Three teams of students from Earlham College have been selected to compete at the Hult Prize’s regional summits in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and Taipei, Taiwan.
The Hult Prize is the world’s largest social entrepreneurship competition and awards a $1 million grand prize for ideas solving pressing social issues, such as food security, water access, energy and education. This year’s competition challenges students to redesign fashion by launching ventures in the clothing and fashion industry to make it more sustainable.
“Fashion has the power to create a difference and we’re harnessing that power to make a difference in the fast fashion industry through sustainability,” said Diprekshya Maharjan, the chief marketing officer for Ecothreads, a venture proposed by Earlham students that would manufacture recycled t-shirts using plastics commonly found in water bottles.
Ecothreads was selected to participate in the Hult Prize’s summit in Taipei, Taiwan, from June 16-18. They were this year’s winners of Earlham’s quarterfinal competition on campus, which is sponsored by the College’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity (CEIC) and the campus chapter of Net Impact. In addition to Maharjan, EcoThreads also includes students Zohaib Asif, Loukik Nanda and Eric Ford.
“For our clothes, one of our core main values of our business is to connect the world through sustainable fashion,” said Zohaib, chief operations officer of EcoThreads. “To that end we will have a traditional and modern integration of cultural designs from across the world. We will do that with a diverse team of designers who will help us create those designs. We will try to include a different element of every culture in our designs and connect the world with these designs.”
Two Earlham teams, Team Frextile, and Ethicali Rebodied will compete at the Hult Prize summit in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, from June 2-4. Team Frextile—Aaditya Pillai, Fabijan Bagarić, Armen Sargsyan, Nghi Le—plans to produce biodegradable vegan leather products made from bananas.
“The opportunity to make a million dollars for your business is an incredible opportunity,” said Aaditya Pillai, the chief executive officer of Team Frextile. “Leather is not sustainable at all. Our innovative approach aims to create a positive impact on the environment while providing stylish and eco-friendly alternatives to traditional leather.”
Ethicali Rebodied—Enehi Ameh, Cristina Esquivel, Jessica Ongole, and Helena Jose—plan to work in African countries that are negatively impacted by the exporting of clothing by western countries.
“Western countries play a role in clothing dumping in low-income countries, particularly on the African continent,” said Ameh, who is the chief executive officer of Ethicali Rebodied. “Our innovation is taking clothes that are dumped in places like Ghana and teaching people skills to upcycle those clothes for profit.
“We’re targeting minority groups that are exploited usually through the fashion value chain and putting them in a position to turn waste into value which helps with sustainability and also helps them earn an income from doing work like that.”
Under the mentorship and support of the CEIC, Earlham students have carved out a rich legacy of success in the Hult Prize competition despite competing against students from larger universities and business schools. Earlham’s teams stand out among the Hult Prize field for being composed entirely of undergraduates.
“The Hult Prize is another example of Earlham punching above its supposed weight class,” said Gene Hambrick, senior executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity. “Year-after-year, our students develop the kind of compelling ideas that inspire new ways of thinking and reimagine how we should see the world.”
In 2016, Team Magic Bus, a venture seeking to optimize public transportation in Africa, advanced to the Hult Prize’s final round and was chosen for the $1 million grand prize. The venture, now called BuuPass, is seeking to expand its operations on the heels of raising an additional $1.3 million from investors. Multiple Earlham teams have also been Top 3 finishers at previous Hult Prize regional summits.