Over the last year, the startup pivoted, reimagined, and achieved a major goal with the establishment of the Level UP program at The Warehouse in Riverside. There, teens learn design, sustainability and entrepreneurship while creating patches made from the discarded stock from fashion houses. The patches are then sold to raise funds for a cause of the cohort’s choice, with 15% of each unit sold going to community causes.
The idea was first born in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when quarantined residents cleaned out their closets and donated their unused clothing to organizations like Goodwill, causing a glut of clothing and fabric that became destined for the landfill. During UP Cycle’s time in Horn Entrepreneurship’s Summer Founders program in 2020, the closed-loop upcycling process conceptualized by cofounders Sierra RyanWallick and Michelle Yatvitskiy garnered the attention of New Castle County’s then-director of economic development, Tamarra Morris Foulkes.
“Rescuing” landfill-bound clothing from Goodwill proved to be more complicated than expected, leading to a pivot. Instead of discarded clothing, they they work with leftover scraps from fashion designers, sourced through FABSCRAP in Philadelphia.
“Our goal is still to get clothing donations directly from people,” RyanWallick said. But the logistics are complicated: “You have to wash the clothing, store the clothing, there has to be a drop-off location, which, especially with COVID, got a little tricky.”
RyanWallick is not new at social entrepreneurship. A third-year entrepreneurship major at the University of Delaware, she launched AutumnLeaf Fundraisers, which she said has raised over $100,000 for nonprofit causes, at the age of 11.
“Sierra is a passionate and fearless young woman with a proven track record of creating robust solutions to address social issues,” Great Dames CEO and President Sharon Kelly Hake said in a statement. “She’s also giving a voice to other aspiring entrepreneurs who have not had opportunities elsewhere.”
The other competing startups in the competition were Imagine Me Healthy, founded by Chesha Hodge; Dear Katie: Survivor Stories Podcast, founded by Kelsey Styles; Quality Communication Training That Scales, founded by Rachel Cossar; and Redefining the Superwoman, founded by Nicolle Surratte. You can watch all of the pitches on Great Dames’ Remarkable Ideas page.
UP Cycle received $1,000 cash award, a year of business mentoring and a portfolio of business services.