This year, more Temple University students than ever are expected to don the iconic cap and gown for the May 12 commencement. But while thousands of gowns typically retire to the backs of closets for an eternity of sentimental inutility after their day of glory, Tamer Serry will be working to give these collegiate souvenirs new life.
In his sustainable enterprise class this spring with Senior Assistant Dean Debbie Campbell, Tamer’s group was challenged with creating an eco-friendly company. Still idealess by spring break, Tamer flew to California for some time away from the project. There he found inspiration.
Passing by a display of handbags for sale in sunny San Diego, Tamer noticed the bags were made of the same material as graduation gowns. He had his business plan.
Returning to campus, Tamer pitched his idea for repurposing gowns to his group, and the project took off. Now extending beyond the hypothetical of a classroom project, Tamer’s team is getting ready for the first collection of gowns after this year’s commencement.
With hopes of collecting enough gowns to support a line of graduation-themed book bags, handbags and totes, Tamer plans to have his merchandise ready to sell to outgoing Fall 2011 graduates. He can then collect gowns from the fall graduating class to provide merchandise for Spring 2012 graduates.
“I just want to add value to something that has a lot of sentimental value already and can be used again,” Tamer said.
Tamer is no naïve entrepreneur. For now, he is focused on meeting his quota to support his “upcycling” endeavor. Reaching out to all student organizations, Tamer has coordinated a collection competition that will reward the student group that collects the most gowns.
The recycling program for graduation gowns is a partnership between students, Temple’s Office of Sustainability, Computer Recycling Center, the Temple Bookstore and Oak Hall, which produces the Greenweaver gown for Temple commencements.
Upcycling is still a relatively new recycling trend, but Tamer says this practice is soon to be a standard among businesses. He credits Temple with already taking the first step.
For the second year, Temple’s caps and gowns are being made from 100 percent post-consumer material. Each gown is made from an average of 23 recycled plastic bottles. Now Tamer is trying to give a third life to this iconic regalia.
“I’ve always kind of had a feeling of sustainability. It’s important,” Tamer said. “But I’m realizing as a marketing major that this is how all businesses are going to be run pretty soon.”
– Meg Hughes
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