Making Fashion More Sustainable: Hult @ Vanderbilt

On Saturday, November 12, the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures hosted the annual Hult Prize @ Vanderbilt, the local round of the global competition in which students from around the world pitch a venture that aims to address one of the world’s most pressing challenges.

This year, the Hult Prize challenge is: redesigning fashion to make it more sustainable.

The local round of the Hult Prize, in which students have just a few weeks to meet with their team, create a venture, and refine their pitch, draws an ambitious group of graduate and undergraduate students across Vanderbilt’s campus each year. The students who win the Hult @ Vanderbilt have the opportunity to continue on to regional, national, and then international rounds of the competition, competing with the best and brightest student-generated ventures from around the world.

As the student leaders of the TFC and pitch competition participants geared up for pitch day on campus, the Social Startups Committee hosted a documentary screening and discussion of The True Cost, a film which delves into the human and environmental atrocities which result from the production and consumption of fast fashion. While we hear frequently about “fast fashion,” Social Startups Chair Parker Willmon (PhD ’25) and Social Startups Committee members Juliana Yang (MS, Biomedical and Chemical Engineering ’23) and Lance Johnson (MD ’25) aimed to ensure space was created for students to go beyond the buzzwords, processing the magnitude of this global challenge together while equipped with a solutions-oriented mindset. As the final days before the pitch dwindled down, interdisciplinary student teams hailing from across Vanderbilt’s graduate and undergraduate schools met with TFC Director Mario Avila, tweaking their presentations in preparation for their pitch.

Finally, on the brisk morning of the pitch day, student teams congregated at Vanderbilt’s newly renovated Owen Graduate School of Management to pitch their approaches to sustainable fashion. The teams were met by the judges: Barrett Ward, Founder and CEO of sustainable fashion brand ABLE, Jaclyn Mothupi of the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s Innovation Hub, and Corbin Hooker, CEO of the ethical jewelry brand Resera.

The five teams pitched ventures including: Canidae Cotton, GreenPoint, Making a Mend, Redesigning Fashion, and reVibe. Venture ideas ranged from environmental consulting, skill development courses for younger generations to make their own clothing, and a browser extension that optimizes user experience in searching for second-hand clothing online.

Ultimately, Vanderbilt undergraduates Owen Andreas (Economics & Climate Studies ’25), Talia Kunin (Cognitive Studies ’25), Ella Nordlie (Human and Organizational Development ’25), Emerson Pereira (Cognitive Studies ’25), and Zoe Potter (Human and Organizational Development ’25) took home the prize for Canidae Cotton, a B2B venture that involves using dog fur in environmentally-effective textile production.

Canidae Cotton team, from left to right: Talia Kunin, Emerson Pereira, Ella Nordlie, Owen Andreas (not pictured: Zoe Potter)

When asked how they came up with the idea, one team member said “When I first presented this idea to the team, I prefaced it by saying, ‘I know how crazy this sounds…'” Though the idea might seem unusual at first, this method of textile production aims to provide the world with a sustainable, ethically-sourced alternative to cotton. Canidae Cotton proposes working with pet stores such as PetSmart and PetCo to gather dog hair left after grooming sessions. The hair would then be woven together using a method that easily sorts out any unusable hair, producing a fabric similar to that of cotton.

When asked about how they plan to move forward with their idea, Canidae Cotton team members said “we’ve already got a trip planned to go visit an alpaca farm three hours away so we can learn more about animal hair processing.” Looking forward, the team is in the process of expanding on and refining their idea as they continue on in the Hult Prize competition in the Spring. Good luck, Canidae Cotton!