Partnering with a Start-Up

On campus, “startup” is quite the buzzword. Countless students are either working for one or running their own. I never saw myself as belonging to either group. In fact, never did I think I would be able to work so closely with a startup this early in my college career. But the knowledge I have obtained from the last few weeks from teaming up with a startup has been extraordinary.

As a student in the AHS Foundation course, Dirt to Shirt, I have been able to collaborate with Make Fashion Clean (MFC) and the Matilda Flow Inclusion Foundation (MFI) on projects that have a real-time significance and impact for them. I not only gained insight on how both a nonprofit organization and startup operate, but also learned about the challenges when working with someone overseas.

The goal of the partnership between the Dirt to Shirt class and MFC was to provide new ideas for the company by conducting research and prototyping new products for MFC that fell within their guidelines and principles. My group in, particular, focused on designing different products that could be made out of yarn created from old t-shirts.
As a team, we made countless knitted and crocheted prototypes. We did our research, both on crocheting itself and patterns we could replicate. I hadn’t touched a crochet needle before coming into class, and I was astounded by what I was able to create with little prior knowledge.

Our group decided to prototype kippah, which are brimless caps typically worn by Jewish men, for MFC. I didn’t realize the extent of knowledge needed to manufacture kippah until I started making them myself. We had to see if cotton t-shirts were an acceptable material to make kippah, determine the right size and shape for the crocheted product, and market test the prototypes to determine if they were even feasible products.

I was astounded by the amount of knowledge I gained from prototyping that didn’t seem engineering-related on the surface. I went through a lot of ideation and iteration in determining the optimal pattern for the kippah, reflecting on each prototype and adjusting the stitches to create the best product possible.

Working with a startup requires the ability to wear multiple “hats.” When there are fewer people and defined departments, each individual makes an impact in multiple ways. All the lessons I had in my first-year classes about stakeholders and user-oriented design weren’t truly put into context until I was physically handing my prototype to a co-founder of MFI. At that moment, I understood the impact of my design decisions and the work that I had spent several weeks on. The products I had created were going to be seriously considered and possibly put into production to benefit MFC and continue to provide jobs for women in Ghana.

I suggest every student have the experience of working with a startup. While the organization of a large and established company is nice, startups have a lot more fluidity and flexibility, and working with one is an extremely valuable experience that I am grateful to have had. While the fate of my prototypes is not yet known, I can finish this project knowing that the designs I created can improve the lives of workers overseas and continue to help the MFC grow.

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