Sitting at a sewing machine, Carlsbad High School senior Jeremy Bullara displayed a black nylon dog collar, and explained some simple business math.

The collar, made from upcycled climbing ropes, also reduces waste and offers students hands-on experience in running a small business, through their Virtual Enterprise class.

The class is part of a program in which students interview for jobs, create business plans, manage budgets, develop virtual products and compete against other schools. Most campuses that offer the program run entirely on a virtual basis, creating and marketing hypothetical, digital products. Students at Carlsbad, however, manufacture and sell real goods that they produce during spring semester.

One section of the class runs Project EcoPaws, which manufactures pet collars, leashes and harnesses from used climbing ropes donated by climbing gyms. The other team, GEA Jewelry, creates resin earrings, necklaces and bracelets with recycled, expired cosmetics.

“We take the makeup waste that people would throw away,” said Ember Sierra, 17, a junior at Carlsbad High. “We put it in eco-friendly resin, and then we put it in molds and put it in jewelry.”

Sierra pointed out displays featuring pendants in peach, rose and black, made of non-toxic resin colored with cosmetic pigments, and set in silver or gold-toned findings. Their business, named GEA, for “genuine eco-friendly accessories,” developed as students sought to transform waste into fashion.

“When people throw away their makeup because it’s broken or expired, or there are new fashions, it creates waste,” she said. “We were brain-storming how to use this, and we came upon resin jewelry. We started playing around with it and we tested it, and it worked well.”

Students produced prototypes of several styles, which they plan to sell at local farmers markets or street fairs, Sierra said. To get to that point, they each interviewed for positions in the company, and had to learn their respective tasks, including accounting, marketing, web design, sales and others.

Sierra serves as vice president of marketing, a job that she hopes will prepare her for an eventual career in the field. She designed the fliers, posters and business cards for the company, featuring a modern, feminine, navy-and-blush color scheme.

“As someone who wants to be a marketer and graphic designer, I’ve gotten a lot of technical expertise” from the class, she said, including “How to appeal to your demographic and consumer market, (and) how to brand your product and make it consistent across your product line.”

The EcoPaws line is in its second year, but the team running it redesigned its logo and marketing material. They’re also expanding the product line from dog products to add cat toys and collars, and possibly pet beds.

The company collects used climbing ropes from various climbing facilities, who replace the ropes annually as a safety precaution. However, the rope, made to withstand thousands of pounds of weight, is still plenty strong for pet products, the students said. If it’s not reused, it simply enters landfills, Bullara said.

“It’s made of plastic,” he said. “It doesn’t decompose, and it will get into our environment.”

“As a tennis player, I know that tennis balls wear out after about two hours of play,” said Rachel Kramer, 17, CEO of Project EcoPaws."But they’re perfectly fine for pets. So we were able to go to country clubs and get these tennis balls that they would throw in the trash.”

They’re also starting to make dog beds from donated fabric and cushions, and are working to get their products into pet stores in the area. And they donate a pet toy for each one purchased, and volunteer their time with animals at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society shelter, in order to fulfill the company’s community service mission.

The teams don’t necessarily fall into typical gender roles, students said. Boys in the class, eager to work with their hands, have excelled in sewing the heavy-duty nylon webbing into pet products, while girls often focus on planning and administrative tasks.

“It’s really funny because you walk into this class and all the girls are doing the paperwork and all the boys are sitting around sewing,” Kramer said.

Students competed against other schools in the program in categories including their business plan, impact marketing, salesmanship and other functions, said Carol King, class facilitator and head of the career technical department at the school. They recently participated in a regional contest, and will move onto a state competition in Bakersfield in January, she said. In addition to the technical skills they acquire, she said they learn about the collaborative effort needed to run a business.

Bullara said he learned about finances, and taught himself to sew in the class. But the most valuable lessons were less tangible, he said.

“I’ve gotten so much out of this class,” he said. “Working to be a better leader is one of the most valuable; listening to people, being there to serve people. People (in your company) don’t serve you as a leader. You’re there to serve them.”

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