Denim2Denim…Growing by Leaps and Bounds
A JA Company Program Story
It's a simple idea really—take old jeans and repurpose them into something new. So what makes these old jeans so special? It isn't that the bags they've been turned into are the latest new fashion item or the "it" gift for the next holiday season. You can't even buy them anymore. What makes them special are the students and volunteers that created them…and the lasting impact they have on the future of so many bright students.
Denim2Denim is a JA Company Program company, started by 20 students who, last November came together under the leadership and mentoring of caring volunteers from Pfizer and asked a question: What problem do we want to solve and how can we turn that into a business?
The problem they settled on was clothing waste. "Our entire team was excited about sustainability". Deepak Kejariwal won Salesperson of the year for Denim2Denim and shared with us how the team worked together to hone their idea over the course of 13 weeks. "We looked at our own lives—our own closets—and saw something we wanted to change." Research told them that 10.5 million tons of clothes and textiles are in landfills. Each American throws away 65 pounds of clothing every year. But also that 95% of that waste is recyclable. So they set out to not only make a dent in the waste but to inspire others to adopt sustainable environmental practices.
Initially, they wanted to create backpacks from discarded denim but since only 3 students on the team could sew, that proved too difficult. In the end, they designed and manufactured 3 different styles of bags-- a multi-purpose zipper pouch, a cross-body bag and a large tote. Each one unique. Each one hand made. Each one takes something discarded and headed for a landfill and gives it new life. Garrett McPhillips, a newly graduated senior has participated in the JA Company Program for 4 years. His sister participated before him and in joining her, he gained the same experiences from JA's signature entrepreneurship program which provides high school students with impactful, hands-on business experience. "The whole experience was special. It taught me the importance of small businesses—not everything has to be big or corporate to be important." Throughout the year, Garrett and his classmates saw their hard work paying off and built their confidence in their own abilities to solve a problem.
After 3 days of workshops, presentations and interviews, Denim2Denim took 3rd place overall in the competition. But as important as this incredible accomplishment, each of the students representing Denim2Denim learned something different—something that has changed their perspective on where they see their future going. "It was one big leap out of our comfort zone," they said in their presentation to judges. Jake Song learned the complexities of businesses—"I didn't think much of it before but now I appreciate all that goes into a company." Deepak enjoyed meeting new people. "It helped me learn to assimilate—I didn't know anyone when I started." Andrew solidified his interest in going into marketing, but now he has a greater understanding of all that is involved from product positioning to networking.
Max is thinking of exploring entrepreneurship further. He has always wanted to go into engineering. JA has helped him develop that idea further—in ways even Gretchen, his mom hadn't expected. "I saw a dramatic change in Max," Gretchen shared. She works for Pfizer, the company that hosted Denim2Denim. What surprised her was how it helped Max grow. "Everything is different—the way he talks, the words he uses—he's so determined now and self-motivated. What 15-year-old kid is excited to do this? He learned to sew!"
Despite the focus of the program and media attention on the students, the pillars of this and every JA program are our dedicated volunteers. The men and women at Pfizer who pushed and inspired these students are a key factor in their success. "The volunteers made all of the difference in the world," Gretchen said. "They've grown by leaps and bounds." We could not be more proud of these students and more thankful for the mentors at Pfizer who have once again lead these students to success.
"I look forward to teaching JA each year! The JA activities are engaging and allow me to bring my world into the classroom."
"The students got a real idea of what a corporate office is like and some of the tools and technology they will use in the future."