles among her clients, getting to know them and helping them find that perfect piece. And if you come back to a second show, she is likely to pull you aside to show you something special she designed with you especially in mind!

As her business has grown, she has also adapted her model to meet the needs of a wider audience and has launched a website to make her work more widely available. But even with her expanding platform, Alyssa has sacrificed neither style nor substance. She still makes each piece by hand and each is one of a kind!

Down the road, Alyssa hopes to use her business as a platform from which to support other artists and to promote ethically sourced fashion. She is also passionate about social and economic development in impoverished nations. Having traveled extensively in both South Asia and Africa, Alyssa is committed to building supportive relationships with artists across the globe and using her work to empower and give back to women both at home and abroad.

It has been my great privilege to watch my dear friend Alyssa build and expand her business over the years, and I am so excited to share her story with you. Her’s is truly a project driven by a selfless passion to serve the women of the world, and the more her business grows, the more lives she touches. She doesn’t create jewelry for women to hide their insecurities behind; instead, she creates pieces that tell a story and celebrate the unique beauty of every woman.

Solar Schoolbags

When Thato Kgatlhanye was 18 and fresh out of high school, she knew she wanted to do something for the underprivileged communities in South Africa where she grew up. She and her friend Rea Ngwane immediately founded the social enterprise ‘Rethaka’ without a single clue what they were going to do. 2 years later, they found the idea that would impact thousands of children across South Africa.

At age 21 in 2014, Thato Kgatlhanye founded the social enterprise Repurpose Schoolbags which takes plastic bags, upcycles them into durable schoolbags, and installs solar-powered lighting on the outside. The bag charges in the sun during the day, and turns into a portable light for the children to study with at night. It is also made with reflective material so the children are easily visible to traffic on their way to and from school.

The idea was inspired by Thato’s mother and the local impoverished communities of South Africa. Thato’s mother studied by candlelight when she was a child, and usually the candle would only last until Wednesday of the school week, meaning she couldn’t study on Thursday or Friday. Currently, many children in South Africa use plastic bags as schoolbags, and don’t have adequate lighting to study after school. Thato wanted to provide a sustainable solution, and so Repurpose Schoolbags was born.

Thato plans to light up 24 African nations, and has won over $40,000 in business competitions to sustain the enterprise. Her business’s impact is growing, and she was featured on the front of Forbes in February 2016. In the future she plans to expand the concept of solar lighting to raincoats for children, but for now her organization’s focus is on getting the solar schoolbags to as many children as possible. Her work has inspired many others, and I hope to see her company featured more as her influence expands across Africa.

Photo courtesy of

Sword & Plough – Bridging the Civil-Military Divide

S&P 1

S&P 3

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Emily Núñez and her sister Betsy Núñez grew up in a military family, so for them, living on military bases and eating Thanksgiving dinner with hundreds of soldiers in a military mess hall was the norm.  However, when Emily went to Middlebury College, she realized the huge divide between military life and civilian life.  Most of her friends had never met someone in the military and had no idea what military life was like.  During this time, both Emily and Betsy began to realize how difficult it was for veterans to find work as they transitioned from military to civilian life.

These two problems  culminated into a business idea when Emily attended a social entrepreneurship symposium at her college, where the speaker talked about incorporating up-cycling into a business.  Emily had the idea of recycling military surplus into fashionable bags and accessories.  Emily quickly brought her sister, Betsy, on board and Sword & Plough was born.  The name, Sword & Plough comes from the phrase “to turn swords into ploughshares” from the book of Isaiah.  For Emily and Betsy, this means taking military technologies and materials and applying them to peaceful, military applications.

S&P 2

Every stage of their business (from design, to production, to quality control, to sales) is done in the U.S.A. and done by veterans.  They even buy their supplies from companies owned and operated by veterans.  Emily and Betsy want their company to empower veterans and help in their transition back to civilian life.  They donate 10% of their profits to support veterans.  They also want to have their bags be a conversation starting point to strengthen military-civilian understanding and to bring to light veteran issues.  In fact, on their website, they have a “Wall of Heroes” to feature a different military personnel every week.

So far, Emily and Betsy’s idea has been a huge success.  They’ve been featured on shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show, and on sites like Business Insider and Forbes.  I encourage you to check out their website (click here!) to learn more about Sword & Plough, its products, and its mission.  I think that this company is poised to make some really important impacts in the near future.

Codie: The First Coding Toy

Whether we like it or not, technology is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives. It is shifting from an accessory to your day to day functions, to a necessity. It appears to be doing the same thing in the professional world as well. Websites, emails, apps, social media, etc. are all words that are becoming part of a business’s vocabulary.

Children are entering into this world needing to work with technology in order to survive. Adam Lipecz, a twenty-four year old entrepreneur, saw this need and created the most interesting toy on the market, Codie. This gadget is a small wooden robot that connects to a mobile device wirelessly to work with an app. The app allows the robot to move by teaching children how to code on an elementary level. From my understanding, there are “blocks” on the app the child would drag and place to get the robot to move a specific way. It seems to be a tangible way to show kids how to code on a very small level.



Soap Cycling: Twofold in Problem Solving and Education

david-bishop-soapcycling-300x175Have you ever thought about what happens to that bar of soap you open at a hotel for your night’s stay?  Shorter visits may only require you using less than a quarter of the bar, and before David Bishop thought about this conundrum the soap would be tossed out with the trash when housekeeping came around.  The estimated one million bars of soap from hotels thrown away each day in the United States then become chemical waste in landfills.  Bishop recognized this problem and connected it with another – child mortality rates.

Diarrhea kills 800,000 children under the age of five every year.  This is only one example of a disease that could be partially prevented if these people washed their hands with soap.  To combat this horrific statistic, Bishop, a Hong Kong law professor, began the organization Soap Cycling in 2011.

Soap Cycling works with the hospitality industry to collect, sanitize and recycle slightly used soaps and other sanitation amenities.  They then coordinate with NGOs to distribute the soap to children and families in disadvantaged communities, mostly in Asia.  A few of their more notable partners are Hilton Worldwide and the Lee Hysan Foundation.

Perhaps the most impressive and admirable aspect of Soap Cycling is the fact that none of its employees are paid.  Positions are filled by students from Bishop’s university and he supervises their work.  Other professionals in Hong Kong such as law, public relations and web design firms donate their time and efforts as well to form a well-run and effective nonprofit.

The idea that the bars of soap are not simply a handout is another takeaway from this organization.  Soap Cycling partners with schools and other establishments in the countries they reach to educate children on proper sanitation techniques.  This ensures that they are getting to the root of the problem and that the efforts put into collecting and distributing the soap are not wasted.  Soap Cycling is focused on changing lives, not on selling an image or a school project.

As a young company with many partners and constant pool of student workers, Soap Cycling is sure to continue growing and reaching new areas of the world.  They are driven by a passion to see children live long, healthy, and quality lives, and to give students an education in leadership, business, and empathy.  Hopefully every entrepreneur can look to this example and find

Soap Cycling Launch Video