Sierra RyanWallick is a junior at the University of Delaware who studies entrepreneurship. She is currently working as co-founder and CEO of a start-up called UpCycle with her business partner, Michelle. I interviewed her to see her thoughts about working on her own company!
*Conversation has been paraphrased*
Her Campus: How did UpCycle start?
Sierra RyanWallick: I joined the Summer Founders program through Horn Entrepreneurship at UD. I was able to culminate my experience there and then gain venture support. After that, I was able to work on the project!
The day before the deadline, Vince emailed me the application. I wasn’t thinking of applying, but I had been working on UpCycle regardless. I’ve always been passionate about plastics and decreasing the use of plastic bags through a program called the Clinton Global Initiative.
Through the Summer Founders Program, I got a stipend to work on my project with my co-founder Michelle, which was great because I was working on UpCycle regardless! I applied with my idea and was accepted into the program. It lasted the entire summer and was very intense.
HC: Where do you get the clothing that you use to make the patches you sell?
SR: Well our goal is to get donations from customers who have clothes they no longer want. But this is a logistical problem right now since there are issues with the global pandemic. In the future, we’d like to have a mailing system or a drop center where people can give donations to us.
We source from Fabscrap in New York, which takes textile waste from factories. We hope to partner with Goodwill in the future to receive unsellable clothes from them so that they don’t just throw them away. But for now, we are working with what we have.
HC: I know that you donate to charity. Is there a specific one that you contribute to, or multiple ones you are partial to?
SR: In terms of charities, we have yet to choose them. I’m really particular about what charities we donate to because I want to make sure that they are using the money well. Specifically, I want to support Black Lives Matter associations through selling the BLM patches we make. I’m thinking we can do a different charity for each patch.
HC: What is the process like for making your patches? Is it difficult since every patch is made from its own unique material?
SR: Yes, each product is unique and has different fabrics. My co-founder Michelle is the sewer but I help with designs. Typically it takes 30 minutes to 2 hours to make a patch. However, we want to streamline the process and cut down on production time, but we don’t want the price to be high. This isn’t a luxury brand! We want to focus on donating to the chosen charities and supporting sustainability.
HC: How do you come up with designs?
SR: Most of it was Michelle at the beginning, she is the official designer. I’ve also tried to come up with ideas with my family. There’s a project that we got involved with that included 5 other designers, artists and seamstresses that came up with designs for the specific project we were aiming for. We gave them a theme and they came up with designs. It was really cool to work with different artists!
HC: We know about where you are now with the company, but what are your future plans?
SR: Being a start-up, we are fairly new and have sold some products but not many. There is demand, but we’re not quite ready for full production. We’re still prototyping, but the social media outreach is great!
We want to focus on fabric sourcing, streamlining and figure out a way people can donate clothing. We’re also interested in hiring local people, especially marginalized community members such as returning citizens from prison. Also, we’re starting an advisory board this fall with 20 entrepreneurs and designers. These are people with different skill sets that will help with advisement.
Also, there’s a warehouse in Wilmington, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, but it’s a space for teens by teens. It was a school that was turned into a collaborative workspace. We’re partnering with them to create an entrepreneurial program for eight weeks with a team that focuses on an entrepreneurial mindset. Participants will create a product that is sellable and helps raise funds for the warehouse.
Lastly, we also want to continue involvement in pitch competitions to get funding for the start-up. So that’s what we will be thinking about for the next six months!
HC: Thank you so much!
SR: No problem!
My conversation with Sierra is especially inspiring to those in entrepreneurship who hope to create their own business. Sierra is focused and dedicated to her project, and her hard work does not go unnoticed!
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