From eco-friendly pet beds to 'upcycled' iPhone covers, students share sustainable merchandise projects
A disposable, biodegradable cup for hot drinks. A chic train case, and brightly-colored iPad and iPhone covers created from "upcycled" plastic bottles. Environmentally friendly pet beds.
All of those prototypes were on display recently when undergraduate students in Meriem Chida's product development class pitched their ideas for sustainable merchandise to a panel of reviewers.
Students studied the waste streams created by two countries, and then developed products that repurposed some of that waste into a new product to be sold in the United States. On pitch day, their knowledge was tested by university staff and faculty members acting as interested clients seeking ideas for potential development.
"This is not a textbook course, where you open the book to a chapter and find the answer. You have to go out, do research and critically think about what you're going to do with all this data," said Chida, a lecturer with Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design within the College of Arts and Sciences. "Sustainability is part of my research, and I thought I'd share it with my students while giving them some real-world experience."
Senior Amanda Riggs, an apparel merchandising major, was part of the team that created the "Aroma Cup," a recyclable-yet-biodegradable plastic cup made expressly to hold hot drinks.
"It was a lot of research, trying to find the perfect product that is recyclable yet will degrade easily," Riggs said, prompting fellow team member Christina Cooper -- a junior majoring in apparel merchandising -- to chime in, "You realize the process is so much more complicated than you thought it was."
The fashion-forward students were also mindful of their product's aesthetics. Senior apparel merchandising major Erika Katterjohn described a task that sent group members out to purchase a sturdy cup for hot drinks -- hers was tall, with an easy-to-grip handle -- in an effort to gain a sense of their potential customers.
Students were also asked to keep the larger market in mind.
"We were interested in gardening products, but it turns out there are already a lot of 'green' garden tools for adults," senior apparel merchandising major Fred Schwier said. "So we ended up working more with children, making a line of kid-friendly upcycled garden implements."
Then, the final piece of the puzzle -- pitching their idea to potential "investors." Faculty and staff acting as judges quizzed the groups, then weighed in on whether they'd be willing to manufacture a particular product or would prefer to see more research.
While that evaluation process was independent of their grade, for some students, their project metamorphosed into a labor of love.
"You're not just working for a grade," Riggs said. "You're working to improve your product and to impress potential investors. It's a real-world experience."