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The UP Cycle Design Story: From Acquaintances to Co-Founders

So far, we’ve covered a bit about the textile industry including a broad overview, the harm it causes to the environment, and specific happenings within the industry. There’s still a lot more to cover, but this week, I wanted to take a break from the textile industry and start to tell the story of how UP Cycle Design came to be, co-founded by two brilliant women.

In a recent interview, I talked with Sierra and Michelle about how they met and what spurred them to work together to start what would eventually become UP Cycle Design.

Sierra RyanWallick has been entrepreneurial for as long as she can remember. Currently, she’s an entrepreneurship student at the University of Delaware, but, as I said, she’s been doing it a long time. Her journey into UP Cycle Design started when she applied to Lead360, a Multiplying Good program that supports service projects. Sierra wanted to do something about plastic bags, which we know are horrible to the environment.

Sierra RyanWallick

Her plan was to combine two different projects that she had been working on previously. One was to turn plastic bags into plarn and create little bracelets with them. The other was to teach kids about sustainability. She figured that she could teach children about sustainability while also making it into a fun activity for them to do. Unfortunately, after a year, it didn’t go anywhere.

Sierra decided to try a different approach and submitted her project again to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). This time the goal was to create ten different prototypes using plastic bags. After participating in that activity for seven months, she told Michelle Yatvitskiy, our other co-founder, about it, and that was when Michelle excitedly decided to join the team.

Michelle Yatvitskiy

As for Michelle (an Apparel Design and Fashion Merchandising student also studying at UD), she has always been interested in sustainability and has been sewing from scraps ever since her senior year of high school. When Sierra posted on her snapchat story that she had been accepted into CGI U, Michelle saw it and was inspired to do her own research on the project. She sent what she found to Sierra, hoping that it would help her with her idea, but she wasn’t expecting Sierra to ask her to hop on a Zoom call and talk about it. Michelle gladly accepted, and after the conversation, the duo became Co-Founders.

So, how did they meet? And what led to them working together?

The pair first met when they were both on the Executive Board for a project called The Big Event. Sierra was the Executive Director and Michelle took the role of Co-Marketing Chair. Sierra described herself and Michelle as acquaintances at the time, but admired Michelle stating “that she would work so incredibly hard, would come to our meetings with fashion stuff, and so incredibly talented, like her fashion designs? Oh my god.” I even have to mention the smile Sierra had when saying that and the little hand wave she did too.

After Michelle had expressed interest in Sierra’s project, Sierra was thrilled and wanted to talk more, hence the Zoom meeting mentioned above. In the meeting, Sierra explained that she was hitting roadblock after roadblock with her CGI U project. Michelle then introduced the textile and fashion industry, and how it was experiencing similar problems with waste. After combining the two concepts, the idea of UP Cycle Design was created.

Personally, Michelle thinks that they pivoted away from plastic to textiles too soon, but UP Cycle Design is a young company, and they’re working to incorporate plastic more into their products soon.

This is what Michelle and Sierra have to say about their co-founding experience:

With Michelle, Sierra continues to be “blown away” by Michelle’s drive and work ethic, describing that they align on goals, topics, and that they even disagree sometimes. “Not necessarily confrontation, but you gotta have a little bit of pushback to make a good thing,” she said. Finally, she said that they started out as acquaintances but now they’re best friends, and it’s just been a super positive experience.

Michelle was actually baffled that Sierra asked her to be her Co-Founder after the first meeting. She said, “I was ready to just help with the project anyway I could.” She wasn’t expecting anything to come from that, but by joining forces with Sierra, she’s stepped out of her comfort zone over the last year with public speaking and opening up about dreams, passions, and goals.

As a final closing remark, Sierra wanted to share that her and Michelle complement each other incredibly well. Sierra brings the business and entrepreneurship knowledge, while Michelle brings the fashion and design skillset. Not only are their skills complementary to each other, but being aligned on the same impact goals has also been incredibly beneficial. This has helped create not only a great partnership, but a wonderful friendship as well.

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